People tend to agree that a virtual meeting with a small number of participants is easier to handle than a meeting with a large number of participants. Although that is generally correct, there is no reason to force people to come into a central location and meet in-person just because you surpass some virtual room occupancy limit. It may be more challenging, but you can manage a large group almost as easily as a small group with some practice.
For example, I used to facilitate a bi-weekly call for a new program introduction process. As new service programs went through various stages of development, decision makers would meet at specific milestones to approve the program and allow it to progress to the next stage or send it back for more work. Eighteen separate stakeholder groups would listen to the program team make their pitch and then a representative from each group would ask any questions or make comments before approving or rejecting the program. It was not uncommon for up to 50 people attend the virtual meeting in addition to the decision makers. (The meeting participants were global so it was not possible, even if we wanted to, to get them in the same room at the same time). By the way, each meeting lasted only 90 minutes and we typically reviewed 3-4 programs per meeting.
How did we do it? As someone recently pointed out to me, it all boils down to meeting management and technology. Here are some tips to help with meeting management for large groups:
- Know Your Participants. Who’s coming and what do you need from them? Not every participant may be equal, and I’m not necessarily referring to their title or rank within the organization. Some may be subject matter experts and provide key input to direct questions. Others may be decision-makers. And others may be just lurking, listening in for general information. Know who’s coming, and more importantly, what you want or expect from them. Be ready to reach out and engage people to pull information if needed.
- Spare the lecture, get to the discussion. If you don’t engage a large audience quickly, then you will lose them to their inbox, Internet news sites or anything else that pops up on their screen. Socialize general information prior to the meeting so you don’t waste time. You can get a little creative with narrated presentations, recorded video, or social media to disseminate information versus just sending an email shotgun blast.
- Manage the chaos. Large virtual meetings can get a little unruly. Audio collisions are common when people try to talk over other people on the phone which can drown out voices. Good meeting technology helps in this regard by giving you the ability to mute some participants, allow others to signal that they want to speak, or let people ask questions through a chat window. Regardless of the app, meeting facilitators can help by setting some ground rules and enforcing time management. Also, think about pairing up. Often the meeting facilitator is engaging the audience and may miss questions or comments that are being asked online. It’s helpful to have a partner to catch this and allow the facilitator to focus on managing the audience.
- Follow up. There are some statistics that suggest we forget up to 90% of what we see and hear in just a few days. Never forget to follow up with all participants with notes, action items, meeting recordings, etc.