• Chris Templeton

Engage Collective - Mastering Online Meetings Podcast

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Mastering Online Meetings Book Interview

We interview Michael, the author of Mastering Online Meetings, in November 2019. Mike’s proficiency in running online meetings will certainly come in handy now and he was more than happy to sit down and discuss with us the components of an effective meeting… even if the parties are split by thousands of miles of distance.


Transcript:

Chris Templeton 0:01

Welcome to the Engage Collective podcast. My name is Chris Templeton, I'll be your host for the interview today with the author of Mastering Online Meetings, Michael Fraidenberg. I had the opportunity to interview Michael in November of 2019. Who would have thought how relevant this would be only three or four months later. We hope you enjoy this. We look forward to your feedback and comments. Now, Michael friedenberg, and I talked about mastering online meetings.


Hi, Mike, thank you for taking the time to do this. God knows. We've all been subject to a lot of really bad online meetings, let alone in face ones, haven't we? Talk a little bit about what you your background is in this and how you came to start working on this book and actually get to publishing it?


Michael Fraidenburg 1:03

Yeah, well, sure. I, I've been teaching people how to facilitate meetings for Gosh, over 25 years now. across that time, what I've noticed is that people are more and more frequently asking me about how to improve their online meetings. And then, one time short while back, a woman asked me, What can you tell me for advice to improve the absolutely crummy online meetings, we have tickets thinking about that afterwards and realize, well, maybe a book would be a good way for me to respond and try to be helpful. So the origin of the book idea is really in this long history of teaching people how to run successful meetings now trying to transform that to the new medium of on the online meeting room environment.


Chris Templeton 1:46

Talk a little bit more about your background and actually working with in person meetings and kind of how you built your skill set. And then a little bit more about transferring that skill set to the online meeting environment.


Michael Fraidenburg 2:04

Sure. Yeah. So I started like most people do, I suspect, at least the ones that I teach my students say, I've just been thrown into this role. And all of a sudden, I've been asked to somehow make our meetings productive. And there are people who are good thinkers, and they're trying to do it, but there are deficient in a skill set or toolbag to use for it. So they're really on top of the issues and on top of the logic of how to structure thinking around their issues, and so forth, but how to transfer that into some kind of group process that gets people moving forward together in a collaborative sense. They struggle with not having the tools to do that. And so I found myself in involved in a network of people who worry about that question. And so we were facilitators who helped one another. So there was a mastermind group, and we had conflicts where we taught each other specialized skills and that sort of thing. And then I started getting asked outside of that group to start teaching externally. I'm a former state employee. So first, it was in that arena. And then it's broadened out since I retired from that first career, doing this as a consultant helping people explicitly come in and figure out how to make their meetings more productive. And then, as I said, over the timeframe that has occurred, people are finding themselves in more and more of these online meetings, and increasingly frustrated, because they have successfully adopted and successfully figured out how to run face to face meetings with transferring that success factors to the online environment has been very difficult for him. And my observation is, well, there's an issue there about the tools. So there's some tools that are unique and different, that can be really helpful for doing that. But there's also just an issue with the medium itself. So online meeting room environments are just not as effective and efficient as face to face meeting. So if I do anything, I hope people understand they're actually walking into a more difficult facilitation, meeting management environment when they get into the online arena. The question is, what can you do about it? And again, I I track back to a two tool bag or a toolkit that you can draw upon to get people to do often the very basic things like decide what it is we want to decide, generate ideas, evaluate ideas, those sorts of things. But then and then the more some of the more difficult issues like how do you get people to agree if there's a difference of opinion? How do you essentially mediate conflicts so you can arrive at a collaborative solution that everybody can support? So sort of a marriage there now, of getting people to decide what it is they need to decide how they're going to attack it, but then how they're going to agree that they can move forward together.


Chris Templeton 4:44

Talk a little bit about when you first started doing this in the offline environment, person to person, what were some of the big things that you recognized really quickly, that were just issues that most people didn't Stan about how to have an effective face to face meeting in a boardroom around a conference table? Sure, yeah,


