Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

Three lessons to make your meeting virtually amazing

16/04/2020 - by Margot Curl

Twenty coordinating lead authors of the 2012 IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters (SREX) met virtually. Here are three lessons from this meeting. 

It had been months in the making. In late March, 20 coordinating lead authors of the 2012 IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters (SREX) had planned to convene in Brussels to take stock and explore opportunities for further collaboration.

Unfortunately, this face-to-face meeting, like so many other meetings, had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 restrictions on travel. 
But rather than postponing or cancelling altogether, we decided to go ahead with a virtual version of this event. Here are three lessons from this four-hour Zoom meeting, which received praise from the participants for being engaging and effective. 
“Thank you for organising this meeting. I didn’t expect it, but it was even more effective than a live meeting."
Chris Field, Senior Fellow Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment 
1. Design, don’t compile an event: it can be tempting to rush the creation of an agenda for an online event, simply sticking a few agenda items together.

What we have found to be useful instead is to design an online event with the same care and attention otherwise used for a face-to-face meeting.

Participants’ time is valuable, whether they have to travel halfway across the world for a meeting, or simply join from the confines of their own house.  

Two questions that have been valuable in guiding this process are: “What do you want participants to experience or feel in this meeting?” and “What do you want participants to have accomplished at the end of this meeting?” 

2. Keep a personal touch: people thrive on human interaction, and with COVID-19 restrictions, this aspect becomes highlighted even further.

During this meeting, we asked everyone to introduce themselves very briefly with their name, country and a fond memory of the process of writing the SREX report, almost ten years ago.

An additional instruction was to take only one breath per fond memory to encourage participants to be brief.

Other elements we used were: turning on our cameras, showing a short video and pictures of past shared experiences, and ensuring that everyone was heard during various co-creation activities. 

3. Have technical support: having hosted over 50 online meetings and attended many others, one of my biggest frustrations is when technology fails us. Sometimes there is nothing we can do about this as there may indeed be real bandwidth issues.

Many other technical glitches can be prevented or managed elegantly in real time. Having a technical expert who can be an experienced team member has helped us smoothly operate breakout rooms, whiteboards and discussions, without losing participants amid the complexities of a digital platform. 

“Thank you for incredible discussions and phenomenal use of Zoom. I look forward to next steps!” 
Katharine Mach, Associate Professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

For more tips, see principles of virtual design