As history books will never let us forget, 2020 was the year the world went remote. Along with that, live events, family gatherings, as well as in-person office meetings shifted to virtual settings. Since the technology will only keep improving and not go away, it’s crucial that we learn the basics of how to run an engaging and effective virtual meeting instead of a long and arduous virtual talk.
Mark jumps back on the show to join Isaac on a deep dive into some techniques we can all use to make our virtual meetings better. As working engineers themselves, they’ve used different approaches when running their routine virtual meetings for their work, and today they share with us the ones that turned out to work pretty well when it comes to keeping people engaged and interacting with the content being discussed.
All the way from the setup and a test run to tips on what to do during the meeting itself, they talk about how to prepare attendees in advance, when can we have everybody unmuted, what to do to keep people’s attention while also sticking to our agenda, and much more. These will certainly be the basic skills of any professional in the future.
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Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey! What's going on, everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. I got Mark back on. What's up, Mark?
Mark Oakeson: Hey! Glad to be back. You know it's always a good time when I'm on, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, I know! We got you on, you're frequent. Because, well, you're my brother and we're proud of this gig. So let's do it.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I love it.
Isaac Oakeson: Today we want to talk about how to make our virtual meetings better. There's definitely some tips that we can give. Obviously COVID has been a big part of people moving their meetings to an online format. It seems like everyone and their dog is doing Zoom, but obviously there's Teams and there's a host of other platforms as well. But I think during these unusual times, I don't know if this technology is going to go away. I think it just accelerated the use of it and people getting used to it.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: I don't know. Mark, what do you think about what the pandemic has done, and really kind of what we need to do as we prepare to really try to have good virtual meetings?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Well, it's interesting, because it used to be --- I think, at least in my experience, the underlying expectation for meetings was that they were going to be in person, you know? It's better to get together, we're going to get that personal interaction, and I'm going to get to know you, you're going to get to know me. And that was the underlying expectation. Now I think after the pandemic, that's completely shifted and now the underlying expectation as well. If we've got to have meetings, in my big thing, in my business, are the OAC meetings, right? The Owner-Architect-Contractor meetings. And now the underlying premise is that those are going to be Zoom meetings, or Microsoft Teams meetings, or whatever platform you use. They're just going to be online. And so we've kind of lost, I think, that expectation that meeting in person is what we're going to do, and now it's just going to be all online. That's what we're going to do.
Mark Oakeson: And there's pluses and minuses to that, obviously. And so, we want to talk about how to make them the best they can be, right? And in saying that, we're trying to emulate as best we can that in-person experience, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yes.
Mark Oakeson: That's what we're trying to emulate.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I think as part of that, you have to learn the technology that you're using, which can be a big deal. But I think part of that process is being able to master it. So I think when these Zoom meetings first started, people discovered really quickly that maybe we shouldn't have everybody unmuted, but maybe -- What are your thoughts around that when you're trying to emulate a live event? It just seems like when you're virtual, those nuances creep up.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I think that all stems on how many participants are you going to have at your meeting. And I've heard rules of thumb, you know? Like, if you're going to have 15 or more, then you need to start thinking about muting people. But if it's 15 or less, maybe you don't. And I know there's problems with that. You know, I get people that are at home and, you know, you hear their dogs barking in the background, or maybe they have young kids and they're running in and out of the room, you know, and those kinds of things. And it's distracting, you know? But if you know who's participating -- You know, you got Bob, and you got Susan, and you got Fred, and maybe they're Zooming in from home, but you know that maybe they're not going to have those types of distractions. Keep it unmuted so that it is more of a personal experience. But you kind of got to play that one by.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I've been to meetings where -- I mean, I used to run meetings where we had, it felt like half the company on, because it was a big scoping review. And, you know, you have to mute everybody because there's just no way you're going to get through that. So yeah. I think that's a takeaway is that, when you're setting these things up, you want to emulate them to be as realistic to a live event, a live meeting, an in-person experience as possible. And there probably is a cutoff where you do need to mute everybody when you're coming in. And that's something you'll have to pay attention to as you're going through this.
