Mind maps such as this example from Illumine Training can be an effective tool to engage participants during online meetings.

Topic: Meetings / Events Type: Tools / Resources

Tips to Enhance Online FAC Network Meetings

Authors: Molly Mowery

The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network is made up of Core Members, local and regional partners, and staff/advisers located in all corners of the country. The diversity of participants adds value to the network by promoting different perspectives and experiences.

The nature of a national network, however, requires us to lean heavily on conference calls, webinars, and other means of remote and online communication. Anyone who has facilitated or participated in an online meeting knows that these forums bring their own set of challenges. To ensure our online activities keep network participants engaged and maximize our productive time together, we recently sought to learn more about online facilitation tips, best practices and new tools to support remote interaction.

Thanks to an online course called “Facilitating Remote and Online Meetings – Essential Success Skills,” sponsored by the Sustainable City Network and instructed by Michael Fraidenburg, we picked up a number of tested and innovative ways to enhance our online communication. We look forward to incorporating some of these techniques into our future FAC Network communications, and hope they will help you in your regional FAC efforts as well! Here are a few of our favorite tips and tools for facilitating better remote communication:

1)  Utilize the time before the meeting starts as an opportunity to warm participants up to the meeting topic. Display pictures, quiz questions, or share other facts or cartoons on the screen to help people feel welcome. Another smart idea is to include a countdown or timer to let participants know when the meeting will start.

2)  After the meeting starts, punctuate facilitation with some type of interaction.  A good rule of thumb is to include an engagement activity every 5-7 minutes. Achieving this is easier than you think: consider adding in a quick poll to keep people’s attention. The poll should ask a simple question to mentally engage and refocus audiences back on the issue at hand. Creating a poll also helps quickly prioritize and identify group sentiment without having a lot of discussion. Other opportunities to engage participants include random round robin or one minute check-ins (for smaller format meetings), turning on webcams if people have access to this feature, inviting people to use the chat box, or inviting a participant to be the “the star” by sharing  information. Real time polling includes Sli.do and Poll Everywhere.

3)  Another way to engage an online audience is through using on-screen mind mapping software. This is the equivalent of a flip chart in the sense that it enables discussions to be organized by topics, associations, and outcomes. Programs include NovaMind, FreeMind, and Spiderscribe.

4)  If mind mapping seems too complex, there are also a number of online whiteboard options that can help stimulate brainstorming. Whiteboarding can also help with enabling participants to collectively mark up documents, paste graphics, and collaborate in an online setting. Check out Twiddla, Vyew, and Titanpad.

5)  When building in online breaks, set a timer on the screen so people know there is a break and how much time is left. This can be especially helpful with new teams that may not appreciate timeliness. It also conveys non-verbal message of sticking with schedule. New timer software can be set to reveal an online puzzle, cartoon, or question and also come equipped with an alarm!

6)  In the case where some attendees are online and some are in person, punctuate facilitation by setting aside ten-minute periods for online participants have a chance to talk. This often requires building it into the agenda to ensure this does not get overlooked.

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