Michael Fraidenburg 5:07

I think the biggest discovery I had, and certainly, the teaching point that I get the most positive feedback from my students on now is transforming and thinking about what is a meeting, and in particular, what is the meeting agenda. And even today, with people on earth, who basically professional meeting attendance, they go to meetings all the time, they still think of a meeting as a group of people sitting down to talk about something. And so their agendas follow that form. So if you look at most common agendas, and meetings, they really are just a list of topics, we're going to talk about topic a, we're gonna talk about topic B, and C. And then by the time we've run out of time, the meeting is hopefully over with, I'd like to transform or reframe the thinking into considering the meeting is really a project. And like any project that you do, is it have a purpose for doing the project and should have an objective thing you want to achieve and should have out plan to go get that objective? And that's what an agenda becomes, in my mind. So some real basic things. And as I said, the idea that resonates the most with my students, is this transformation of a meeting plan and a meeting agenda from a list of topics we're going to talk about, to a work plan to go get a very specific concrete and actionable work product. How do you transform that or translate that into the online environment, it's really just the basics again, so you clear about what the meeting purposes and you need to sign a process. The trick is, the process tools you have are not nearly as efficient. The best tool that I found to help people do that is up right out of the box. So the first tool that I usually apply is the same thing I call the substitution for the facilitators flip chart. But in an online meeting, if you've gone to very many facilitated meetings, you've seen how much success facilitators can have, by translating people's conversations and their ideas and their thinking to paper, usually this flip chart, but it can be other other formats as well. And once it's on paper, it's a collective body of knowledge that people can use in the meeting, to go try to solve their problem or generate ideas or whatever it is you want to do, it's pretty hard to get a flip chart inside an online meeting. So the best tool I've come across for doing that is adopting and getting pretty proficient in using mind mapping software. And there's a whole variety of these software packages out there. But it's a tool that you can display on your screen. And people can build it out with you. Sometimes you have to build it out if you don't have the interactive component. But many online, nine mapping software solutions now have interactive interfaces, so multiple people can edit the mind map at the same time. Well now translate and reframe your thinking from a face to face meeting where you've got pieces of paper on flipchart paper and you're moving around, you're voting on them, and you're doing that sort of thing. And if you know anything about mind maps, it's really the equivalency, where you've got these nodules are these individual elements, point one and point two and then point three, and you can move those around notes on them, you can do different kinds of things. So hands down, the the tool that people like the best when I teach them is exposure to the utility of using mind maps for not only organizing people's thinking, but capturing it in a way that has some utility, by the time the meeting is over with.


Chris Templeton 8:37

That is a lot of content. And let me just come back just a little bit. And then I definitely want to go to mind mapping because it's one of my favorite tools, in terms of just it's an amazing way to bring out and collaborate on a lot of data, isn't it and be able to drill down but also take a wider view. So let's come back to that. But here's what I want to talk about first. When somebody goes back into the or goes into the online meeting world, what are the things that they have to be aware of what did it I mean, it seems so obvious that Well, yeah, you're not in a room with a bunch of people. But in terms of making that transition from being something where it's I'm used to being in a room, and now being in an online meeting. What do you think the biggest issues are? And kind of like the the most basic things that somebody organizing a meeting should be thinking about in regards to this?


Michael Fraidenburg 9:42

Yeah, it's a great question. Unfortunately, I don't have to think too much about it. Because I asked my students said and they give me their complaints. And those complaints are are good indication of what the biggest challenges are that people in the real world are facing. The things they tell me they complain the most About our people who are multitasking at the other end of the camera, so there's a certain amount of safety at that far into the camera. And people feel pretty comfortable trying to do many other things that's not necessarily blaming these other people, because everybody has busy work lives these days, but they are distracted. And so what does it What does a meeting leader do about that to capture people's attention and focus and as you need it, the next biggest complaint that I get is that facilitators are meeting leaders can't see what's going on on the other side of the camera very well. And so you know, real brand, a face to face meeting, facilitators get adept at reading nonverbal cues. So we can see are people understanding, are they is there some level of disagreement in the room, but it's just not being expressed orally, you can do a lot of facilitating by just reading the nonverbal cues much more difficult. In the online environment, again, because people can hide behind their camera, but also the two dimensional nature of the screen interface. And often on the screen, there'll be five or six people on the screen at the same time. So it's just difficult to read those those non verbal cues. I think one of the biggest complaints that people get and give me about it is that, in addition, is that participants, often still don't consider online meetings as real meetings. And so they don't prepare? Well, they don't think they have to engage fully, they think they often don't think they have to do their homework. So there's sort of an acceptance question here, that not much the facilitator, the facilitator can do during the meeting about that. But there are plenty of things you can do in front of the meeting to get people ready to get them engaged and tell them they have ownership responsibility to make the meaning of success. And those do those sorts of things. The results of those and other kinds of problems, people tell me as they really are frustrated, because they'll have these online meetings where there's a lot of discussion, but there's no concrete decision ever made. So all those are the individual frustrations, what they lead to, is a pretty chronic problem of many, many online meetings, and they just don't go anywhere, they don't produce anything.


Chris Templeton 12:11

So really a big piece of of an effective meeting is feel like feeling like you've accomplished something, isn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 12:18

You bet you know, another side of my my work life is a mediator. So I spend a lot of time mediating disputes. And there's a really strong parallel between what accomplishment looks like in that arena, and what accomplishment looks like in a facilitated meeting. And so there is a big stake in having these accomplishments. Because if you don't, if you have an accomplishment that's tangible, and people buy into, and they like, that gives them incentive to move to the next step. So they want to, they feel like they're engaged in this success in this moment. And because they had that success, they're looking forward to the next step. And so there's a higher level of engagement. If you come back over here, and that first meeting is not successful, then a sort of dies flat, and you go to the next step, people are thinking, Well, why are we here, we didn't seem to accomplish anything last time. So success builds on success. So these achievements are very important for creating momentum to end up, ultimately creating whatever successful, whatever the series of meetings that you're having.


