There are certain books that have been around for a long time, yet they remain as fresh In the context of business collaboration, Sam Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making is one of these.

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Is it possible that virtual learning can be more effective and not just a compromise when budgets get cut? When might virtual learning actually be advantageous? Here’s a list of potential winners – opportunities to accomplish more in a virtual setting than in the traditional classroom.
When you look at it through this lens, transitioning from traditional learning methods to ones that work in the virtual world looks less like a necessary evil and more like an exciting opportunity.

We have just published a white paper entitled Designing Interactive Webinars to add to our webinar and article series on collaborative learning in the virtual workplace.

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A recent post on a site called iPad CTO caught my eye because its title : Increase Productivity with iPad-driven Business Meetings. Yes indeed! I thought – having just returned from an engagement where we used iPads to create a sense of intimate conversation amongst 400 people. The author of this post went on to posit: “The legacy of business meetings – boring, counter-productive, and a constant interruption of real work – shows that little progress has been made over the last century ……There’s a chance iPad’s involvement and deep integration into the way meetings are organized and implemented can move the needle just enough to improve your meetings in significant ways.”

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One way to know that you’ve arrived at the very essence of an issue or solution is when you can articulate it completely and accurately in very few words. That’s why good mission statements are short, some even crafted in a single phrase. One description I like is “short enough to remember, and strong enough to inspire”. And that’s why it sometimes takes a while to get it right.

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Says Reid Hastie: “I USED to be the disengaged participant — one who had good ideas about how to solve a problem or conduct a meeting, but didn’t contribute. I now take a more active role, aiming to make meetings more effective.”

To at least some degree, we own our experience in meetings and we play a role in making them either a waste or a good use of our time. That leads me to think about four things that we can and should take ownership of to improve our own meeting experience.

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You’re asked to participate in a chaotic exercise billed as a brainstorming session. The moderator instructs you to “think outside the box”, tells you that the activity is penalty free (“no idea is a bad idea”) and then waits expectantly. But without design or instruction, some participants sit there apathetically, others contribute sporadically, and a few loudly dominate the session with their pet ideas.

In 7 Steps to Better Brainstorming, the authors propose a modified brainstorming technique they call “brainsteering”. But does it lead creative thinkers down too narrow a path?

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We’ve been living with information overload from our computers and smartphones for long enough that studies are beginning to draw conclusions that are a bit worrisome. The most benign of these conclusions is that multi-tasking doesn’t increase productivity for the most part, in fact you lose about 20-30% efficiency going back and forth between tasks. Scientists are also beginning to point out that people who communicate predominantly through electronic means are forgetting how to read verbal cues and body language.

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In my last post, I made the case that facilitators should take a new look at how to make pre-work more valuable and compelling. There are great benefits to be gained from designing engaging pre-work activities (and incentives to complete them) before your virtual or face-to-face event. They range from raising the level of investment and preparedness of the participants to enabling the facilitator to set the tone for the meeting ahead of time.
There are two reasons why thinking out a communication plan for the meeting, and particularly the pre-work, is very helpful. First, it is a way to communicate the value, urgency, incentives and consequences of doing the pre-work. Second (and this is particularly true for those facilitating virtual events), time spent in advance connecting and building personal connections is enormously valuable in creating a trustworthy and enlivened environment for true sharing and interaction. In other words, a bit of advance phone and email work will pay huge dividends.
When constructing your communications plan, be sure consider the following.

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Most facilitators and team leaders I’ve talked to see the value of assigning some sort of pre-work before a virtual meeting and bemoan the fact that only a small fraction of the participants take this request seriously and complete their assignments. It’s time to take a new look at how to make meeting pre-work more valuable and more compelling.

There are two important reasons to design pre-work into your webinar, online conference or workshop. The first is to get your participants ready to take full advantage of the session by thinking ahead about the content, beginning to formulate ideas or getting to know the group. Participants who have completed well thought out pre-work are “primed” for active and open participation in the real-time event.

The second is to get you ready to facilitate the session effectively. By knowing more about your participants and their interests, you are in a position to develop focused questions that will stimulate ideas. In a virtual setting this becomes even more critical, as you typically have less time in which to achieve your meeting objectives and lack the visual cues that make it easier to adjust your course in mid-stream.

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Lately I’ve been interested in the use of smart phones paired with web-based tools to make meetings more interactive. (see blog post For This Meeting, Turn on Your Smart Phones). Recently I helped facilitate a session of 150 people where a variety of smart phones were used to allow meeting attendees to provide instant input to the session organizers. There were several useful take-always from this experience.

1- Explore what resources and tools you’ll need to achieve your meeting objectives

  • If the objective is primarily to provide “information by presentation “, then making sure your speakers are available and setting up a good projection system may be all that you need. If your speakers can’t physically be present at the session you’ll need networking, video conferencing or telephony capabilities to enable their virtual presence.
  • If, on the other hand, your meeting process calls for an interactive session with group input (especially with a group of 50 people or more), using smart phones or other devices is a good way to efficiently collect the information from all participants without disrupting the meeting flow. Make sure that the majority of your audience own smart phones and that you offer alternative input options so no one feels excluded. Provide loaner smart phones or Apple iPod Touches , or have a few laptops around the room for people to use.

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