Tips for facilitating virtual meetings on Skype

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I have been facilitating many meetings using Skype and have some observations to share:

Our experience so far is that Skype’s voice conferencing is more stable than video conferencing.

This is based on facilitating many conference calls between 5 – 15 people at any one time.

There are things you can do to make a Skype conference successful.

I thought it would be useful to condense some of our learning for you, so here goes..

Facilitation Tips for a Successful Skype Conference

  • Make sure you have everyone’s Skype ID – set up a group list in Skype beforehand then you just need to make one call
  • Let everyone know you will call them – If they call you – and you answer, you put the main group on hold and this can be frustrating from their point of view.
  • Circulate a clear agenda beforehand.
  • Set a clear start time – and don’t forget to include local times for people in other time zones
  • If people arrive late, get them to text you rather than Skype you to let you know they are waiting to join – then you can add them to your conference call.
  • Leaving a virtual meeting is easier than leaving a real one, so….
  • Set a clear end time – If you don’t do this I’ve found that people make their own assumptions about when the meeting will end and you run the danger of people giving their apologies before the end of the meeting then you can lose control and it ends when you run out of a critical mass of people to contribute.

Tight or loose control – it’s your choice:

  • If you want to control the meeting tightly then add more agenda points.
  • If you want the meeting to flow more freely then just have 2 or 3 points at most

Managing Distractions:

  • Microphones are sensitive things, we have had all of these and more in our meetings:
    • Dogs barking
    • Mobiles ringing
    • Doors slamming
    • Landline telephones ringing, then voicemail kicking in
    • Birdsong (I can live with this one)
    • Postmen, delivery people arriving
  • Make sure people know how to mute their microphone (and recognise when it is muted)

Involving everyone:

  • You get a visual cue for who is talking, their icon on-screen has a blue halo.
  • Keep a mental (or written) note of who is contributing and encourage the quiet ones to have their say
  • Dont be afraid of silence, give people space to talk
  • A good tip to involve the quiet ones:
    • Give them warning that you will invite them to have a say after the next person.
    • Some people need that time to think.
    • You can get really valuable contributions this way.
  • Nearly every time I have run a Skype conference someone has had trouble with their microphone
    • Encourage people to use the Instant Messaging feature
    • This can seem like you are running two simultaneous meetings – it gets easier to do with practise

Should you put in a comfort break?

  • If shorter than one hour, no
  • If longer than an hour, schedule in a break halfway through and make this clear at the start.
  • Tell everyone not to close Skype, keep it open while they take a break 5 -10 mins max

Tips for helping the meeting write-up afterwards:

Creating a Skype transcript is easier than you might think.

Skype has an instant messaging (IM) function built-in, encourage people to use it during the meeting and the notes write themselves.

  • We find it is very helpful when people have problems with the technology.
    • In one case two people could hear us but not speak
    • So I encouraged them to type comments in and we had a parallel track of conversations
    • This makes for a juggling act as a facilitator keeping track of the voice traffic and message traffic but you get used to it pretty quickly
  • At the end of the session before I closed the Skype window I did 2 things
    • Took a screen capture to get everyone’s pictures (using the print screen key – then paste the image into the meeting notes document)
    • Clicked and dragged over the message traffic text in the IM window, copied and pasted it into the meeting notes.

Ending the meeting:

  • Try to keep to the end time, having a clear ending is satisfying for everyone involved and shows you respect the value of their time and, by implication, yours.
  • If you are not good at monitoring the time..
    • Tell the people in the conference call at the start.
    • Encourage people in the conference to alert you when the meeting is close to the end.
  • If you are going to overrun call a quick halt agree a new end time and stick to it.

This all works, it is based on actual experience.

I’m a fan of learning by doing so give it a go and tell me what works for you.

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3 thoughts on “Tips for facilitating virtual meetings on Skype

  1. Thanks Adrian, you really are very effective in your facilitation of Skype sessions and introducing/encouraging efficiencies such as the use of notes and instant messaging ensures all are involved. I enjoyed our last meeting! i am sure these tips will tremendously helpful

  2. Hi Adrian,
    I can only ressonate what Joy said about the impact of a good facilitator like you are, Adrian.And I share your observations and and best-practice ideas.

    Personally I think a Skype meeting is most efficient up to 6 people. In our case (being their voluntarily and in the best mood to exchange) a larger group is very fine with a skilled facilitator like you who keeps “juggling”. (For me, 10 would be max here)

    In a work environment I would always go for tools where people have the chance to indicate more (raise hands for example) and where it is easier to follow written comments.

    Anne

    BTW, Skype allows recording too.

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