Why Zoom Beats Meeting In-Person. Nearly Every Time.

It’s that betwixt and between time.

Back in the brick-and-mortar office again. Well, on occasion. Business traveling again, in little baby steps.

The race back to normal has begun. Or more correctly perhaps, hybrid life.

I hear it all the time. I miss my social connections in the office. The spontaneous chats. I miss seeing your body language. All of you. The social glue that holds us all together in community.

I get it.

Allow me to be a contrarian, certainly when it comes to this. Virtual meetings are better than in-person meetings. Hands down. More efficient. More effective. More productive.

Pretty much all the time. If we do ‘em right.

I scheduled this meeting to discuss the scheduling of next week’s meetings.“ ~ Anonymous

My research suggests, writes Steven G. Rogelberg in an article titled “The Surprise Science Behind Successful Remote Meetings” (MIT Sloan Management Review/05/21/20), that only 50% of meeting time is effective, well-used, and engaging – and these effectiveness numbers drop even lower when it comes to remote meetings.

Yikes. Rogelberg, the Chancellor’s Professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte for distinguished national, international, and interdisciplinary contributions, offers a host of common-sense suggestions in his article for hosting a successful remote meeting. The most compelling one, by far, is simply this: FACILITATE.

Facilitate your virtual meeting well. Facilitate the heck out of it.

Really lead.

The beauty of virtual technology is that it gives us the tools to facilitate more boldly than we ever do in a face-to-face meeting.

Here’s why a well-facilitated virtual meeting bests a run-of the-mill in-person meeting, anytime, anywhere. My platform-of-choice is Zoom, so I will be making Zoom references here – but comparable organizing functions exist on most other virtual meeting platform

4 Keys to Superior Virtual Meeting Facilitation

Exceptional Brainstorming

You know loud-mouth-itis, right? In a standard in-person meeting, a bunch of people sit around a big, long table. The formal leader asks a question to the entire group. 3 or 4 individuals jump in and run with the conversation. The loud mouths.

A skilled leader will seek to draw in others, of course. Let’s look at this same moment in a well-facilitated virtual meeting: The leader asks the same question of the group. Instead of entertaining individual responses, a blank board is up on the screen. Group members are prompted to use the annotation function and populate the board with their answers or suggestions. At rapid speed, every member has the chance to jump in. Any comment is instantly visible. No one has taken over. Everyone’s opportunity is the same.

The process is fast. And because participation is visible on the screen, there is palpable peer pressure to jump in. Pressure on everyone.

Efficient. Quick. Even when we do a traditional in-person brainstorm with flip-chart writing, it is more cumbersome and takes way longer. In an annotated Zoom-brainstorm, we get an idea-energy-burst. Instant. Powerful. The structure does the trick.

Instant Pulse Check

I used to think virtual polls were kinda cheesy. A quick participation gimmick – you know, to show how interactive a virtual platform can be. Well, interactive it is. Engage it does. But a poll accomplishes so much more. It invites a deeper reflection on a given topic. It forces prioritization. It really does offer instant feedback on how a group of people thinks about aspects of a topic. And it allows everyone in the group to get a sense of what others are thinking and feeling, as well.

It does all this with ridiculous efficiency. In a minute or two, a poll outcome has the power to redefine the direction of a meeting. Could we do this in an in-person meeting, as well? Sure – but we don’t. We rely, instead, on babbling on.

Breakout Power

The structure of a traditional meeting is numbingly predictable. One group, one leader, one agenda, all seated around the same table. The pretext is that this structure gets us all “on the same page.” Reality is that members of the group frequently check out and don’t get heard.

This is the beauty of a Breakout Group: More members of the group get to talk. Because more get to talk, the conversation goes deeper, faster. Detours are less likely, potential derailment is managed more effectively. Conversations invariably become more robust. And because the groups are smaller, it may feel safer for a member to say something s/he might not feel safe saying in front of the entire group.

Can we do Breakouts in an in-person meeting? Sure. The beauty of a Zoom Breakout is that it happens with the click of a button. And because we’re suddenly in a private room, privacy is assured. Do a Breakout within an in-person boardroom setting, and we’re distracted by the chatter of the other groups. Do an in-person Breakout by actually sending folks to different rooms, time is wasted in the process and distraction encouraged. Zoom Breakouts have a power and efficiency an in-person meeting will never match.

Divide and Conquer

In a traditional Breakout, members of a group take the same agenda item and discuss it in small groups. Take it a level further: If you, let’s say, have 3 agenda items, take your meeting into 3 Breakouts. Each Breakout investigates a different agenda item. You have just broken up the hegemony of the “big group.” You’re accelerating conversation because 3 agenda items are being discussed, at the same time, in different groups.

When our 3 Breakouts come back together and share their findings, suggestions and ideas, we’re more likely to be curious and riveted. Because we had a different conversation. In the act of different Breakouts reporting back, more voices fill the conversational space. More voices “own” the conversation. Way more thoughts are shared. How powerful is that!

Related: Why Do You Work So Damn Hard?