Chris Templeton 13:23

You know, one of the things that I've found over time is I do a lot of work in Google Docs. And occasionally, and I think this comes back around to mind manager or mind mapping is this idea of, and you said earlier engagement, the idea of engaging people and when I work on a document with somebody else on the other side, and we're both working on on it together, I feel like the energy level comes up to like, there's almost a more Well, it's more engaging. And so it sounds to me like whether it's, for me a Google doc or for you using mind mapping software that really makes a difference in engagement, doesn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 14:08

It does, you know, there's this plenty of research in human decision making behavior, and human engagement, engagement behavior that says, If you engage people on multiple levels, so if you're talking to them, they're already receiving messages. They're thinking that's another level, but you add the level of some sort of activity, then their engagement level goes up. And also their commitment level goes up. I mean, people love to do things like gently write a document, once they have co authored something, their level of commitment to that shared product goes up significantly. So yeah, that was one of the one one time I had occasion to work with a team and we needed to move to about six people who needed to reach out to all 50 states gather some information for this project. We created a shared Google Doc for logging with our results were and by the time and we did all They're six people, we did all 50 states in about three hours. And by the time we were an hour into it, people were racing themselves. To get to the next state, they created a really fun, sort of interesting competition to see who he was, who is going to bag the most status states. And so they were totally engaged, and they were having fun at the same time. So it was it was kind of an interesting moment in my facilitator career,


Chris Templeton 15:25

I imagine a big piece of what you have to do in, in your profession of helping meetings to be better, whether they're online or offline, is helping the person that's running the meeting to be a better leader.


Michael Fraidenburg 15:42

Yeah, you bet. So, again, coming back to some of the frustrations that my students share with me, they'll say, hey, the boss came to me and said, Would you run these meetings, I know you're really good at running these meetings, when we have them down the hall at our, at our conference room, I want you to get online and run this this meeting for us. And so the folks have some frustrations, because there's an expectation from the boss, they're going to be as effective in an online meeting as they are in a face to face meeting. And so that translation is just not going to happen, because it's more difficult in the online environment. So the notion is, well, what are the new leadership skills that get people to be as effective as they possibly can be. And so there's a package of those is certainly all the upfront activities you can do about agenda buildings that are clear to people and assignments, and, and so forth. But then there's a, again, borrowing heavily from human decision making behavior research, there's a lot of during the session, things you can do to to make people to lead people into, into deeper engagement into more productivity, things like, let's turn around our presentations with instead of six slides talked about in 15 minutes, how about 15 slides talked about in six minutes, you speed things up, and the repetitive motion of slides coming and going not only keeps people engaged because they have to keep leaning forward into the next bit of information that's coming. Also movement. So if you have people who are doing things on their own screen for the benefit of everybody, they're moving their mouse they're typing, whatever that might, might be, is another sort of leadership in invitation. You can give people another idea and as many of these other many ideas out there, but another one that's popular, is talk calling on people to talk you know what the dead airspace is like when you're in an online meeting? And somebody asks a question, Well, what do you think about the budget plan that we have so far? That happens is dead, that our scientist was good, because people in the other side of this camera, don't know when it's time to speak. So you can do things like, what do you think about the budget layout? We've got planned for the next next biennium? Hey, Chris, would you talk to that first? And then Jane, we're going to ask you to speak to that. And then Harry, would you comment after that, and then raise your hand if you want to talk after that, give them explicit, very pragmatic, and simple to follow instructions. So there's a variety of that kind of leadership, that you can exercise to make online meetings actually quite a bit more productive.


Chris Templeton 18:18

That is a lot of content. And let me just come back just a little bit. And then I definitely want to go to mind mapping, because it's one of my favorite tools, in terms of just it's an amazing way to bring out and collaborate on a lot of data, isn't it and be able to drill down but also take a wider view. So let's come back to that. But here's what I want to talk about first, when somebody goes back into the or goes into the online meeting, world, what are the things that they have to be aware of? What are the I mean, it seems so obvious that Well, yeah, you're not in a room with a bunch of people. But in terms of making that transition from being something where it's, I'm used to being in a room, and now being in an online meeting, what do you think the biggest issues are? And kind of like the the most basic things that somebody organizing a meeting should be thinking about in regards to this?


