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Truly connecting in online meetings

From birth and all through those early, formative years we are driven to connect.

Connections with others are vital for our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

A sense of community/belonging is fundamental to us as people.

Health protocols around limiting the spread of COVID-19 have introduced us to “social distancing” or physical distancing. Nonetheless, it is of paramount importance that we find ways to still make meaningful connections, especially in this time when many of our usual in-person interactions have migrated online – school, work, religious meetings etc.

What is a meaningful connection? It is defined as an interaction in which we feel accepted, understood, and supported. It delivers as sense of belonging. This begs the question: “Can meaningful connections be made in online settings?”

The short answer is yes, but it won’t happen on a whim. It requires preparation, especially when managing large groups (a dozen or more participants). One has to strategically design and manage these meetings to somehow produce meaningful connections.

I’ve found that over the past 10 months of leading meetings online, somethings have worked. I know they did because of the feedback received from some participants. Here they are, in no particular order. My hope is that they will work for you too.

Video On

Once the participants’ internet connection can facilitate this without any glitches, everyone should have video on. Meaningful connections are virtually impossible without seeing each other. When the camera is off, the temptation to be distracted increases ten-fold (don’t quote me, it’s not data-driven research here). Persons tend to be otherwise engaged – browsing around online, space out, play games and the list goes on.

That said, it’s unfair to assume that video off means that someone isn’t paying attention. Make video on the expectation and check in individually with those who might be having connectivity issues.

Enable the Chat Feature and Share the Comments

This is helpful in large virtual meetings. It gives everyone a chance to chime in, make a comment, or ask questions. Occasionally moderator should pause to respond to some of the comments or questions. Responding to those contributions after the meeting also helps to build meaningful connections.

An Active Meeting Lead/Chair/Moderator

Having a clear idea of who controls the agenda important. Sharing the agenda in a timely manner goes a far way too. Where possible, rotate the moderator for meetings which occur regularly. It gives each person an opportunity to bring their own (unique) style to the flow of things and will allow the group to have a different appreciation for each other. Their role is to ensure the meeting still runs smoothly, stays on time and produces useful outcomes. If achieved, that will be another route to meaningful connections.

Appreciate That Reality Affects Everyone Differently

These times are new and can be scary. Conducting ‘business as usual’ without acknowledging the reality can make others feel disconnected. This doesn’t mean you have to dwell on it. People feel more connected knowing that others around them understand the struggle of feeling very concerned about what’s happening. It shows that we are all in this together.

Mandatory Participation

Guide the meeting in a way that ensures everyone participates but do so in a gentle way. The level of participation may vary from person to person, but ensure there’s a contribution from all involved. Avoid having the extroverts do it all. Psychologically it’s easier to participate if you know that everyone must do so. Over time, it becomes easier and more comfortable. What works is inviting people to share something for which they are thankful and why. It helps others think beyond the stresses of life to realise some of what they have going for them.

Showing Appreciation Acknowledge and thank each person for their contribution. Depending on who the person is, participation could have been a huge deal – heart pacing, palms sweating etc. Letting them know their input was well-received will likely mean a lot and it should go a far way in making them feel more at ease going forward.

Make it Personal

If you are leading a meeting, endear others to you by sharing a story, fun-fact or recent experience which taught a lesson. If it involves a bit of humour, even better. There are numerous ways to make it personal. Engage the group for suggestions about how to make it personal in your upcoming virtual meetings.

Try any or all of these guidelines. Think about your own experiences and create ideas which are workable. The important thing is to learn how to make meaningful connections in your virtual meetings.

Cheers and stay safe.

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