Is “Asynchronous” the Future of Meetings?
The shift to virtual events has given rise to a meeting format where discussions aren’t held in real time. Here’s what asynchronous meetings can do for your organization and how some associations are incorporating asynchronous elements into their conferences.
With meeting planners around the globe coming to terms with the new state of meetings, asynchronous events are coming to the fore. The explosion of virtual and hybrid meetings this past year has given rise to this format, with some arguing asynchronous is the future of meetings.
If that’s true, association professionals need to get up to speed on what an asynchronous meeting or event is, what associations are doing with the format, and how it affects the attendee experience.
What Are Asynchronous Meetings?
Asynchronous communication refers to any exchange that doesn’t happen in real time—where there’s a lag between when a message is sent and when the person receiving it interprets it and potentially responds. Common examples are email chains, notes on project management platforms, or comment threads on message boards, where individuals are communicating without having a live discussion.
An asynchronous meeting or event follows that format: Instead of allotting a specific time for a live conversation or presentation, participants review materials, watch pre-recorded content, and answer prompts on their own time.
How Associations Are Using Asynchronous Meetings
Since the switch to virtual events, more associations have taken to the asynchronous format, turning in-person gatherings into virtual ones with on-demand content and offering more flexibility to now-dispersed audiences. The American Academy of PAs put together an on-demand conference in 2020, which features a digital library of medical education videos. Those who register have 24/7 online access to the content, which they can view on their own time.
Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Western Social Science Association shifted its in-person conference to a virtual one and put together a website with submitted presentations. The conference allowed for “a virtual exchange of ideas, comments, and thoughts about the submitted presentations, without requiring the ‘attendees’ to be logged in at any specific day or time.”
A year later, the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning held its first spring asynchronous conference, which featured pre-recorded presentations submitted by industry professionals. Each day of the five-day conference, presentations and discussion opportunities were posted to the association’s LinkedIn page.
The Impact of Asynchronous Meetings
The asynchronous format presents new opportunities:
- Flexibility. Organizers don’t have to worry about finding a time that works for all attendees—a particularly challenging task when considering multiple time zones.
- Easier participation. Without a live component, those who are uncomfortable speaking in front of large groups can more easily contribute to the conversation in an asynchronous format.
- Deeper conversation. Attendees have more time to digest information presented to them and formulate ideas.
- Convenience. Attendees can contribute on their own time, at their own pace.
But asynchronous also comes with its own challenges:
- Decreased efficiency. Conversations about small tasks that take minutes in a live meeting could drag on. For example, creative collaborations—like a brainstorm session—might lose momentum in an asynchronous format, as these meetings often rely on quick bursts of communication as participants bounce ideas off of each other.
- Lack of connection. While all virtual formats lack in-person connections, asynchronous events may exacerbate the sense of disconnection as registrants engage with the content on their own or participate in conversations that are not in real time.
- Loss of spontaneity. Great ideas are sometimes born out of impromptu conversations that naturally develop during a live conversation. An asynchronous meeting is more limited in its agenda and opportunities to share with others..
So how can associations make the most out of an asynchronous meeting while mitigating its drawbacks? The format works best in certain situations, but in any case leaders can take a few steps to help things go smoothly.
Preparing for an Asynchronous Meeting
Given the disconnected nature of asynchronous communication, meeting organizers need to make sure attendees are on the same page. This requires significant prep work: Organizers should provide a detailed meeting agenda with talking points, conversation starters, and a clear explanation of what is expected from attendees.
To ensure timely participation, organizers should set a deadline for when attendees must review the meeting’s materials and add notes or answers to thought starters. Project management software, such as Basecamp or Trello, may help streamline the organization of an asynchronous meeting by keeping meeting materials, notes, and comments in one place.