Michael Fraidenburg 19:22

Yeah, it's a great question. Unfortunately, I don't have to think too much about it. Because I asked my students out, and they give me their complaints. And those complaints are are good indication of what the biggest challenges are that people in the real world are facing. The things they tell me they complain the most about are people who are multitasking at the other end of the camera. So there's a certain amount of safety at that far into the camera. And people feel pretty comfortable trying to do many other things that's not necessarily blaming these other people because everybody has busy work lives these days. But they are distracted and so what does it What does a meeting leader do about that to capture people's attention and focus. And as you need it, the next biggest complaint that I get is that facilitators are meeting leaders can't see what's going on on the other side of the camera very well. And so you know, real grand a face to face meeting us facilitators get a adept at reading nonverbal cues. So we can see are people understanding, are they is there some level of disagreement in the room, but it's just not being expressed orally, you can do a lot of facilitating by just reading the nonverbal cues, much more difficult. In the online environment, again, because people can hide behind the camera, but also the two dimensional nature of the screen interface. And often on the screen, there'll be five or six people on the screen at the same time. So it's just difficult to read those those non verbal cues. I think one of the biggest complaints that people get and give me about it is that, in addition, is that participants, often still don't consider online meetings as real meetings. And so they don't prepare? Well, they don't think they have to engage fully, they think they often don't think they have to do their homework. So there's sort of an acceptance question here, then, not much the facilitator, the facilitator can do during the meeting about that. But there are plenty of things you can do in front of the meeting to get people ready to get them engaged and tell them they have ownership responsibility to make the meaning of success. And those do those sorts of things. The results of those and other kinds of problems when people tell me that they really are frustrated, because they'll have these online meetings where there's a lot of discussion, but there's no concrete decision ever made. So all those are the individual frustrations with a lead to is a pretty chronic problem of many, many online meetings, and they just don't go anywhere, they don't produce anything.


Chris Templeton 21:51

So really, a big piece of of an effective meeting is feel like feeling like you've accomplished something, isn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 21:58

You bet you know, another side of my my work life is a mediator. So I spent a lot of time mediating disputes. And there's a really strong parallel between what accomplishment looks like in that arena, and what accomplishment looks like in a facilitated meeting. And so there is a big stake in having these accomplishments. Because if you don't, if you have an accomplishment that's tangible, and people buy into, and they like, that gives them incentive to move to the next step. So they want to, they feel like they're engaged in this success in this moment. And because they had that success, they're looking forward to the next step. And so there's a higher level of engagement. If you come back over here, and that first meeting is not successful, then a sort of dies flat, and you go to the next step, people are thinking, Well, why are we here, we didn't seem to accomplish anything last time. So success builds on success. So these achievements are very important for creating momentum to end up, ultimately creating whatever success whatever the series of meetings that you're having.


Chris Templeton 23:03

You know, one of the things that I've found over time is I do a lot of work in Google Docs. And occasionally, and I think this comes back around to mind manager or mind mapping is this idea of, and you said earlier engagement, the idea of engaging people and when I work on a document with somebody else on the other side, and we're both working on on it together, I feel like the energy level comes up to like, there's almost a more Well, it's more engaging. And so it sounds to me like whether it's, for me a Google doc or for you using mind mapping software that really makes a difference in engagement, doesn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 23:48

It does, you know, there's this plenty of research in human decision making behavior, and human engagement, engagement behavior that says, If you engage people on multiple levels, so if you're talking to them, they're already receiving messages, they're thinking that's another level, but you add the level of some sort of activity, then their engagement level goes up. And also their commitment level goes up. I mean, people love to do things like gently write a document, once they have co authored something, their level of commitment to that shared product goes up significantly. So yeah, there was one time I had occasion to work with a team and we needed to move to about six people who needed to reach out to all 50 states gather some information for this project. We created a shared Google Doc for logging with our results where by the time, and we did all their six people, we did all 50 states in about three hours. And by the time we were an hour into it, people were racing themselves to get to the next state. They created a really fun, sort of interesting competition to see who he was who is going to bag the most status states. And so they were totally engaged and they were Have fun at the same time. So it was it was kind of an interesting moment in my facilitator career,


Chris Templeton 25:05

I imagine a big piece of what you have to do in, in your profession of helping meetings to be better, whether they're online or offline, is helping the person that's running the meeting to be a better leader.


