Picture this: A project manager with a geographically dispersed team, who was somewhat new to conducting meetings via web conference, decided to facilitate a project kick-off meeting using a web conference. Her goal was to get the team on the same page and make a good first impression. As the meeting started, she lost her Internet connection and lost her virtual meeting room. In a panic, the project manager blurted out that “I guess we won’t have a meeting. Why do these things always happen to ME?” in an exasperated tone. Sound familiar?
A skilled online facilitator knows that from time to time, there will be technology glitches, and she knows how to keep her cool and deal with these issues with confidence. Ideally, you should partner with someone when facilitating an online meeting so that one person can run the meeting and a second person can handle technical issues. I also always make sure I can access the meeting agenda and handouts outside of the meeting room (either printed copies or a copy on my computer) so that I can continue the meeting on a phone line if needed. Even better if you can email all meeting documents to participants as a back-up.
In this case, the project manager was using a separate phone connection, and everyone was still connected to the audio bridge. She also had a second person helping with the technical issues. Instead of panicking she could have muted the phone, told her partner that she would start the meeting without the visual and request a signal or a note to her to let her know the status of the virtual meeting room. A comment such as “We are working to restore the meeting room and can actually start without it by introducing the agenda and first topic, etc.” would have appeased her audience.
As it turned out, in this meeting the internet connection was restored within minutes. The project manager lost credibility with her team by sounding the alarm bells and losing control of the situation. If she had been better prepared and planned with her co-facilitator, she could have seamlessly shifted from plan “a” to plan “b.” The participants would have certainly noticed that things weren’t going exactly as planned, but they would have also observed a professional who was well prepared, confident and kept her cool in a difficult situation.