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Update on Meeting Showdown: In-person vs. virtual meetings.

I have a confession to share…

When I wrote the last blog wondering about virtual and in-person meeting preferences, I thought that we were moving past half-day long Zoom/Teams meetings, forgetting to ‘unmute’ and dry eyes/sore everything from being on screens for so long. COVID-19 cases had been declining and with vaccination rates increasing, like many others, I was hoping we were on the other side of this. Liz and I were planning two in-person facilitated sessions around this time. We had our markers, stickies, a really engaging plan and were ready to go! For the first time in close to 2 years, we would be facilitating sessions with people in the same room! We were excited, nervous and feeling all those emotions you have before a big meeting with people you have not yet met in person. We could not wait!

Unfortunately, the day before we were to leave for the first session, there was a bad storm and the trip was postponed due to severe weather and dangerous driving conditions. No problem. We were planning on finishing up the following week anyways, so we decided to modify the plan and take advantage of the extra planning time. I think you know where I am going with this… Yes, and then Omicron came along and the second in-person session was also postponed, eventually becoming multiple virtual sessions spread out over several months.

As you can imagine, the feelings and emotions were different once all the postponements had shaken down. My preference has and probably always will be for in person meetings. It may be generational (am I dating myself?), a result of my facilitation training, or just a comfort thing, but I have a much tougher time with virtual facilitations. During in person meetings, I enjoy feeling the energy of the participants as the session goes on and I have learned to read body language and facial expressions to modify activities and questions to keep conversations moving forward. These are really hard details to feel and read virtually. With that said, I would be naïve to think that in-person meetings will return to the default that they once were when we have all the virtual tools and infrastructure that we do now. The fact that we can work around inclement weather and pandemics with virtual sessions means they are more likely the norm and one that we all need to embrace.

The virtual sessions that we had to schedule over several months instead of the two day in person meeting are going well. We adapted our facilitation plans to make use of online technologies, like Mural and breakout rooms, and chosen facilitated activities that work virtually. We also included individual activities for participants to do between meetings in order to keep up momentum. We're learning every time we have to pivot our facilitation plans quickly between in-person and virtual environments.

All this is to say, over the next few months, we will still be asking colleagues, clients and friends what they think about virtual and in-person meetings and facilitations. Do they have a preference? And why? What tips and tricks can they share for making their preferred meeting style as successful as possible? Want to be featured on our blog? Drop us a line!

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