Stooa review — a free online fishbowl tool

stooa review I’m a big proponent of fishbowls as a tool to manage wide-ranging group discussions. (To learn in detail about the use and implementation of fishbowls and fishbowl sandwiches, see Chapters 29 and 30 of my book Event Crowdsourcing.) So when I heard about a free tool for online fishbowls — Stooa — I thought I’d take a look. Here’s my initial Stooa review.

How to start with Stooa

It’s easy to start working with Stooa. Registering a (free) account requires the usual information: name, email, and password. You can also add your Twitter and/or LinkedIn profiles if desired.

Once you’ve registered your account, you’re ready to create a new fishbowl.

As you can see, you can specify a discussion topic, add a description, and schedule the fishbowl start and duration (up to four hours; though that would be cruel and unusual punishment). You can also choose a language to use. Currently the choices are English, Spanish, French, and Catalan. On clicking Create fishbowl you’ll see a summary of your new fishbowl, together with a link to distribute to others so they can join it. You’ll also receive an email with the same information — a nice touch.

Starting your fishbowl

When you click on Go to the fishbowl, Stooa will ask for permission to use your camera(s) and microphone(s). (Once you’ve joined a fishbowl, you can choose which ones to use.) Enter how you’d like to display your name, and you’ll see this screen:

When you’re ready to begin, click Start the fishbowl. At this point the camera and microphone will be active just for you. Share a short introduction with the waiting attendees. When done, you’ll appear in one of the five fishbowl “seats”. Click Allow attendees to join the conversation to begin discussion.

Running your fishbowl

At the top of the screen you’ll see the remaining time for the fishbowl, a button to end it, and the number of attendees present. Clicking on the latter displays a list of people currently in the seats, followed by the remaining attendees. The list includes links to the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of each attendee if they entered them.

At this point, attendees can enter/leave one of the fishbowl seats by clicking on the Join/Leave the conversation button at the bottom of the screen. The other buttons allow participants to choose and control their camera and microphone.

Five participants is a good maximum for a controlled and useful discussion. Stooa smoothly implements entry and departure of fishbowl participants.

When your discussion is over, use the End fishbowl button to close the session.

Stooa review — what do I think?

Here are my initial impressions from a brief look. First, I want to acknowledge Stooa’s creator, Runroom, for developing this tool and making it Open Source: software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify and enhance. Hosting the software so that anyone can use it is another Runroom gift. They explain why they did so here. Thank you Runroom!

Stooa was easy to register and use on Chrome or Safari. First time users should have little difficulty, as the entire onboarding process is designed very well. I haven’t used the tool with a large number of attendees, so I can’t say how it holds up under load. Given that the number of folks simultaneously on video chat is limited to five, I expect it will work fine.

Stooa succeeds admirably in its purpose as a single process tool that facilitates effective group discussion.

Limitations

Currently, you can’t remove a fishbowl participant. This could be a problem if you used Stooa for a public fishbowl discussion, publicized via a link on social media.

In addition, with all seats filled, there’s no way for waiting attendees to indicate that they’d like to join the discussion, so a fishbowl host doesn’t know how many others are waiting to speak. To deal with this, attendees could use a backchannel tool like Slack to message the host that they’d like to join in. Alternatively, adding a hand raise option to the attendee list would help to solve this problem. And incorporating a simple text chat for all attendees into Stooa would provide even greater flexibility.

Stooa is not the only tool for running online fishbowls. In July 2020, I shared how to use Zoom to run fishbowls online. Zoom is, of course, a fee-based platform, but many organizations own a license and Zoom does many other things as well. In this situation, Zoom includes attendee text chat and hand raising. And its breakout rooms allow you to create, inside a single tool, the fishbowl sandwiches I use to facilitate group problem solving.

In an ideal world, the tools we use would include only the features we need. We don’t live in such a world, and Stooa is a well-crafted platform that allows groups to meet and discuss online. Whether it includes everything you need to make such discussions effective and fruitful is ultimately up to you to decide.

More about Stooa

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Stooa review and found it useful. Here are some additional resources for exploring Stooa. Feel free to add your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!

Support the bottom — a Thanksgiving reminder

support the bottom
After our prime Thanksgiving dinner, I was sleepily washing a large turkey foil platter when I noticed its embossed central message: “Support the bottom.”

I’m going to blame the tryptophan in the turkey for causing me to muse, from a facilitation perspective, about the significance of this unexpected Prime Directive. I have no other excuse.

Support the bottom

It makes sense. We don’t want our heavy turkey to break through or slide off the tray as we’re bringing it to the feast. The manufacturer suggests we shouldn’t take for granted the strength of the thick aluminum foil holding our main course. We should be mindful that the bottom of our feast needs support.

Well, when working with a group of people, the “bottom” of the group also needs support.

Making assumptions

During group work, it’s tempting to assume that things are going well when we’re hearing from many people. When there’s significant interaction between group members. When folks are coming up with new ideas and interesting approaches to explore.

So it’s easy to overlook some people. Without checking, you might not see them. After all, they’re not bringing attention to themselves. People who say little or nothing. People who are distracted or disengaged.