Michael Fraidenburg 25:19

Yeah, you bet. So, again, coming back to some of the frustrations that my students share with me, they'll say, hey, the boss came to me and said, Would you run these meetings, I know you're really good at running these meetings, when we have them down the hall at our, at our conference room, I want you to get online and run this this meeting for us. And so the folks have some frustrations because there's an expectation from the boss, they're going to be as effective in an online meeting, as they are in a face to face meeting. And so that translation is just not going to happen, because it's more difficult in the online environment. So the notion is, well, what are the new leadership skills that get people to be as effective as they possibly can be. And so there's a package of those is certainly all the upfront activities you can do about agenda buildings that are clear to people and assignments, and, and so forth. But then there's a, again, borrowing heavily from human decision making behavior research, there's a lot of during the session, things you can do to to make people to lead people into, into deeper engagement into more productivity, things like, let's turn around our presentations with instead of six slides talked about in 15 minutes, how about 15 slides talked about in six minutes, you speed things up in the repetitive motion of slides coming and going not only keeps people engaged because they have to keep leaning forward into the next bit of information that's coming. Also movements. So if you have people who are doing things on their own screen for the benefit of everybody, they're moving their mouse or typing, whatever that might might be is another sort of leadership and invitation. You can give people another idea. There's many of these other many ideas out there. But another one that's popular is talk calling on people to talk you know what the dead airspace is like when you're in an online meeting? And somebody asks a question, Well, what do you think about the budget plan that we have so far? That happens is dead, dead or silences was good, because people on the other side of this camera, don't know when it's time to speak? So you can do things like, what do you think about the budget layout? We've got planned for the next next biennium? Hey, Chris, would you talk to that first? And then Jane, we're going to ask you to speak to that. And then Harry, would you comment after that, and then raise your hand if you want to talk after that, give them explicit, very pragmatic, and simple to follow instructions. So there's a variety of that kind of leadership, that you can exercise to make online meetings actually quite a bit more productive.


Chris Templeton 27:56

I imagine that one of the other leadership skills is helping people to put away their distraction. I mean, man, oh, man, we walk in with a cell phone, and we can be sure that we're going to be distracted. Are there any specific techniques that you recommend for somebody leading a meeting to help people to dispense with their distractions?


Michael Fraidenburg 28:21

You know, two thoughts come to mind. One is in the so it's one thing for me as a meeting leader to have, say, half a dozen or say, a dozen people on on the line, the more people online, the more incentive there is to be distracted, because people think they're hidden. Say, there's a dozen people online. One of the things you can do instead of me as a facilitator, being in competition with participants, and saying, Would you please mute your cell phones or turn it off? or whatever? Is I'll sponsor an upfront negotiation amongst the participants themselves, saying, How do you guys want to handle the issue of distractions, and in particular, the use of other media devices like your phone, while we're while we are working together, I'll say some phrase like that, then that negotiation between peers has a lot more power than me as a facilitator inviting people to put down their phones, because it's, it's, it's those folks making promises and commitments to their peers. And that has just a lot more traction than me inviting people to do. So there's some techniques like like that, that you can do. Another is actually get them to use their devices. So if you have a sidebar, polling service, for example, and you have some polls setup, you can get people to use their phone, for example, to go to a poll and answer a quick question. So you can actually turn it around and get people to use their devices in some constructive way. So yeah, there's solutions for that. It's challenged to be sure you're not lost. There are things you can do about that.


Chris Templeton 29:55

One of the things that we've talked a lot about so far is the idea of engaging ageing, the audience and how critical that is, you know, there are still going to be people that just don't accept that online meeting sort of way to go. What is some of the things that you do to help somebody to understand that, or as a leader that a leader of meeting can do to help someone understand that these online meetings, they're real meetings?


Michael Fraidenburg 30:23

Well, the frustrations that people feel around the issue of running online meetings are certainly real. But the good news is, there are some things you can do about it. For example, there are plenty of tools out there to help you figured out how to prepare people, so that they come ready to engage and ready to make decisions. By the end of the meeting. There are good tools you can use to generate ideas, once you're inside the online meeting, it doesn't have to be a passive environment, you get people actively generating quality material to work with. And there are a lot of tools you can use to do evaluations, if you have a list of things that you need to decide which amongst that list of the best bits for you to work on. There are plenty of good ways in the online meeting world to make those kinds of evaluations clear. And there are plenty of good closure tools. So if you have to have a meeting end with a concrete, actionable definitive decision, there are some really robust tools you can use to make that happen. So I'm here to say, yeah, the frustrations are real in online meetings. But there are plenty of solutions out there that are that are present right now, and are going to be continuing to evolve as the technology improves. So it's really an optimistic future. From my standpoint.


Chris Templeton 31:37

Also, from another standpoint, this is about really taking the time as the leader of meeting to prepare to have to treat it as a project, which I love. I've never heard that idea where you've got input, you've got discussion, and then outcome and decision, pretty much I imagine is that. So the idea of having somebody who's really prepared is the first thing to overcome the idea that these aren't real meetings, having people engaged is a really important piece to making people feel like meetings are real, and then having a concrete outcome. Talk about why that is such an issue.


Michael Fraidenburg 32:24

Well, it's an issue because once again, people are not taking online meetings as seriously as real meetings. And they all have busy workplace. And so they're distracted and they multitasking all the all the problems that we've talked about. And so this solution is a meeting leader getting really good about taking people through a sequence of thought and a sequence of activity. so that by the time the meeting is over with you've generated whatever word product that is on your mind as you've generated whatever word product is important to you, and to the group. So meaning leaders, the person who plans that decision making sequence, not just a person who moderates a conversation between people. If somebody doesn't plan the sequence of here we are right now. Here's the next step, we got to take the gets get some progress under our belt. Here's the third step. Here's the fourth step. If somebody doesn't plan that, and then make it happen with good online meeting design probabilities are your meetings are not going to improve.


