Breaking Down the Ideal Virtual Meeting: Four Strategies You Should Try

Here’s how to make the most of meetings in front of the camera.

By Melissa Bouma

Virtual meetings have quickly evolved from nice-to-haves to essential centerpieces of association life. And while we’ve recently discussed alternatives to on-camera meetings, the truth of the matter is, you may still require quite a bit of screen time—especially when it comes to your annual meeting.

On-camera meetings are something we’re pretty familiar with at Manifest, as we put on video events for both clients and our own employees. And—just as I’m sure you have—we’ve had to get pretty creative in the process.

Because so many organizations are navigating online meetings, we thought it would be useful to share what we’ve learned over the past year.

Here’s to putting on better meetings—whether they’re for hundreds, or just a handful, of people.

Cut things up. Watching one speaker, no matter how engaging, can get dull and monotonous. Bring in a variety of speakers who present differently on a range of topics. In longer meetings, in particular, this approach can help keep the discussion fresh, so attendees remain focused.

Give attendees something to do. For one client, we produced a series of coloring sheets as PDFs and encouraged attendees to print them out and start drawing—just as they might doodle as a creative outlet during a standard meeting. Activities for attendees can even apply to something as low-key as a happy hour; during another recent client event, we sent employees the ingredients for a mixed drink and then had a bartender show them how to prepare it, turning the kind of event that has lost its luster over the past year into something exciting again. Speaking of happy hours …

Offer a coffee break instead of a happy hour. Happy hours are traditionally seen as a rowdier, end-of-day experience, but after a day of being in front of a computer, that may be the last thing people want. So, flip the model: Instead of a happy hour, have a coffee break or water-cooler meeting to connect with colleagues or members, network, and perhaps come up with some good ideas to follow up on later. Let it be a natural, free-flowing conversation rather than sticking to a rigid agenda. (And just like a happy hour, don’t make it mandatory—rather, work to make it something people want to check out.)

Open up office hours. One thing we’re trying at Manifest is offering open periods of discussion. A higher-level employee simply remains available on Zoom during a certain period, and employees can stop by and engage organically if they choose. This approach also works well for onboarding new team members. For associations, it could prove ideal for smaller gatherings—say, at the chapter level or in committee-style settings. The secret to its effectiveness is the spontaneity it introduces, a little bit of which can bring some humanity to the whole process of trying to have a conversation over a video chat.

Ultimately, though, it’s a lot of trial and error—see what works for you, your members, and everyone’s needs. And don’t be afraid to iterate. If something works, do it again, but change one or two things to see if you can make the idea even stronger.

After all, with offices likely to reopen at some point but remote meetings expected to stick around, we’re learning how to pull off this new normal together.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.


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