As meetings move online in our “new normal,” how can you make the most of your time – and the time of others?
We posed that question to Kelley School of Business professors who have taught online in our Online MBA and in our hybrid Evening MBA and Business of Medicine Physician MBA, which combine online and in-person learning. (These days – all classes will be online.)
Todd Saxton, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship: First, think about internet bandwidth. Bandwidth can be a challenge you’ll need to be sensitive to. With more people working from home – maybe two parents, a couple kids – you can quickly exceed your internet bandwidth. We taught our Business of Medicine Physician MBA classes online last weekend, and we had physicians who went to audio only to conserve bandwidth. Know what your system can handle. Move from video to audio only when you’re in a Zoom session, unless video is adding a helpful dimension.
Kim Saxton, clinical professor of marketing: Consider what can be done asynchronously. My class last night was two hours and 40 minutes long. That’s a long time. So I stopped and said – What can the students do on their own, before we get together? Consider what needs to be done online versus offline, synchronous versus asynchronous. For the first hour of class, they worked on activities to prepare for our discussion. Then, we all got together in our meeting. Take time to think about how you can maximize the time you have together for the biggest impact.
Todd Saxton: When the Evening MBA Program moved to a hybrid delivery method years ago, we got very good at flipping the classroom. Lecturing was online, and in-person classes were for discussion, interaction and face-to-face feedback. Now, we have to think differently and creatively with everything online. I think people’s tendencies are to get online and deliver content. However, today’s tools enable a much different but interesting kind of interaction – that’s what we’ve been working to incorporate. Remember to think about how to enable one-on-one, one-to-many and man-to-one interactions.
Kim Saxton: Remember, not everything in an online meeting needs to be done at that moment. Don’t drag out meetings for the sake of meetings. You can have employees pre-work and email, using online time together to maximize what needs to get done. Make that time together useful.
The Saxtons offered five additional tools to make each online meeting more engaging:
1. Use chat as a side channel:
“This is a perfect tool to make sure your students and those in your meeting can ask questions and stay engaged throughout a presentation. This worked great during our most recent Business of Medicine Physician MBA class session. I planned for a guest panel of investors and entrepreneurs to share their experiences, but we moved to a virtual panel. That worked great, and while the panel was talking, I monitored the chat session. I could see what questions were coming in and pose those to the panelists accordingly. Of course, if it’s just you as the meeting host, monitoring chat can be a burden. Plan for pauses to look at the chat. It will help you see what the group is feeling or thinking,” said Todd.
“And remember – different people like to communicate in different ways. Some people don’t speak out loud during these meetings but are very active in chat. So give them that opportunity,” said Kim.
“It’s helpful to have multiple screens if you are hosting a meeting or class session. I have a second screen for my laptop, and I’m able to put the chat and video on one screen, and reserve the second screen for whatever I’m presenting,” added Todd.
2. Incorporate “polling” into your Zoom meetings.
“You can create polls in advance. In class, I can see if people prepared; have they read? But these polls can also test opinions: How do people in the meeting feel about certain discussion topics, or what are their preferences? You can poll priorities for discussion topics: What needs to be discussed in this meeting, and what can be discussed later or on the side? Instead of delivering information, this is a way to receive feedback. For example, in my Online MBA class, I posted a question about airbnb and how it funded early interactions. That keeps people engaged. Sometimes people’s tendencies in an online meeting may be to log on, let it go on in the background and check email or do other things. I believe there’s a higher level of engagement if you use polls or other interactive tools,” said Todd.
“Also, don’t just run your lecture video for an hour without pause. Add in some YouTube videos, or ask a question with instructions to email me the answer,” said Kim.
3. Try using breakout groups within an online session.
“I just experimented with this for the first time,” said Todd. “You can set up sub-groups within a larger meeting. For example, if you have a board meeting, you can host committee meetings but also bring everyone together. You can create a virtual workspace, and as a host, you can hop in and out; they can request for you to join them. It’s another way to keep people engaged and to make use of time throughout a longer session. This is a way to have a brainstorming session in smaller groups then come back to the bigger group. The only downside is that you have to wait until everyone is in the virtual meeting room to create these breakout groups, so it can be tedious the first couple times.
You can send people into the breakout rooms to work on a problem. Then, bring them back into the main room to share their ideas. The host can control when the breakout rooms open and close. You can enter and leave each room. You are automatically muted when you enter. You can even send messages to the breakout room.”
4. Embed songs in your PowerPoint to start and end the meeting.
“These last two suggestions are more fun, but we all could use some of that right about now, right?” said Todd. “During the early interaction as people are gradually joining the meeting or if you need to step away, you can put on some music to play until the meeting starts. For example, in my Venture classes, I use theme appropriate songs – High Hopes or Let’s Get it Started. Embedding those files into your PowerPoint takes the interaction burden off you in the beginning of the meeting. There is a trick to making that work though: You have to enable computer sounds. In the left corner of your screen, you’ll find a dropdown menu;make sure you click that. Otherwise, people in Zoom won’t hear your great music.”
5. Consider a fun virtual background, if it’s appropriate.
“Next to the video setting on Zoom, there’s a dropdown arrow where you can enable a virtual background. It can create a discussion topic to begin your virtual interaction. So instead of always talking about the weather, you could showcase a photo of your favorite location. Of course, this can be a distraction, but in some settings, it works. You can ask people to come in with their own virtual backgrounds to create a talking point to start the meeting,” said Todd.
“Not every computer will do this; if you have an older computer, you’ll need to purchase a green screen,” said Kim. “I bought one for $120, and it’s worth it for the fun moments and interaction.”
Posted by: Teresa Mackin, firstname.lastname@example.org