Isaac Oakeson: Let's talk about the setup. So we know with every meeting that you're going to go virtual, you've got to set this thing up. And obviously you need to prepare your attendees in advance about the notice of doing this, what should be a no-brainer in today's day when things are always coming up this way. And you can set up some ground rules that way too as you're setting up the meeting in terms of, maybe, if you want people muted, etc.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. What I've done successfully on my Zoom meetings, and again, I'm talking about these OAC meetings that I do a lot of, is preparing an agenda and then sending that out before the meeting starts so everybody is kind of clued in on what we're going to discuss during the meeting and they're kind of prepared beforehand. And sometimes on that agenda, there's assignments for other people. You know, the design, maybe they're going to address a certain issue that we need to talk about. They know that that's coming up. And if I issue an agenda --And then while we're going through the agenda, I make my meeting minutes, or my notes, as we're going through the meeting right there on the agenda.
Mark Oakeson: And I'll use, you know -- I don't use Google Docs. I'm a Microsoft office guy. So I use Office 365. And I'm usually sharing that document across for everybody that I need to have contribute to the meeting minutes. And I'll let them add things that they need to so that they're actively participating in the process. And that kind of helps keep guys engaged. I found that that works really well. But I think using those platforms, and I know Google Docs is a pretty good one too where you're actually sharing the documentation across the platform so everybody's involved, is a good way to go.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I agree with that. I think also as part of that -- I use Microsoft OneNote a lot, and that's also a platform that's really easy to take notes on, you know, polish up real quick and send that out again, and even have other people collaborate on. So I've really enjoyed using that one. As part of, you know, setting this all up, you also need to make sure you fully understand the technology that you're using. And if that requires a little bit of something to do beforehand, set up a test meeting, then you probably should do that. But you don't want to be fumbling around with all the options if --- You know, I'm talking about making a very smooth meeting, obviously. There's probably some rough start up there.
Mark Oakeson: Well, and that's something that's getting less and less, I'll say tolerable, right? People are less understanding about whoever's conducting the meeting not being able to manage it.
Isaac Oakeson: "How do I go about sharing?", "How do I share my screen here?"
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. "What's going on here?", "How do I share my screen?", you know? So, yeah. If you're going to be in charge of a meeting, do a little homework and play with the software. Maybe you're calling up the technical support if you've got questions, you know? Do a little prep before you jump in.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I've even had meetings -- Like, everybody uses Zoom, but I've had to change the format of those type of meetings too. So instead of just a meeting where everybody can join and everyone has their own ability to unmute and share their video and all that stuff, I've had to change those meetings where it's been strictly like a webinar where people don't have any access to do any of those things, except the person presenting can share their stuff. So everyone comes in muted, can't really do much but type in a chat room. So it's helpful to really understand the technology that you're using so you can make adjustments where you need to and help the meeting go smoother.
Mark Oakeson: So what about --- What if you did, like, a test run? Like, let's say you're getting prepped for maybe a pretty high profile meeting. There's going to be some, I don't know, we'll call them decision makers, maybe some higher profile individuals at this meeting that you want to make things run smoothly. And you want a little bit of -- Maybe do a little rehearsal. Is there any problem with that, you think?
Isaac Oakeson: There's nothing wrong with that. I've done that a lot.
Mark Oakeson: Maybe you can call up two or three friends and say, "Hey, just log into this meeting ---"
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. "I want to test some stuff out. Can you join me?" You get a coworker.
Mark Oakeson: Even if it's to just get some feedback on what the presentation looks like. "What does the screen look like on your end?", you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Exactly. "What options do you have?", "Where can you click on?". All those things are really good to test out. That's just all part of getting to know the software. So definitely something you're going to want to do with the virtual meetings to help them definitely run smoother. Another thing that you can do to, I think, have a meeting run smoother is break up responsibilities. If you know there's going to be quite a few people chatting in a chat room and you've got a presenter, maybe you want to delegate other people, or have like a co-host, or something where you have responsibilities given to others to help run the show, depending on size.