Chris Templeton 33:23

So let's talk about what the major pain points are just in summary,


Michael Fraidenburg 33:29

yeah, well, the major frustrations that people encounter are meeting participants who don't prepare and are disengaged. And there are plenty of tools to deal with that issue. People who are not there and generating quality ideas, so they come to the meeting, but they're sort of checked out. And there's plenty of interactive tools you can use to improve that situation. And then once you get some ideas out on the table, how do you evaluate them? People want to get into an instinctive competitive debate. There are plenty of tools to make that a collaborative conversation and end up with some kind of solution. And then there's a lot of good tools for getting a concrete decision. So instead of just saying, Have we decided something, you have a sequence of questions in a sequence of activities to get people to find what it is they decided, who's going to do what by when? Those kinds of questions, and then get agreement that they actually made that decision. So there's no after the fact concern that an agreement is not going to stand the test of time.


Chris Templeton 34:31

I recall, I think it was jack welch saying, you didn't want people to walk out of the room with pocket vetoes.


Michael Fraidenburg 34:40

And he was really Right. I mean, we've all experienced the phenomenon of people shaking their head saying, Yeah, and really what they're doing is they're, I'm ready to leave this me. Yes, I agree with the course of action we've decided. So there's some really good tools for nailing that down and getting people on board so they're working together.


Chris Templeton 35:00

I looked at the book mastering online meetings. And I think to myself 52 tips, what is a reader going to get from reviewing these and going through the book? What are the what's the outcome going to be for them? of reading the book? And then how's that going to apply in the meetings? Assuming they apply your recommendations?


Michael Fraidenburg 35:21

Well, it's a really, really good question. Because, after all, any person who's in improving their meeting, management is investing a precious commodity their time to try to make that improvement stick. And so a really good question to ask, following up on what you asked is, why is that an important investment of time. And there are several reasons why I think it's really, really good to do first is you can be more productive, you can get more work done in less time. So if your issue is you need to get more activities completed, being good at online meetings as a way to do that. Another is that if you are successful at doing that, you can generate less stress for yourself. So if you're good at managing online meetings, and you've got a deadline, for example, and you know how to run an online meeting, there's a lot less stress involved in making that happen. And then another good I think, important reason for getting good at this is, is that it's a leadership skill. If you've got people watching you saying you're supposed to produce in this meeting room environment, that's somewhat difficult, and you can do it, it's nice that you can be recognized for that Leadership School, the skill, that leadership skill, is one of the readers put it in his review. Given the amount of resources we put into online meetings these days, it's really a shame to waste those resources. So investing now to become a good leader of online leaders, online meetings, is a really good investment that will pay dividends in the future,


Chris Templeton 36:55

I don't think we can over stress, the importance of leadership in this, I think a lot of people walk in to the idea of running the meeting. And and dreading it from being the leader. And there's, there's the first thing that you got, you got to be able to walk into a meeting and feel good about it. And I get the sense that one of the things that this book is going to help you to accomplish is to have some of those basics down where you feel like you've got a toolbox to work from, that's going to make you feel confident going in, which translates right to the the audience


Michael Fraidenburg 37:33

that search you again, tracking back to what my students tell me is they say, I've got this job assignment to run these online meetings, whatever the topic might be. And I don't know what to do. I don't know how to go about doing that. And I'm pretty stressed about it. And all of a sudden, when you start laying out, well, here's a tool you can use for that problem. And here's a tool you can use for this. And here's a tool you can use for the closure, meaning they you can just see the stress levels start to fall down. So people feel comfortable, they feel confident. And I'm pretty sure they're going to be more successful in the long haul, simply because they find themselves in a good mindset where the stress is not getting in the way of being productive.


Chris Templeton 38:10

One of the things that I find is that a lot of people, especially when it comes to meetings, and then add the addition of an online meeting, really get the sense that, you know, oh, this is not going to be the greatest thing. And that is never going to be helpful and producing a great meeting. And I look at it. And I think to myself, well, you know, you have a lot of people that are in problem oriented thinking mode, and those that are in solution orientation. And having this toolbox is really a great is really a great way to move to solution oriented thinking,


Michael Fraidenburg 38:47

yeah, it's so true. If people don't know what to do, they're, they're forecasting that the meetings that they're heading into are going to be a problem. They have some idea and some tools to use to make those meetings successful, then making it more easily access the solution side of what they need to do. So instead of being a problem without me, it's a solution. Searching its solution finding for the group as a whole. So it's a it's an important mental transformation that people can make.


Chris Templeton 39:19

One of the things that we've talked about and seems really critical to me is to understand what to do to effectively prepare for a meeting, talk a little bit about that.