It’s important to suspend judgment of these folks. There have been many times when I’ve been understandably silent/disengaged/distracted during meetings, and I’m sure everyone else has too. Perhaps:

  • what’s going on is of no interest;
  • we’re completely lost and confused;
  • feeling unwell is wrecking our attention;
  • we’re seriously short on sleep; or
  • a personal crisis is all we can think about;

and you can probably think of plenty of additional unexceptional circumstances when someone may be currently incapable of doing useful work in a group. We might say they have hit rock bottom.

But then there are the border cases. Frequently, there are people who might just need a nudge. They are at a momentary personal bottom, and they could use some support. A reminder, a reason, an opportunity to engage or reengage.

So what do we do?

How can we support group members at a (hopefully, momentary) bottom?

Noticing

The first step is noticing them. When working with a small group, the quiet folks are easy to spot. A good facilitator will gently check to see if they have something to say, and bring them into the work if they’re willing. With large groups noticing the quiet folks is hard, because, obviously, they’re not drawing attention. If you, as facilitator, are concentrating on the people who are contributing and interacting — an important piece of your job — it’s easy to overlook those who aren’t.

How can we avoid missing the quiet folks in large groups? By making time for you to notice them! Luckily, this is typically part of good meeting design — it’s not something that you need to awkwardly or artificially introduce. Good large group work includes short breakouts, where impromptu small groups meet, think, discuss, and share. While these activities are going on, it’s fairly easy for a facilitator to roam the room and pick up on disengaged attendees. (Unfortunately, this is much harder to do online, as I mentioned in last week’s post.)

Engage/reengage

The second step is to provide regular opportunities for the “bottom” folks to engage or reengage. Appropriate small group work, like pair or trio share, is an obvious way to do this. When working in small groups, check to see that participants who haven spoken for a while have anything they’d like to add. If you’re running a fishbowl or fishbowl sandwich, ask that people not share more than once until everyone’s had a chance to contribute. And be patient when asking people to share. Staying quiet while people are thinking about whether they want to speak and what they might want to say is a tangible form of respect. So remember to shut up and listen.

Don’t expect to engage everyone

Finally, bear in mind that, no matter how brilliant a facilitator you are, your meeting will not be perfect for everyone. Hey, if it’s the best meeting ever for just one person present, I think that’s great! Because you can’t please everyone — and you shouldn’t even try to.

Instead, do your best to respectfully and appropriately engage as many people as you can. Yes, the “bottom” participants will generally need greater support. But focus your time and attention on maximizing the overall group energy, with as many people as possible actively on board.

You may not hear much of the resulting Thanksgiving. But you’ll know you did the best cooking you could.

 

 

Can you hear me now?

hear me I do not have a magnetic personality. I would never have been cast as the lead in the classic ad series When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen. Yes, I’m a recovering academic, so I love to talk. But that doesn’t mean that people always hear me.

And that can occasionally be a problem when I’m facilitating group work.

Ultimately, as we’ll see, it’s a good problem to have. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

Facilitating group work is ultimately about guiding and supporting a group doing its work, both as individuals and collectively. It’s not about my work. And I’m okay with that, because I am the second sort of escapologist and I know it’s not about me.

So, unlike a speaker or presenter, I am comfortable being the center of inattention most of the time.

But, obviously, people need to listen to me sometimes, so I can facilitate them doing their work. And, there are certain situations when they have a hard time listening to me.

If you facilitate group work, you probably know what I’m talking about. Effective group work includes periods when group members are working with each other, not you. And when they’re having these conversations, they are not listening to you. They are (well, hopefully) listening to each other.

Which means that getting their attention is difficult.

Can you hear me now?

Last week, I was reminded how difficult it is to get a group’s attention. I was the guest at Professor Dan Cormany‘s Convention Management class at Florida International University. I have a standing invitation for event and hospitality teachers to meet online with their class for free. Dan has taken me up on this several times. I love spending time with such students—the future of the meeting industry—and finding out what’s on their minds.

On this occasion, we used a setup I’ve never experienced before. Dan and the students were together in person, and they decided to display me on a front-of-room screen but also run a simultaneous Zoom meeting so I could see the students individually and talk with them one-on-one.

(Production pros will recognize this arrangement is susceptible to audio feedback problems, which did indeed hold up the class a bit. To minimize them, have participants use headsets when possible. Otherwise turn off individual computer speakers and all mikes except for the one in-person participant currently talking.)

I began the class with a quick pair share between students, giving each pair a couple of minutes to share with each other why they were taking the class.

At which point, I completely lost everyone’s attention.

The ignored facilitator

Two minutes went by, and I asked the students to stop sharing so we could move on to the main segment of the class, where I answered any questions they wanted to ask me.

Nothing happened. The students kept on talking. They were enjoying learning about each other and they didn’t want to stop.

I asked again. Several times. I increased my speaking volume, but it was as if I had been banished from the meeting. I was 1,600 miles away, the students weren’t listening to me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Dan to the rescue!

Thankfully, Dan noticed that I was being ignored. He was in the room, and his students are used to listening to him. After a couple of announcements, the students’ conversational hubbub diminished, and I was back in contact with the class.

The rest of the class went well. I closed with another pair share for students to share their takeaways with each other. However, before this one started I made sure to ask Dan to bring it to a close!