Mark Oakeson: Yes. And you know what, the big thing that I've seen when --- And you and I have done some of those things, if we think about some of our live sessions that we've done. And I think it just helps break up some of the monotony, right? I think when you're going through material or you're going through items on an agenda, you're kind of trying to break things up into chunks. And so you're like, "Okay, here's the topic. We need to get through this specific topic, and we're going to spend," you know, "15, 20 minutes on this topic, and then we're going to move to the next one". If you break things up in chunks like that, I think that's beneficial to keep everybody engaged and keep their attention. But if you've got this co-host or this other team member that you can bounce things off of as you go along, you know, maybe you're taking the first chunk and then your co-host, your partner, is taking the next chunk. And just by switching off, that adds a little variety. And I think it really helps emulate more of that personal experience.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. Totally. I think also, you know, as you're preparing for a meeting, you can even get really creative if you wanted it to. Some people try to set the mood for the meeting. You could even have music. If you can do that, and that's one of the things you might have to test out and do. But you can really set the mood for a meeting depending on who your audience is. Those are just some ideas.
Mark Oakeson: That's getting fancy. That's getting really fancy.
Isaac Oakeson: So, I want to dive into now how to, I guess, keep people's attention during the meeting. How do we keep, I guess, a human connection here?
Mark Oakeson: So I think I've mentioned one of the big ones, which is keeping the information kind of broken down into chunks so that you're switching gears as you're going through the material. It's not just presented as this one long arduous agenda, you know, from item one down through item 10 or however long it is. It's chunk number one and we talk about it, we get through that. And then you have some kind of a transition that's like, "Okay, now we're going to move on to this one". You know, "My colleague, Susan, is going to take over and she's going to talk about this,", you know? Whatever. You need to have some kind of a transition between topics so it doesn't just seem like one arduous list of items that you're going through.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. I think another thing that that will really to keep people's attention is if you're in a meeting that you're not too dull. Maybe you've got a little bit of energy going on, if you've got to drink your red bull or whatever it's going to be in the morning. You know, you want to present with a little bit of energy to keep people's attention if it's a routine thing and you're coming in. You know, I've even joked around a little bit in some of the meetings. You know, everyone has the regular meetings that you have probably every single week.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I have them every week.
Isaac Oakeson: You know, sometimes you get a little icebreaker or something just to change that energy a little bit.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And you know, what else works really well is if -- You know, you have to get to know individuals a little bit for this to work. But you can start calling them on by name, you know? If you're dealing with a certain issue on your agenda and you're like, you know, "Hey, Bob. I know that you've dealt with this last week. So why don't you tell us about how you handle it?" You know, ask people specifically in your meeting, calling them out by name, and asking them for comments. Keep them engaged.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I'm sure there are people that dominate typical meetings too. There's always that guy that is probably more vocal than the rest of the group.
Mark Oakeson: The smartest guy in the room, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. But if you're trying to get ideas out of people or get feedback on something out of people, I think it's important to know people by their name. And frankly, if you're using these virtual meetings, you should see their names as they pop in anyway. So, you know, you should have a list of attendees right there in front of you. If you can't pronounce somebody's name, that's another thing. But, you know, call them out by name, get some ideas from people and make sure everybody's voice can be heard. It doesn't matter if they're the loudest voice or the quietest voice, you can get everyone to participate.
Mark Oakeson: Sometimes I've heard of that called Flatten Your Meeting, make everybody kind of equal across the platform. Make everybody equal participants in the meeting, you know? Flatten Your Meeting.
Isaac Oakeson: I hadn't heard that before.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And that'll keep people engaged.
Isaac Oakeson: How about showing your face, Mark? What do we ---
Mark Oakeson: Well, I think that's important for everybody to show their face. And again, it may be kind of dictated by how many participants are being involved, like you were talking about. If you're doing more of a webinar type presentation where you've got hundreds of people that are logging in, then of course that doesn't make sense. But if it's a typical meeting where you're, you know, within 15 people or so, yeah. I think it makes sense to have everybody showing their face, just to be able to emulate that personal experience that we're trying to get here now. A lot of people don't want to do that because they're trying to multitask, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah.
