Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay connected with each other online.
To help make that possible for more people, I started hosting free virtual innovators & entrepreneurs lunches on Mondays and Fridays to help cultivate connection during this period of social distancing. I’ve also been running my business on Zoom for years and, like many of us, I’ve now spent entire days on virtual calls over the past few weeks.
Since we’ll be continuing to host virtual meanings for the foreseeable future, here are 5 tips to help you better cultivate safe, meaningful connection online:
1. Set clear intentions for your virtual meetings
To help make sure people feel comfortable, it’s first important to make sure everyone is on the same page around the intention of the meeting.
To set the stage for the virtual lunches I’ve been hosting, I’ve made it clear to anyone interested that the goal of these calls is quite simply to provide an opportunity for people to stay socially connected. My goal is for participants to meet new people, have some fun, and feel less alone.
To go a step further, I also shared the following group norms to create a safe, inclusive space on these calls:
- Be yourself and connect on a human level.
- Be present. Active listening is important.
- Find ways to serve. Help connect people that should know each other. Share resources. Recommend books, podcasts, trainings, etc.
- Always assume positive intent, but own impact. If you say something that is accidentally hurtful, apologies are powerful.
- Keep introductions and comments to the whole group 3 minutes or less to make space for multiple people to share.
- Feel free to share your contact information & websites in the comments near the end of the call.
You’re more than welcome to repurpose these norms however you’d like for your own virtual meetings. By setting norms, it sets the tone for the meeting and helps people know what to expect.
2. Ensure participants are trained on any functionality they may need
Don’t assume people know Zoom. While it’s a fairly easy tool to adopt, it is helpful to take time to make sure your participants feel comfortable. When inviting people to meetings, include documentation from Zoom on instructions for use. This is especially true if you’re going to be hosting larger or more formal meetings (see #2 for my own personal nightmare scenario).
Here are a few tools to explore using:
1. Raising hands – If you have more than 20 people on a call, you might want to have participants “raise their hand” by clicking on “Participant” and then “raise your hand.” I’ve also seen this be done by having people type “hand” in the chat. While this is a bit of a formal facilitation process, it can help avoid people talking over each other. I’ve seen “hand raising” to be an effective tool on a handful of group calls. If you plan on using this technique, make it clear to participants via email before the call.
2. Chat features – Let participants know they can chat with the entire group as well as directly with individuals on the call. Also, encourage participants to be mindful of what they post in the group chat. On one recent virtual call I was on with nearly 100 participants a technical issue occurred and one participant announced to everyone that they thought I caused the issue in the group chat. I’m 99.99% sure it wasn’t me. Given this, I was understandably frustrated and embarrassed to be called out in front of approximately 80 people I didn’t know. A more effective and less public way of questioning someone in a large group is to send people a direct message.
3. Display options – It’s helpful to let participants know that there are multiple display options using Zoom. By clicking the ‘Change view’ icon, attendees can switch between viewing the speaker, Thumbnail, or Gallery view. My personal preference is the Gallery view, so I can see everyone unless we’re watching the speaker present.
4. The mute button – If you have more than five people on a call, consider asking people to put themselves on mute. This can be a very helpful way to avoid distracting background noises like their dog barking or the phone ringing. Also, take a few minutes at the start of the call to make sure people know how to take themselves off of mute.
Using these tools can help ensure our participants feel comfortable showing up and interacting
3. Use Breakout Rooms
Now that I’m hosting meetings with large groups on Zoom, I was particularly excited to test out the “Breakout Rooms” feature.
In light of the fact we need connection now more than ever, having the opportunity to create smaller group breakouts is a powerful way to give people space to feel comfortable being open and honest.
I run an accelerator program that incorporates a number of small group breakouts and, thanks to this functionality, I’m going to be able to make the program completely virtual.
However, like all new things, it can be a bit bumpy when testing out new functionality.
When using Breakout Rooms, it’s important to provide attendees with a meeting agenda before the call. That way, if someone needs to join late they know that they need to join the meeting either before or after the timeframe for Breakout Rooms.
When you click on ‘Breakout Rooms’ in the bottom right corner of your screen, you have 2 options: (1) manually split people into rooms or (2) let zoom automatically break people into rooms.
For the automatic option, Zoom will split the group evenly into however many rooms you choose, which is helpful for larger groups. This is a great option if you want to curate your groups. In other instances, you may want to manually split people into rooms.
This is how the Breakout Rooms organization looks when assigning people to rooms manually:
Once you’re ready for people to enter the Breakout Rooms click “Open all Rooms,” which will lead to a link being sent to your participants inviting them to join their assigned Breakout Room.
As host, you can choose to enter whatever room you’d like. In this case, I opted for the room with only 3 participants to make it an even split:
When it’s time to come back together as a group, people can choose to “leave the Breakout Room” and then you will be brought back into the main meeting room. Alternatively, as the host, you can choose to close the Breakout Rooms within a certain timeframe.
All in all, using Breakout Rooms is pretty straight forward and great functionality.
4. Avoid Zoombombing
Depending on the type of call you might be hosting, it’s worth taking steps to avoid “Zoombombing,” i.e. trolls that might enter your Zoom meeting and share offensive content.
A few quick tips: to avoid this you can change your default settings to only allow the host to screen share. Also, do not post your zoom links on social media.
Zoom is also now requiring everyone to have a password for all meetings.
For a more extensive checklist, check out this article by the ADL.
5. Get creative
Virtual meetings can get dull if you’re not careful. It’s helpful to get creative and try new things.
In my case, we’ve started doing “Pet Parades.” I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it’s brilliant. We’ve now started ending every virtual lunch by showing off our pets. It’s fun, cute, and ends our meetings on a high note.
Hilariously, the first time we did this my dog was feeling playful and barked in my face in front of everyone. In the next meeting I bribed her with food…
What quirky, cute, or strange ways can you spice up your meetings?
While connecting virtually isn’t quite the same as the energy that comes from being together in person by taking the time to be thoughtful around how we can create better online experiences, it can make a major positive impact.