Hear me! Getting a group’s attention

Even when I’m present in the room, the same scenario often happens! Yes, there are people who can usually get the attention of an energetically conversing crowd. But I often find it hard. Knowing this, I’ll sometimes find someone in the group who has this gift, and ask them to get the group’s attention for me when needed. Alternatively, you can pick a leader who’s known to the group, like Dan was, for this role.

There are many methods that teachers and trainers use to get attention. To learn more about them, see Chapter 22 of my book, The Power of Participation.

Although the difficulty of getting a group’s attention is a problem that facilitators face regularly, in the big picture it’s a good thing.

Why? Because, when a competent facilitator has trouble getting attention, it means that participants are actively working with each other. Have you ever left a meeting session full of excitement and ideas for future work, perhaps having made important new connections in the process? (Or have you hung around afterwards, continuing conversations?) When this happens, the facilitator has done their job well.

So if you’re facilitating, and sometimes find it difficult to bring group members reluctantly back from engagement, don’t fret. Remember that your pain is their gain.

Image attribution: “2010 IACA Conference – evening reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum” by Corvair Owner is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. and modified with additional graphics.

The loneliness of the long distance facilitator

long distance facilitator Right now, I am a long distance facilitator. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I only facilitate meetings of people who are not in the same room. Often, they are thousands of miles away.

And, like Colin Smith, the protagonist (played by Tom Courtney) of the classic 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, I sometimes feel alone.

Meeting via Zoom is far better than not meeting at all, but it doesn’t compare with being with people face-to-face.

I love to facilitate in-person meetings, and I miss the personal connection possible there.

The Invisible Man

But even when I facilitate in-person meetings, there are times I feel lonely. No, not while I’m working! Not when I work with clients to design great meetings, create safety, uncover participants’ wants and needs, moderate panels, crowdsource conference programs and sessions, facilitate group problem solving, and run community-building closing sessions.

But there are times during the event when I’m not working. While the sessions I helped participants create are taking place. During breaks when I’m not busy preparing for what’s to come. And during socials.

At these times, I feel a bit like The Invisible Man.

Why? Because, though I may have facilitated and, hopefully, strengthened the learning, connection, and community of participants present, I’m not a member of the community.

In the breaks and socials I see participants in earnest conversations, making connections, fulfilling their wants and needs in real time. But I’m hardly ever a player in the field or issues that have brought them together. (Usually, as far as the subject matter of the meeting is concerned, I’m the most ignorant person present.) So I don’t have anyone to talk to at the content level. I’m physically present, but I don’t share the commonality that brought the group together. It’s about participants’ connection and community, not mine.

I may have made what’s happening better through design and facilitation, but it’s not about me.

Every once in a while, participants might notice me and thank me for what I did. It doesn’t happen very often—and that’s OK. My job is to make the event the best possible experience for everyone. My reward is seeing the effects of my design and facilitation on participants. If I were doing this work for fame or glory, I would have quit it long ago.

If you’re at a meeting break or social and see a guy wandering around who you dimly remember was up on stage or at the front of the room getting you to do stuff?

It’s probably me.

No lonely breaks online

Paradoxically, when I facilitate online meetings there’s no “invisible man” lonely time. Whenever we aren’t online, we’re all alone at our separate computers. We can do whatever we please. We were never physically together, so we don’t miss a physical connection when we leave.

If I had to choose…

The loneliness of the long distance facilitator is accentuated at in-person events by the abrupt switches between working intimately with a group and ones outsider status when the work stops.

At online events, we are all somewhat lonely because no one else is physically present. Our experiences of the other people are imperfect instantiations: moving images that sometimes talk and (perhaps?) listen.

It wouldn’t be a no-brainer choice, but if I had to choose between facilitating only in-person or online meetings, I’d choose the former. The intimacy of being physically together with others is worth the loneliness when we’re apart.

Image from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

A novel way to assess consensus

assess consensus

Chapter 44 of my book The Power of Participation explains how facilitators use participatory voting to provide public information about viewpoints in the room, and pave the way for further discussion. In particular, we often use participatory voting to assess consensus.

It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting techniques can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion.

Methods to assess consensus

For small groups, Roman voting (The Power of Participation, Chapter 46) provides a simple and effective method of assessing agreement.

However, Roman voting isn’t great for large groups, because participants can’t easily see how others have voted. Card voting (ibid, Chapter 47) works quite well for large groups, but it requires:

  • procurement and distribution of card sets beforehand; and
  • training participants on how to use the cards.

A novel way to assess consensus with large groups

I recently came across a novel (to me) way to explore large group consensus. This simple technique requires no training or extra resources. In addition, it’s a fine example of semi-anonymous voting: group voting where it’s difficult to determine how individuals vote without observing them during the process. [Dot voting (ibid, Chapter 49), is another semi-anonymous voting method.]

Want to know how it works?

Read the rest of this entry »

Trust, safety, and learning at meetings

Trust safety learning If people come to meetings to learn, how can we create the best environment for them to do so? It turns out that trust and safety are prerequisites for optimum learning at meetings. Let’s explore why.

How we learn at meetings

For over twenty years, we’ve known that adults learn 90% of what they need to know to do their job via informal learning. Only about 10% of adult learning involves formal classroom or meeting presentation formats.

