Do you suffer from acute ‘meetingitis virtuales’? Here’s some antidote


Does this sound familiar? (Original item here)

But then repeatedly, several times per week or per day even?

You are clearly a patient of acute meetingitis virtuales (or MV88 – 88 standing for infinity infinity), a modern virus that is affecting more and more people every week, far from the public attention it deserves…

How has MV88 become such a widespread disease? We are a globally connected world, where people increasingly pay attention to their carbon footprint and try to reduce their travels (look here to calculate, very very roughly, your carbon footprint).
That’s all very well… except we can’t suffer from that typical homo socialus affliction without doing something about it!

Here are some ways to deal with THE virus of our times…

Know your enemy (the symptoms)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

Meetings are the mega virus of which meetingitis virtuales is only a sub-virus. We end up meeting everyone all the time, about everything. Do we have to? Certainly not!

There’s a lot of advice out there to eliminate useless meetings. The point is: feel free to kill meetings that are ill-planned, ill-prepared or that take too long (and for those you might use nifty little tricks such as this app to measure time and cost spent on a meeting).

Having lived in the Netherlands, where everyone is meeting – it was a matter of life and death for the Dutchies in their fight against Mother Nature’s over generous waters – I have grown rather sensitive to this MV88 virus and am now picking my meeting battles. No clear objective, no clear chair, no clear team, no clear commitment? I’m out of it… When all this is in place, let’s convene again :)

This resource could be of great help to help you decide whether or not a (virtual) meeting is appropriate.
Personally I reckon making decisions to attend meetings depends mostly on whether or not these are decision-making meetings. Of course there are many reasons to organise meetings but only when collective consultation and decisions are required is a meeting truly justified. Simple information sharing can happen through other means (and ahead of meetings).

Remember these tips ‘to meet or not to meet’, to decide whether to hold a meeting in the first instance or not…

Know your medicines (the tools)

Now that you have the basics covered and you know you will be having a virtual meeting, you need to select the tools that will help you cope with MV88 rather than make it worse: web-conferencing tools.

If you use Skype a lot, these guidelines to manage a Skype conference call might come in handy. If you’re rather in favour of Google Hangouts, then check these recent Google Hangout guidelines by Samuel Stacey.

But hey! There’s a whole lot more options beyond Skype, Google Hangouts or even WebEx!!!

Various discussions on KM4Dev have looked into web-conferencing tools, particularly for low bandwidth contexts:

And the ever brilliant ‘Knowledge Sharing Toolkit’ has an entry on web meeting tools too, but it’s difficult to beat Wikipedia – particularly for its great comparison table of web conferencing software. But I notice even ubiquitous Wikipedia doesn’t mention BlueJeans – perhaps that table should be updated, as this very recent (Feb. 2014) comparative review of three web conferencing softwares, within CGIAR, gives BlueJeans as winner, hands down.

Administer the medicines in the best possible way (the processes)

If you know why you’re having the virtual meeting, what platform you’ll be using, then the last step is to look at ways to organise the meetings in the best possible ways. This gets very close to meeting facilitation… And virtual meetings are not exactly the same animals as face-to-face meetings.

Here are some basics to manage all kinds of meetings…

Make meetings work (Credits: Zoho)

Make meetings work! (Credits: Zoho)

And here are my own tips for virtual meetings:

  • Split responsibilities among participants: chair / note-taker / technology attendant (to connect/disconnect people). It will greatly help a smooth running;
  • Don’t just rely on voice-over-internet-protocol. In a series of online peer-assists I was involved in, we took the habit of systematically using in parallel with VOIP) a simple wiki-like ‘MeetingWords‘ pad to capture the flow, so that anyone dropping out (and that happened a lot as you can imagine), could follow the conversation including the bits they’d missed;
  • Don’t focus on the time you have, focus on your objectives and what you have to achieve. Shorter meetings encourage all participants to put focus and dedication into it. In the 50-cent and 2-second immortality world we live in, it’s quite difficult to keep your virtual participants focused. If you planned to spend an hour and you’re done within 30 minutes, let it be and enjoy the extra time!

Nancy White has compiled this absolutely excellent list of conference call tips and tricks, so I think you’re in better hands with her than with me at this stage.

If you find other tips to beat MV88, let us all know, for I don’t think virtual meetings are likely to disappear in the near future. Ooops, gotta leave you folks, the next conference call is happening ;)

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