Michael Fraidenburg 39:30

You know, you can do a lot of things to prepare for a meeting. The simple things like sending emails and so forth, but you can also assign roles. So one activity you can do is give people very specific job assignments to get ready for a meeting. You can give them roles in the meeting, you're gonna make a presentation hairy agenda, you're going to comment on how to brainstorm ideas for solution solving the problem. Those kinds of assignments can be good inside of a meeting as well and you tell people ahead of time they're going to do you can also add the thing That has the most power for me, is tell people, if they don't make a decision in the meeting, they're going to be some consequences. So you're creating an incentive system to pay attention contributing. Because if we don't make a decision, usually groups hand that decision off to a third party, and they want to stay engaged. So you give them the consequences of an inability to cooperate and correct collaborate in the meeting to find a solution. And that's a big motivator for people to engage in and produce.


Chris Templeton 40:28

Talk about how you do that. Because I think a lot of people say, oh, consequences, what are we going to get, you know, give them two merit badges? What are we going to do so talk about a little bit about what consequences look like that are solution oriented, versus problem oriented,


Michael Fraidenburg 40:44

what I do is I don't go into an analysis of what those consequences are, what I go into is a thought have them go into a thought process, about how the decision will be made, if they don't make it, there's usually two ways that I've approached delivering that message to the participants. One is I've worked it out ahead of time with their boss, and the boss delivers some orientation remarks or a memo to the participants in saying you're being asked to go to this meeting and a series of online meetings to create whatever work product it is, if you can't create it, here's the alternative, alternative way that decision is going to be made. So the boss has been very clear about here's your chance. And if you can rise to that challenge, then you're going to be able to picture the future. And that's a harsh way to say it. But that's the dynamic that's going on. The other way I approach it is the beginning of the meeting process. I'll have the parties, the participants of the meeting actually discuss what are the consequences if we don't make a decision today? Usually, you're meeting because the status quo is not working perfectly well for for whatever the need is, and so is sponsoring a conversation, what happens if we don't decide gets people to realize that they're going to inherit the status quo once again. And then you can ask some diplomatically worded questions about is that acceptable to you. So those two methods are the most common way I get people to think ahead of time about that serious, they got engaged, and they gotta, they got to make the meeting, do what they can to make the meeting succeed.


Chris Templeton 42:15

One of the things that we should talk about is generating good ideas in the meeting. And to me, this is all about engagement. What are the things that I do to really get people in the meeting in a truly engaged way where they're going to be able to present ideas and really make a difference? I think it's easy to forget for meeting participants that we're depending on them. There's a reason we invited them. Right, right. So talk a little bit about from that standpoint, what do you do to help people to generate good ideas?


Michael Fraidenburg 42:57

The first and foremost thing I do is have a clear objective for the meeting. So this is not about what you do during the meeting, it's getting in front of the meeting with a clear definition of what the deliverable is for the meeting. And that term has power. If you ask people, what's the objective for the meeting? Or what's the goal for the meeting, they can talk in general terms about it. If I sit down with the meeting, sponsor, like the boss, or even the group itself, and I say, what's the concrete and actionable deliverable you want out of this meeting, then they are much more they can more easily access what it is, what is the precise work product that they want to generate by the end of the meeting. Now what's under that's our order. That's once that's under our ability, we have an understanding of that, then the idea of how you get people to generate material for that is tracking back to the idea of having interactivity in some way to generate ideas. So the notion of using Google Docs or some other shared platform for doing brainstorming a mind map for jointly creating a relationship diagram between what it is now and what it is we got to achieve those sorts of interactive tools really engage people against the objective or the deliverable you set for the meeting. But to make those tools succeed, whether it's a listing activity on Google Docs, or a mind map, or whatever it is, I try to be very careful about having a well constructed seed question. So I spent a fair amount of time saying, Here's naming the deliverable. We want this out of the meeting, and then asked to see question to go get them. So in Usually, the seed question has a verb in it like what is a list? Can we list a set of activities? Or can we list a set of attributes? Something like that? And that seed question gives people a way to translate more abstract notion of an objective or deliverable into the concrete product. We need the list discussion, we need an agreement, we need a compromise whatever that


Chris Templeton 44:59

And I get the impression that one of the things that's an outcome for the the people attending the meeting is, and that increases the the strength of the meeting from the participants point of view is their feeling of ownership in it. And I look at a lot of what we have a tendency to do, which is kind of a push method. Oh, God, I've got to go to another meeting, as opposed to, what do I do? Oh, I'm looking forward to working on this problem. I know that I'm going to be asked to have input on this. And making it a pull method. Is that a big piece of this?


Michael Fraidenburg 45:41

It's a big piece of it. But I think in front of that is actually a more important question about getting people to have an appreciation and a shared understanding of what's the the general good, but they're going to generate by succeeding. So I work hard. Having people understand that if they succeed in the meeting, then they will create something that is very positive for the future. So that if then logic is very important. So people see I'm, I need to invest time and energy and thought, and good thinking now, because there's a benefit that I can help create for the future. That is something I can get behind. So that draws people along, instead of me as a meeting leader standing behind them, trying to push them forward to that direction. So for me getting people understand what's the larger order good that they can create, by succeeding and meeting is a very important moment in any meeting that I made.