Unfortunately, traditional conferences are poor places for this kind of learning to occur, since they’re filled with broadcast-style lectures, during which no interpersonal interaction takes place.

At well-designed meetings, however, participants have plenty of opportunities to engage with peers about topics that are personally important. The key learning modality at such meetings is peer learning.

Peer learning allows anyone to be a teacher and/or a student, with these roles switching from moment to moment. Potentially, everyone has something to contribute and to learn. Peer conferences first uncover the content and issues people want to discuss. They then facilitate appropriate peer learning around topics of interest. My books and this blog provide plenty of information on how to do this.

Of course, in order for peer learning to occur, participants need to share what they know.

And this is where trust and safety issues impact learning.

The importance of trust

[A tip of the hat to Harold Jarche‘s post trust emerges over time, which provides the quotes for this section.]

Harold quotes philosophy professor Åsa Wikforss:

“It is important to stress that we are all connected through a complicated net of trust. It is not as if there is a group of people, the non-experts, who have to trust the experts and the experts do not have to trust anyone. Everyone needs to trust others since human knowledge is a joint effort…It is well known that low levels of trust in a society leads to corruption and conflict, but it is easy to forget the very central role that trust plays for knowledge. And knowledge, of course, is essential to the democratic society.
—Åsa Wikforss, Why do we resist knowledge?

Why people may not share their knowledge

Knowledge management author Stan Garfield shares sixteen reasons why people don’t share their knowledge. Here’s a key one:

“They don’t trust others. They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.”
—Stan Garfield, 16 reasons why people don’t share their knowledge

So, when trust is absent, knowledge fails to flow. But when knowledge flow is stemmed, opportunities for trust are reduced. This is a positive feedback loop that guarantees low trust and knowledge sharing.

Trust safety learning

This breakdown of trust can happen anywhere. Between individuals, in organizations, and at a societal level. And it is easy for it to happen at meetings.

Designing for trust, safety, and learning

In general, the more meeting attendees trust each other, the safer they feel. The safer they feel, the more likely they are to share their knowledge.

So when I design and facilitate meetings, one of my most important goals is to provide a maximally safe environment for sharing. This maximizes the potential for consequential learning.

That’s why I:

  • introduce group agreements upfront, one of which has participants keep what individuals share confidential;
  • create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes (or where mistakes are impossible);
  • provide ample opportunities for group discussions, rather than lectures, around appropriate content; and
  • give people the right to not participate at any time.

The last condition is important. An attendee’s level of trust and feeling of safety may vary from moment to moment during a meeting. Giving attendees the freedom (and responsibility) to decide not to participate and/or share at any time allows them to determine and control what is personally safe to do.

[For more on creating safety at events, see Chapter 17 of my book The Power of Participation.]

Image attribution: Young girl learning spring board diving at outdoor pool by Jacob Lund from Noun Project

The danger of our drive to make sense

our drive to make sense In our natural desire to predict the future and make good decisions, we must always stay mindful of the danger of our drive to make sense.

Nick Chater and George Loewenstein propose that evolution has produced a ‘drive for sense-making’. They argue that sense-making…

  • …is a fundamental human motivation.
  • …is a drive to simplify our representation of the world.
  • …is traded off against other ‘utilitarian’ motivations.
  • …helps to explain information avoidance and confirmation bias.

The under-appreciated drive for sense-making, Nick Chater and George Loewenstein, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization

Clearly, sense-making is a vital human activity. At a fundamental level, our brains are continuously, and largely automatically, making sense of our sense organ data. At higher levels of thought, we routinely attempt to make sense of situations that confront us. If we didn’t, the world would be a confusing and more dangerous place.

Our sense-making prowess allows us to build models of the present and make decisions about potential future behavior. Thus, sense-making is a key ingredient of our ability to plan and make group decisions.

The danger of our drive to make sense

There’s a flip side to our incredible ability to make sense of our perceptions and experiences. Dave Snowden, speaking about tactics used by the foresight community, says:

“The real dangers are retrospective coherence and premature convergence
—Dave Snowden, Of tittering, twittering & twitterpating

Retrospective coherence

Dave Snowden coined the term retrospective coherence, aka Monday morning quarterbacking, when talking about the behavior of complex systems. (See Dave Snowden and Mary Boone’s classic article A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making to learn more about complex systems, a domain of the Cynefin framework.) Retrospective coherence means that, in a complex environment, it seems easy in hindsight to explain why things happened. Unfortunately, applying our sense-making abilities to complex systems doesn’t work, since cause and effect can only be determined in retrospect.

For those with short memories, the danger of retrospective coherence is that it inspires a false confidence in their ability to make correct predictions. To avoid such inflation of our predictive expertise we need to scrupulously compare our predictions with actual outcomes, and admit our limitations.

Premature convergence

Premature convergence is our predilection to prematurely decide we have found the answer to a problem and stop exploring other possibilities.

Facilitators are familiar with this human tendency, and minimize it by spending adequate time in what Sam Kaner calls the Divergent and Groan Zones.

our drive to make sense
Diagram from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al

Determining what is “adequate” time is one of the arts of facilitation.

