Virtual Board and committee meetings will be with us for the foreseeable future. After more than a year of virtual meetings, the novelty has worn off. It is time to freshen up these virtual meetings with advanced planning techniques and a new focus on value, time, and impact.
At the start of the pandemic, safety protocols, social distancing, and travel restrictions were the key drivers to a rapid shift to virtual Board and committee meetings. Unlike events and programs that could be delayed, rescheduled, or even canceled, leadership meetings had to continue to ensure the business and mission of nonprofit organizations were protected and optimized to rapidly changing circumstances on the ground.
With more than a year of virtual meetings behind us, now is a good time to assess what is working and how we can make better use of precious meeting time and enhance impact.
This past year I have had the advantage of serving in three different roles for multiple unrelated nonprofit organizations and NGOs. I have served as a volunteer Board member, officer, and committee member, as an outsourced CFO, and as a third-party fiscal and financial advisor. Each of these roles gave me a unique perspective to look across the virtual table and observe many different meetings, both good and bad. From these real-life learning experiences, I have developed a list of tips and techniques for impactful virtual Board and committee meetings, which has now grown to three full pages.
My top three tips and techniques are as follows:
1. Give extra thought to meeting agendas and pre-meeting preparation – A little effort here will yield excellent results and enhance a positive perception. Start by drafting agendas earlier than in the past. Condense the agendas to fit a shorter virtual meeting format and keep the content tight. Send draft agendas to key thought leaders (Committee Chair, Board Chair, CEO, Staff Liaison, etc.) and insist on pre-meeting “walk throughs” with these thought leaders.
2. Recognize that each meeting leader has a different culture, style, and engagement approach – Spend time with each meeting leader. Learn about their experiences and résumé. Look closely to see if they have a hands-on style or are more apt to delegate. Also consider how time sensitive they are and be considerate of how you make requests of their time and efforts. Finally, align the meeting agenda to meet their comfort zones, giving preference to early agenda items that the meeting leader is comfortable with while delegating later agenda items to other staff liaisons.
3. Have a plan for how to engage meeting participants – This will impact the flow and perception of your virtual meeting. Balance is the key. Too much individual participation and the meeting is disrupted, runs long, and veers from the agenda. Too little engagement and participants will feel marginalized. Be the orchestra conductor creating great harmony, while not attracting too much attention. Time the agenda components and flag sections for engagement. Build in natural discussion break points. Be aware of individuals that over-engage and avoid waiting until the end of the meeting to call out individuals who were silent.
Planning Tip – Make improving virtual Board and committee meetings a strategic goal for staff as well as senior management. Encourage post-meeting assessments and debriefings. These do not have to be overly formal, but make sure they occur within 24 hours after the meeting. Use targeted, simple questions such as: (a) what were the three key positives and negatives?; (b) was the meeting format effective?; or (c) if you could do the meeting over what would you have changed?; or, my favorite, (d) was the meeting perceived as a good use of both staff and volunteer time?
The best part of improving virtual Board and committee meetings is that even small changes can make a big impact. This approach only requires a small investment in awareness and an eagerness to be innovative.