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Top Tools for Virtual Meetings

Apr 08, 2021  -  Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation  -  News & Updates

Recently earning a Certified Virtual Facilitator™ credential, we have spent countless hours researching and test driving online tools to really wow our clients. Some work great; some had a learning curve before delivering; and some aren’t worth the time. 

When looking for new collaboration tools for facilitation, we evaluate them in the following areas:

  • How easy are they for everyone to use, even those who are less familiar with tech?
  • How well do they integrate with common tools, such as Zoom?
  • How do they help the whole team communicate, especially those who might be inclined not to participate, for any reason?
  • How many fun or intriguing features do they have, to get people excited about trying them out?

Here are a few standouts to explore. 

SessionLab*

SessionLab is a planning tool for group gatherings that includes a curated library of all kinds of facilitation activities. We love these because they help people get involved without the standard practice of throwing everyone into a video call and then just calling out names and ideas. A few things we love about SessionLab:

  • SessionLab gives you the ability to plot out exactly what you need to get done and how you’re going to do it, with workshop and meeting templates. 
  • If you have experience creating a meeting agenda in Word or Excel and struggling to change the timing with every edit to the document, SessionLab takes care of that for you! 
  • You can easily share your SessionLab session with others, who can either comment or fully co-create the agenda with you. 

SessionLab was created pre-pandemic, so nearly all the activities in the library are in-the-room exercises. They are slowly being updated with suggestions for how to do them online, and they serve as great inspiration for how to encourage participation and create the flow of a meeting that has a particular goal. Examples include creating a product, teambuilding, or co-creating a mission and vision. 

*Please note, we recently became an affiliate for this tool, so we earn money when others sign up with our link. We were using and loving it prior to affiliation, though, and are proud to share it with you.

Google Drive

Google’s full suite of services can be powerful for group collaboration. If it’s accessible to you, but you haven’t used it yet, you should. You can create documents, spreadsheets, presentation slides, and more. They are accessible from anywhere so you can edit and change things up live, without having to download and upload documents. And with a link, you can invite others to join you.

Like Box, Dropbox, and Onedrive, Google lets you control the access others have. You can allow anyone with a link to edit the document. Or just give them the ability to add comments or suggestions that an admin could later review and choose accordingly. Or you can give read-only access. This allows you to welcome people to collaborate at the level that makes the most sense for the size and structure of your group. 

A few items to note about Google Drive:

  • If your company uses G-suite, you can restrict the content to just those within your company. 
  • One issue we’ve run into with Google is that, while they should be technically accessible from anywhere, some entities (companies and government agencies) don’t allow their staff to access it. 
  • Occasionally there are issues related to whether a sign-in is required, which Google prefers to be via a Google account. Still, if Google is an option for you, consider how a shared document or slide could improve interactions on your next phone or video call. 

Zoom 

Who hasn’t used Zoom in the past year? Maybe you joined a meeting someone else hosted, or your company rolled it out, or you set up a personal Zoom account for a physically distanced family gathering. 

We at CM+F first started paying for Zoom because they let you create breakout rooms! Whether you’re doing a training and want to let people chat with a partner or at your family gathering you want to catch up with just the cousin you haven’t spoken to in months, creating a breakout room only takes a few minutes and is fairly intuitive to set up. You can have Zoom put people into breakouts automatically, or decide who is in each room manually. You set a timer for how long people have in the breakout. The default setting gives people 60 additional seconds in there when the timer ends - so you can finish up that thought and not be cut off mid-sentence. 

Just like any collaboration tool, when used well, it can absolutely enhance group communication. Here are a few Zoom tips:

  • We highly recommend using the chat with groups up to size 15. With more than 15 people, depending on how active they all are, the chat can be hard to keep up with. With a bigger group, think about breakout rooms.
  • You can use an artificial touch-up so you always look your best. 
  • You can “hide self view” so you don’t have to stare at yourself the whole meeting. 
  • You can rename yourself. For meetings, you can ask everyone in the room to change their name to the same character, like a period. Then when they answer a question in the chat, everyone’s opinions are anonymous
  • Zoom also has a fairly extensive YouTube channel. If you’re struggling with how to do something, odds are they have a demo to show you how to do it.

Mural

Anyone out there love mind-mapping as much as we do? When it comes to large scale, group planning projects, Mural can give everyone an opportunity to dive in and be part of the action. Think of it like a giant whiteboard, that can be accessed by remote teams who need to brainstorm and strategize together. You can prioritize, set up action plans, draw and design, use Agile templates, business planning templates, map out strategies… the list goes on. 

And frankly, it’s pretty fun to use too. Here are a few things we love about Mural:

  • Their icon library is ginormous, and you can search the internet for pictures within the tool, which can create some really zany moments. (Many of those are copyrighted, though, so don’t use them outside of your meeting.)
  • There’s also a drawing tool for those who are either really adept with their mouse work or who have a stylus to use with a computer or tablet. If you tend to sketch your notes, Mural might be great for you. Everyone can see the drawing as you create it! 
  • Plus, they have confetti! Who doesn’t love confetti - especially when you don’t have to clean it up? 
  • If you’ve never heard of Mural, and you’re interested in seeing what it can do, check out our sandbox and play around in there. 

Here are two priceless blogs on how to do it well in a professional setting: 

Dancing with Mural (and Google Docs)

The First 30 Minutes: How to Begin Every Virtual Session in Mural

Don’t Forget to Communicate First

A group email that explains when you’re meeting and what tools you’ll be using is a must. If you create a Mural and share the link in your Zoom without having warned people that you’ve got a new tool up your sleeve, there will be resistance! Give people a heads up and let them adjust to the idea. It will really help alleviate some of the complaints people have when they’re thrust into something new. 

These are just a few of the great tools we’ve discovered in facilitation and mediation to help move remote meetings along and encourage engagement from everyone. We have found these to be the most fun, and the most effective, but we’re always on the lookout for something new. 

Have you used a collaboration tool that we should check out? Drop us a line and let us know about it. 

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