During divergence, a facilitator supports the uncovering of relevant questions, information, perspectives, and ideas.

At some point, there’s a switch to the Groan Zone. Here, the participants discuss what’s been uncovered, develop a shared framework of understanding, and create inclusive potential solutions. At least, that’s how Kaner describes the process, though the Groan Zone has always seemed to me to have a lot in common with what Virginia Satir’s change model calls chaos.

People have proposed many ways to move from groan zone to convergence, and some of them are flawed. There’s no single “right” way to move to convergence. But you’re likely guaranteed to come up with a poor conclusion if you don’t spend enough time diverging and groaning beforehand.

Stop making sense?

Despite the pitfalls outlined above, we are sense-making animals and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Stay realistic about your limitations to predict future outcomes, and take your time moving through divergent & Groan Zone process, and you’ll avoid the dangers of our drive to make sense.

Mostly.

Moderating Online Panels — Ideas and Resources

Moderating Online Panels

Last week I immensely enjoyed participating in a two-hour Zoom brain trust on moderating online panels. So good, it should be shared with a wider audience. So here’s a treasury of good ideas and resources we uncovered.

Huge thanks to the conveners and leaders: my friend, team performance and facilitation expert Kristin Arnold, and corporate innovation leader Scott Kirsner.

As you’d expect if you know these folks, the session was very well organized and facilitated. No mean task for a vocal group of 28!

The agenda

Thank you Scott & Kristin for providing an agenda and (pretty closely) sticking to it! Here it is.

15 mins: Who’s here; what sort of moderating have you been doing?

5 mins: Scott shares some recent learnings from virtual events.

10 mins: Kristin shares some recent learnings from virtual events, and a quick overview of what’s in her book.

20 mins: Breakouts (in groups of 4). What are 1-2 of your online moderating pro tips? Capture these on a shared doc (Slido).

10 mins: How did that go? Report back and bio break.

30 mins: Is panel prep different in the virtual world? Speaker recruiting? Tools and techniques for engaging the audience. Debates on burning questions (like chat or no chat, prep call or no prep call, right length.)

30 mins: Additional Q&A and discussion time (if needed).

Acknowledgements

I usually put these at the end, but because this post incorporates large, sometimes verbatim, chunks of Kristin Arnold’s excellent session notes I want to give her full co-author credit. Any errors and omissions are mine. Kristin’s name appears many times in what follows; some of the comments are hers, some are her notes on what others said.

While I’m mentioning Kristin, the best resources I know on becoming a first-rate panel moderator are her panel-focused website and short but packed book Powerful Panels. Visit the former and buy the latter!

And now the ideas…

Some of what follows is verbatim; some is edited by me slightly. Editorial additions/comments are shown in red. When the contributor is known, I’ve added their name (with a link the first time they’re mentioned).

Pre-event calls with panelists

There are two kinds of pre-event calls, though these categories can blur, and might be covered in a single call:

  • Connecting with panelists. This includes getting to know them, moderator education, defining panel and panelist scope, discussing potential topics and issues
  • Prep/production calls. This includes technical run-throughs.

“I call it a ‘production call like you would have if you were going to be on The View or Live with Kelly and Ryan .”
Glenn Thayer

Moderating Online Panels Scott Kirsner‘s take

Pre-record panelists?

Restrict prerecorded segments to 5 minutes or less. —Adrian Segar

I think pre-recorded lessens the authenticity of the event . —Kelley Kassa

Pre-record sponsor remarks, then the moderator manages the time of everyone else. —Glenn Thayer

What about pre-recorded pitchfests with live founder for Q&A? I’m running a pitchfest tonight… We pre-recorded the pitches (they’re two minutes long). —Glenn Thayer

Virtual Emcee (MC)

A virtual MC is a MUST HAVE. —Thom Singer

Agree, but MC should be more than security blanket. —Jan-Jaap In der Maur

For sure, I help drive the attendee experience and engagement and deliver on the networking value of the virtual event. Much more than a security blanket. —Sarah Michel

Breakouts

We always assign a breakout room “table captain” pre-hand for who will moderate the breakout room. —Raza Shaikh

Zoom now has the feature to set a room topic too. —Kristin Arnold [I think you’re referring to Zoom Rooms, not Zoom Meetings. The latter has always allowed you to rename breakout rooms to a topic, issue, or group as desired.] • However, EVERYONE in the zoom room must have the latest version of Zoom downloaded or they won’t see the room options/topics. —Sarah Michel

At what audience size do you find that “all mics open” breaks down? —Andrew Lee RubingerHaven’t found a max yet. Did it up to 150 . —Jan-Jaap In der Maur

Integrate breakouts – put a panelist in each of the breakout rooms. —Kristin Arnold

On “intentionality”: I determine the story arc I want told in the session. It’s like a jazz performance – it’s all improv, but there are waypoints to hit. —Andrew Lee Rubinger

IME, well-designed problem solver panels are great and audiences love them. —Adrian Segar

To help ensure that participants know what to do in breakouts, when the breakout rooms are open, message them with instructions, time available, etc. Have this prewritten elsewhere, so it can be efficiently pasted into the platform. —Kristin Arnold

Preparation

Do your research before you talk to the panelists. —Kristin Arnold

Curiosity is key. —Adrian Segar

Record prep call – use those recorded snippets for social media marketing for live event! —Kristin Arnold [Love this!]

