Zoomed Out? Me too. There are other ways to virtually engage

Portrait of happy young woman sitting on floor with laptop

We are now finding out that Zoom Fatigue, along with Quarantine Fatigue, is a real thing. Research on this has been showing up in the media quite a bit lately (see New York Times article link in Rad Resources below). And yet, now more than ever we need these tools to connect.  

At Ellis Planning Associates, we have been long-time users and proponents of virtual engagement tools to enhance group participation. Virtual will never replace real physical contact, and it shouldn’t! But we would love to share how we use it creatively and with a good understanding of its advantages and shortcomings. After honing our skills and pushing the limits of virtual collaboration over the last 6 years, we believe that as we all boldly engage in these online rooms, we will find ourselves making real strides in fostering stronger connections now and once the pandemic is behind us. 

You may already know that our team uses what seems to be a “sleeper” platform, Adobe Connect, for virtual engagement. With Zoom’s ubiquitous popularity and super easy interface, fewer people are using Adobe Connect despite its distinct advantages with its high degree of customizability, layouts that are visually appealing and engaging, breakout rooms, virtual flip chart pads, whiteboards, polls and more. 

We would love to show you around this highly engaging platform that can almost replicate the in-person event without requiring the use of multiple software platforms at once, as we have seen artfully done combining Zoom with Google Docs for example. Adobe Connect, allows us to upload shared content, including secondary apps, right onto the screen in advance. This eliminates the need to split or add a second screen and reduces the amount of bandwidth required by users.

We thought we would re-post this short blog we wrote in 2015 for the American Evaluation Association about Virtual Engagement. It’s totally relevant now and is a reminder that there are ways we can facilitate virtual collaborative discussions in ways that are enlivening.  

Let us know what you need (or wish was possible) in the virtual space. We would be happy to show you around our dozens of meeting rooms where we have successfully engaged groups in powerful collaborative sessions over the years. And better yet, give us a challenge so we can push the limits even further.  Please reach out!  

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AEA365 blog: April 17, 2015 (updated here)

To view the original post on the AEA site, click here

Galen Ellis on Virtual Meeting Spaces: Minefields to Gold Mines

Greetings! I’m Galen Ellis, President of Ellis Planning Associates Inc., which has long specialized in participatory planning and evaluation services. In online meeting spaces, we’ve learned to facilitate group participation that – in the right circumstances – can be even more meaningful than in person. But we had to adapt.

Although I knew deep inside that our clients would benefit from online options, I couldn’t yet imagine creating the magic of a well-designed group process in the virtual environment. Indeed, we stepped carefully through various minefields before reaching gold.

As one pioneer observes,

Just because you’re adept at facilitating face-to-face meetings, don’t assume your skills are easily transportable. The absence of visual cues and the inability to discern the relative level of engagement makes leading great virtual meetings infinitely more complex and challenging. Assume that much of what you know about leading great meetings is actually quite irrelevant and look for ways to learn and practice needed skills (see Settle-Murphy below).

We can now engage groups online in facilitation best practices such as ToP methods and Appreciative Inquiry and group engagement processes such as logic model development, focus groups, consensus building, and other collaborative planning and evaluation methods (see our video demonstration).

Lessons Learned:

  • Everyone participates. Skillfully designed and executed virtual engagement methods can at times be more effective in engaging the full group than in-person ones. Some may actually prefer this mode: one client noted that a virtual meeting, with its varied options for participation (audio, chat responses, use of emoticons) drew out participants who had been typically silent in face-to-face meetings.
  • Software platforms come with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. The simpler ones often lack interactive tools; but the ones that do allow interaction tend to be more costly and complex.
  • Tame the technical gremlins. Participants without suitable levels of internet speed, technological experience, or hardware—such as microphoned headsets—will require additional preparation. Meeting hosts need to know ahead of time what sorts of devices and internet access participants will be using. Participants should always be invited into the meeting space early for technical troubleshooting.
  • Don’t host it alone. One host can produce the meeting (manage layouts, video, etc.) while another facilitates.
  • Plan and script it. Virtual meetings require a far more detailed script than a simple agenda. Indicate who will do and say what, and when.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Run through successive drafts of the script with the producing team.

Rad Resources:

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