Mark Oakeson: They don't want to see that you're looking on your other screen and you're clicking on your email or whatever, and you're not fully engaged, you know? That may be the reason why they ---
Isaac Oakeson: That may be like 90% of the people on these meetings.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. They're like, "Oh.. Now I can go to a meeting on Zoom and I can do whatever else on the side". But you want to discourage that because that means they're not fully participating, you know? And you would try to discourage that in a normal person to person, or an in-person, meeting.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. You're not going to be, you know, checking out your phone and checking out Facebook when you're in a meeting with other people if you're together live, you know? So I don't think --- I mean, to give the same respect and to have an engaging meeting, you may address that in your meetings to try to ---
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And you may outline that, you know? We were talking about sending out expectations or sending out an agenda beforehand. Maybe that's one of the things you're outlining in your agenda, your advertisement for your meeting, whatever that is. You say, "Hey, we expect everybody to be on video so we can see your face. That's just so we can make it more personal", you know?
Isaac Oakeson: "And try hard not to multitask".
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. "And try hard not to multitask". And tell them upfront, you know? I don't think there's any wrong with that.
Isaac Oakeson: Me neither. I also think another good idea just to engage people that are coming in, is that you can have polls. You know, if you've got some questions you can ask that really gets people participating early. Let's say it's just a first time meeting, you don't know anybody, or if it's not one of these habitual meetings that you've got every single week. But you can do polls, and those are always fun to see where people are at. We do polls all the time. If you come to one of our live webinars that we run ---
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. That's a cool thing we do.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. We do that for the Civil PE and the Civil FE Exam. So we do some polls, see when people are taking the exam, or see what depth exam they're taking. And that just kind of gets the audience engaged with what you're doing, which is good. Those are all things to keep attention, right?
Mark Oakeson: It's a good icebreaker, right? And if you're in more of a business setting and not in maybe like a training session like we're talking about, like when we do our live sessions, just make it something goofy. Like, you know, "What's your favorite cake" or "What's your favorite flavor ice cream?"
Isaac Oakeson: "What Netflix show did you binge last weekend?"
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. "What did you binge watch last weekend?", you know? Just something funny like that just to keep people engaged, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. And that all just affects the energy of the room. I think also, you know, if people are bringing up items or topics that you can parking lot. So if someone's bringing up stuff that you can talk about later, you can do the same thing in virtual meetings where you can address those at a different time or with those individuals, just to make sure that you're staying on your agenda. Just like a real meeting, which would be a good thing.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. Mark, any other tips? Any last second tips on keeping our virtual meetings engaging?
Mark Oakeson: Well, just one last comment. I would say that we have so many online meetings nowadays that it's easy to get burnt out, you know? You get Zoom fatigue, if you want to call it that.
Isaac Oakeson: That's a real thing.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I've caught myself into that and, you know? In that category. Just, "Oh man", you know? "Another meeting?", you know? And because they're so convenient to set up usually, the number of the meetings has increased, at least in my work. And sometimes, man, I'm on my third or fourth, fifth. I've had five of them in one day before, you know? And it starts getting monotonous. So doing some of these things that we're talking about kind of helps prevent some of that from happening.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, and I will say, like, if you've gone to enough of these meetings, you can tell people that are, like, on top of it and are really trying to make an effort versus those that aren't. And usually the ones that aren't are the meetings you probably don't care to attend.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. You regret. You don't want to even participate. It's just "blah". But if you've done some of the things that we've talked about and they know it's going to be a little more of a high-energy meeting and it's going to be more interactive, those are the meetings that you're like, "All right, this is going to be fun. I like these guys.", you know? "We had a good time last time"
Isaac Oakeson: Just like this podcast. Like, come on and check it out. Keep you engaged.
Mark Oakeson: Right oh.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, sweet, man. I think we shared a lot of tips today. I think a lot of people will get some value out of how to run meetings maybe a little more effectively. Hopefully it's just brought some awareness to maybe the meetings either you're attending, or you could give advice to help others make them more engaging, or yourself make them more engaging as well. So Mark, thanks for jumping on again.
Mark Oakeson: You bet. Anytime, man.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. We'll talk to you later.
Mark Oakeson: We'll see ya.
Isaac Oakeson: See ya.
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