Goal of pre-call that they feel comfortable enough that they could mock me. —Kristin Arnold

What questions, issues, what are you hoping to get out of this session at the beginning in the chat ? —Kristin Arnold

Know your moderator style. —Kristin Arnold

If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. —Daniel Seewald

General panel wisdom

Pre-empt attendee objections. For example, reduce fears about being in breakout rooms with strangers. —Demoed by Scott Kirsner during our session

Engaging the audience is not the same as involving the audience (giving them a task to do). —Kristin Arnold

Ensure your audience knows you care…AND your panelist knows you care. Watched a Comicon panel with Charlize Theron. Initially, she wasn’t engaged. Once the moderator asked questions that really showed she did her homework, she literally leaned in. —Kristin Arnold

I love completely crowdsourcing the panel… —Kristin Arnold [I often do this. See How a Fishbowl Sandwich Can Really Get Your Attendees Talking for more information.]

The best and most engaging moderated event I’ve seen was a workshop on “visual thinking strategies” at Innovation Leader’s Impact conference, where the moderator of the discussion spent about 45 min having a group discussion about a Picasso painting. She just asked questions about what we saw and what we thought those symbols meant. It was genuinely like being in school — and I think that unusual dynamic made people excited. Then, after that discussion, she shifted to talking about how that could apply to business/corporate settings, and many participants said they were going to integrate what they learned in that session that day. Lilly Milman

Use shared documents to seek feedback and capture insights from large groups. —Anonymous [During the session we used Slido to capture insights.]

Use object voting. For example: “If you agree, hold up something in your office that’s blue. Neutral or undecided, yellow. Disagree, red.” —Kristin Arnold

Interaction with panelists

Be about something, have a position, be honest about it. Push up against the walls. Be kind. —Kristin Arnold

Have the panelist give us a tour, give a demo, go get an object (from a trip you have been on). —Kristin Arnold

Give panelists an object and ask them to provide a greater meaning to it. —Kristin Arnold

Coach your panelists on how to use the camera and speak authentically . —Kristin Arnold

To share the questions with the panelists or not?

I almost always share prep questions with my panelists. Mostly because my panelists are tech people and not always the best speakers . —Kelley Kassa

Provide a loose framework of where we want to go….some potential questions. Any specific questions that need some vetting… —Kristin Arnold

I always try to email topics with the caveat that we’ll ask follow-ups and make it conversational .Kaitlin Milliken

I like giving the first question so they will be comfortable AND the last question, that can be recorded and edited into a social media snack. —Kristin Arnold

You have to really listen to what your panelists are saying…and make decisions on what to probe further . —Kristin Arnold

Ask panelists to bring one question to the panel to ask each other. —Kristin Arnold

Design for the audience & connections

There is NO panel without an audience. —Sarah Michel

In the midst of this global pandemic, people are attending virtual events seeking meaningful connections. We must design panels for that . —Sarah Michel

The moderator is a champion for the audience. Everything has to flow from the audience. How does this make them better people? —Kristin Arnold

IME, audiences love well-designed problem solver panels. —Adrian Segar

Interview the audience before it starts . —Kristin Arnold

Content is not king…it’s context and connections . —Kristin Arnold

Drive to action…run a poll – who do you want to follow up with? —Anonymous

Platform

Get to know the functionality of platforms. Offer alternatives. —Kristin Arnold

Use an online poll to start the session. —Anonymous

Leverage chat. It’s gold. Be on chat early and ask the audience to answer a question. Keep the chat open afterwards. I have a love/hate relationship with chat as neuroscience says that we aren’t focused on the conversation . —Anonymous

Casual or Formal?

There is a whole business of a production studio in a box that gets sent to a panelist… —Anonymous

Some corporations don’t want casual they want big production. —Anonymous

I’ve gotten the box sent to me for an event. Lots of rehearsals too. —Anonymous

I ask my clients what backgrounds/level of production they want… —Anonymous

More hybrid meetings in future

Small in-person studio audience and a much larger virtual. Curate the studio audience… —Sarah Michel

More ideas from breakouts via Slido

Love asking panel members (or speakers) to change their backgrounds when you want to shift the energy or when you go to live Q&A, etc.

Set up a shared “group notes” document where people can contribute their notes from the panel. You can even give a prize for best note-taker at the event.

Whatever goes wrong with A/V last time won’t happen next time…relax over technical glitches. They are bound to happen.

Conversations don’t have scripts. There’s a road map of where I want to go but need to go with the conversations.

When clients are technologically not especially comfortable, ask for ONE thing to do vs. the world of possibilities .

Don’t tell your clients everything you will be doing…as they will defend/say no.

Sometimes, a heads up might be appropriate so they aren’t thrown off .

Ask panelists to stay for networking time between sessions. That way, the audience can meet them and have one on one conversations.

Have panelists ask each other questions – they usually have great questions for each other.

Fireside chats…work with speaker to cut into small pieces .

Every 6-10 minutes switch gears, do something different .

If an online gathering has less than 20 people, consider starting with introductions. Moderator calls on each name: 15 seconds maximum.

If you’re not a subject matter expert, ask panelists in prep calls: What matters most right now?

What would you tell me about in an elevator?

Put a pillow in your lap if you have a little sound echo in your room .

When there’s content that is very technical in nature, ask questions like “please explain X as if you’re talking to someone completely unfamiliar with the topic”. [Me: I often open by stating that I know less about the panel topic than anyone else in the room—but I do know how to moderate panels!]

Be punchy, concise. Less is more. Provide a digestible premise that people are interested in.

Pre-record segments – edit down into more focused conversation. Or cut at key points and stop to interact .

Use panelists as priming for large group discussions. [See my book “Event Crowdsourcing” and these articles “How a fishbowl sandwich can really get your attendees talking” and “The best way to hold a discussion online“]

To run fishbowl discussions on Zoom, have everyone turn their camera off until they have something to say. When they turn their camera on, they float to top of Gallery View That makes it easy for the moderator (whose camera is always on) to see who wants to talk. [See third link above.]

Use Zoom breakout rooms for “hallway” conversations after a panel. Put the panelists into one of those rooms after the panel is over so people can “meet” them. [Also consider using online social platforms for breaks and socials.]

Give frequent, small assignments: e.g. write down your biggest challenge. Use that as a start to the conversation.

When you do an A/V check, make sure panelists use the same equipment and time of day!

On Zoom train and teach all people to use the blue hand raise button instead of physically raising the hand . [Depends on group size; I prefer human hand raising if the group is viewable on one screen in Gallery view.]

Ask everyone to keep their camera on as a way of showing respect and being present.

Have a 2nd device ready…like your phone…in case of wifi or Zoom problems.

Pre-record sponsor segments.

Put into chat what you want attendees to do!

Ask people to talk about one favorite object from a trip.

Practice as much as you can and prep for props/interactive elements.

Using the visuals and doing things like physically leaning in can engage people and create intimacy.

Think about the audience first.

Resources

How to touch people when your event is onlineJan-Jaap In der Maur

Love Mural, having a quick and easy task to begin with to get everyone up to speed helps.Caitlin Harper [I prefer Miro.]

Use a visual notetaker [aka graphic recorder]! —Caitlin Harper

If you wanna hear about Kristin’s brilliance with the CAPS conference last week…. we interviewed her today on Webinar Talk Show about all their ideas and how they pulled it off. 35-minute interview. Watch it…cuz she had soooo many good points about being engaging. —Thom Singer

Slido for polling and capturing participant ideas/questions/etc.

If you’d like to see what a business partner and I started for people like me who want to PRESENT rather than PRODUCE, visit livestream-denver.com. This is a work in progress and not a sales pitch as we work almost exclusively with clients in the Denver area.Mark Sanborn

How a fishbowl sandwich can really get your attendees talking —Adrian Segar

The best way to hold a discussion online —Adrian Segar

Anything you want to add, correct or, disagree with in this bounty of advice on moderating online panels? Share in the comments below!

When trio share works better than pair share

trio share pair share One of the best and simplest ways to build active learning and connection into any meeting is to regularly use pair share. (See Chapter 38 of The Power of Participation, or Chapter 27 of Event Crowdsourcing for full details.) I’ve recently noticed that in some circumstances, trio share — pair share but with three participants — works better.

Advantages of pair share

Pair share has a lot going for it. It’s the most efficient way to ensure that every participant periodically switches into active learning, which, as explained in The Power of Participation, provides:

Pair share duration is minimal. I commonly allow each partner a minute to share their response. Including instructions, a typical pair share might take around three minutes. Getting every participant to actively think and respond to a question or issue in this time pays rich dividends.

Comparing trio share with pair share

A trio share obviously takes longer than a pair share, given the same sharing time per participant. The example above would require at least an extra minute. I say “‘at least” because it generally takes longer (at least at in-person meetings) to create trios than pairs.

In addition, the conversational directness and intensity may be less in a trio share, since each participant is talking to two people instead of one.

On the other hand, each participant is connecting with two other people, rather than one.

None of these differences is a deal breaker. In the past, I have tended to use pair share, simply because my time with participants is limited and pair shares are quicker.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, however, I’ve noticed something new.

When trio share works better than pair share

Ultimately, you can’t force adult attendee participation. Nevertheless, at in-person meetings it’s rare to have people sit out pair sharing. The reason, of course, is unspoken social pressure. Anyone choosing not to participate is obvious to the people around them.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced meetings online, I began to see more people avoiding session pair shares. I’d allocate pairs into Zoom breakout rooms, and, quite often, one or two people didn’t join their allocated room but stayed in the Zoom lobby.

As the host, I’d gently check in with those remaining behind. Sometimes they hadn’t accepted the breakout room assignment and would do so. But more often than not, it turned out they were absent (it’s hard to tell when their camera’s off).

Their unfortunate partners who went into the breakout room had no one to talk to!

At in-person meetings, this is easy to handle. I ask anyone without a partner to raise their hand, and then pair up isolated people.

Online, this takes too much time, and those without a partner suffer.

Using trio share instead of pair share online

So I’ve started using trio share for online meetings. There are two reasons.

First, trio share reduces the impact on “orphaned” participants. If one person in a trio doesn’t join, the remaining pair can still reap the benefits of pair share.

And second, trio share gently increases social pressure for attendees to participate. Bowing out of pair share affects one other person. Avoiding a trio share affects two.

To conclude

Whatever you do, some people will opt out of small group work. Their reasons are — their reasons. We need to accept that. Switching to trio share for online work is a small tweak that seems to improve participation. And creating a meeting environment where small group work is more likely to occur is always worthwhile.

What’s your experience of using pair share and/or trio share at in-person and online meetings? Please share in the comments!

How to start online meetings on time

start online meetings on time Is it possible to routinely start online meetings on time? Yes!

But first…

Think about the last three meetings you attended. Raise your hand if all of them started on time.

Anyone? Anyone?

Why don’t scheduled meetings start on time?

The reason that almost no scheduled meetings (in-person or online) start on time is that we provide one single time for meetings to both open and start.

Even with the best intentions, participants can’t and won’t all arrive simultaneously at the exact time a meeting is scheduled to start. With a single fixed time to open and start a meeting, everyone will either be “early” or “late”.

In addition, meeting invitations don’t supply information as to what the consequences of being early or late will be!

  • If you arrive early for an in-person meeting, you may find the meeting room locked or occupied by another, earlier meeting. You have to wait around until the room is free. You have no idea if anyone else may be early, which gives you little incentive to be early.
  • If you arrive early for an online meeting, you may find the meeting host hasn’t opened the online meeting platform yet. You will have to wait around until the host starts the meeting and lets you in. You don’t know if anyone else will be around beside the host, with whom you may have to chat to be polite. If you’re busy, the smart thing to do is to join the meeting at the last minute. And if there’s a glitch in the meeting platform technology or connection, you may end up being late.
  • If you arrive late for an in-person or online meeting, you may miss stuff. Things may need to be repeated for your benefit, annoying the folks who did arrive on time. Or you may effectively delay the meeting start because you (or enough of the other participants) are late.

Whatever happens, no one wins, time is wasted, and the meeting quality suffers!

Scheduling a meeting to open and start at the same time invariably ensures that it won’t start on time.

We reluctantly put up with this imperfect state of affairs for in-person meetings. Over time, repeated team or intra-organization meetings tend to create an implicit expectation as to when they will start. (For example: “We never get going until ten minutes past the hour“, or “the VP is always five minutes late and wants to be the last person to arrive“.) We adjust our behavior accordingly.

Starting online meetings on time is typically harder, because many of them include a specific mix of people who have never met before (and may never meet again as that exact set). There is no prior history to guide when you should arrive.

Although the following advice can improve the likelihood that any kind of meeting will start on time, I’ll focus on online meetings here.

How to start online meetings on time

Two small changes make it far more likely that an online meeting will start on time.

1. Include two times in your meeting invitation. The time when the meeting will open, and the time when the meeting will start.

For example: “We’ll open the Zoom meeting at 13:45 EDT, and start promptly at 14:00 EDT.”

2. To improve the meeting start experience further, let people know what (if anything) will be happening between the open and start time of the meeting.

For example: “Arrive a little early, and chat with our presenter, Lamar Moorel, before the meeting starts!”

Providing both an open and a start time for a meeting gives participants the information they need to plan when to join the meeting. People can join “early” if they are worried about getting the technology or connection to work, or if they want to chat informally with others before the meeting starts. And because it’s clear to everyone that there is a buffer time available to join the meeting, people are likely to understand and accept the expectation that the meeting will start promptly at the start time.

How much time should we allow between opening and starting the meeting?

The time difference between the opening and starting times depends on the meeting circumstances. For a small meeting using a familiar meeting platform, I’ll typically schedule 10 – 15 minutes. For a larger meeting, or one using an unfamiliar meeting platform I might open a meeting 30 minutes before it starts. This allows time for a help desk to assist anyone who has problems signing in.

Begin the meeting promptly at the start time!

Whatever duration you schedule between open and start times, it’s important to begin the meeting promptly at the start time! Unless a key person is missing, do not delay starting your meeting. By clearly communicating your meeting’s starting parameters, the onus to be on time falls on the participants, not you. And because most people will respond to the (invisible) social pressure created by your announced open and start times, you are likely to have many more people arrive “on time” than if you had just scheduled a single start time.

A final word about folks who are habitually late

Everyone is late to a meeting once in a while, for reasons beyond their control. But some people routinely arrive late to meetings, typically for two reasons:

  • Power dynamics — some folks feel the need to demonstrate they’re more important or busier than you.
  • Cultural differences — people from cultures where arriving “late” to meetings is normal. (For example: participants from such countries as Mexico, Greece, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Algeria, Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, and Russia may be habitually late.) Such folks aren’t being impolite — it’s simply what’s normal for their culture.

I don’t have a magic way to make people who are habitually late for meetings arrive on time. But by incorporating an open and a start time into your online meeting announcements, such people may get the message that you’re not going to delay the meeting start for them. If attending the entire meeting is important, who knows, perhaps they will stop being late for your meetings! (Only your meetings though.)

Do you have other strategies to start online meetings on time? Feel free to share them in the comments!