Chris Templeton 46:41

I really liked the approach and the thinking on it, it makes so much sense. And you know, I think that we don't get there, because we just haven't, I think we get so stuck in problem orientation mode that we never get to this point of, hey, how can I really make this thing a different and a really productive beast? Let's talk about one of the other things that I you mentioned earlier is this whole idea of evaluations, talk about evaluations and how they can be used in a meeting.


Unknown Speaker 47:14

Well, evaluations not only can be used in a meeting, they're essential part of a meeting, because if you're going to end up starting from some starting point about a problem that you need to resolve in the meeting, and getting to a decision about it, you've got to evaluate in between those two steps, what are your options and how they're going to work for you. So it's critically important to do. The typical method is some sort of voting process. And there's a variety of tools you can use online. And during the meeting, for example, you'll thumbs up thing if people agree with the decision that's been made, they give you a thumbs up or a thumbs up, or a thumbs up or thumbs sideways or a thumbs down to express dissent from a decision is ready to be made. You can use polling, you can use a variety of flashcards, sometimes I have, I don't have one from me, but to hold up a flashcard, that's got an arrow pointing up, saying I like the decision. Let's move to the next topic, you can do some things like that, to evaluate where you are in the meeting. There are a rather elaborate tools, you can build that if you have an interactive tool, like a whiteboard, or a polling service, sometimes a spreadsheet in Google Docs and Google Drive, something like that, you can actually have people do ranking exercises. And that takes a fair amount of time and structure to make it happen. But it has a lot of power if you do it. So I want to give a pretty strong sense of optimism that you can do some rather elaborate and profound evaluations in the online meeting environment, they take a little bit more time to construct and a little bit slower to implement. But once people get into the groove of doing it, they go right along. I've never had people drag their feet to engage in those little those those processes that take a little more time, once they see how it's going to help them generate the decision they need to be.


Chris Templeton 48:58

One thing that occurs to me in going through this conversation with you is there is tremendous potential for meetings online offline. And wouldn't you say that, in your experience, there's been a whole lot of untapped potential?


Michael Fraidenburg 49:18

Yeah, definitely. And there's more to come. I mean, the the landscape of meeting technology is evolving extremely rapidly. So we are in a position now where there are plenty of really successful tools you can use and techniques to have positive meetings right now. But it's only going to get better as the tools improve. And so I think there's a world of optimism to think that a year from now, certainly five years from now, online meetings are going to be more abundant and they're going to be more effective, and the need for leadership skills and runny nose, there's going to be even more pressing, because of the volume of meetings and the rapidity with which decisions have to be made. And then there's all Is all the pragmatics of it's just expensive to get people to travel to meetings. And so this is going to be a good workaround to get people who are collaborating like, I'm going to switch my eye contact from the camera to you on your screen, and I can watch you and I can watch your facial expression. And that's only going to get better. So there are a lot of lot of optimism for this technology is going to get better and our ability to manage it, it's going to get better. There's there's a bright future out there.


Chris Templeton 50:24

Yeah, I completely agree. So let's, let's wrap up this section with a discussion of getting to that concrete decision, that piece that at the end, Has everybody feeling like it was worthwhile? How do we get to that? What are some of the tips that that you can offer? Somebody listening to this, that is going to help them to get those concrete decisions?


Michael Fraidenburg 50:52

Yeah, the evaluation piece that is embedded in most meetings is really the pathway to that. So if you've had people do evaluations, and we've done a ranking exercise, for example, and there's 12 things on the list, and three of them rank high, you've already made the first kind of a very effective decision because you've isolated the leading candidates or whatever, whatever it is. So every successful decision making process usually is front ended with some sort of robust evaluation. Now, once you've got the evaluation, completed, the question is, what do you do with the remaining items. And again, it can be simple, it can be complex. So you've had a ranking exercise to isolate the top three out of a dozen, let's take the top three and have a boating exercise and see if one of those instinctively rises to the top, you can push that off into its own secondary evaluation. So you can have a scoring activity with some criteria saying of these top three, how do they do? How do they fit or not fit some criteria that are important to me, ease of use, how fast we can get it online, the cost that it's going to cost us those kinds of criteria can be used to score the final three, and you end up again with another cut in the isolate the top item, at some point, you've got to pick and so you got to coalesce everybody's thinking down to are we in agreement about this choice. And there's really no substitute for putting people on the spot at that point, you do something that is the equivalent of making eye contact, or a formal gesture in a face to face meeting, and saying, now's the time to say you do agree, or offer your dissent and the reasons why so we can do something about it. Or we're going to, we're going to make this decision and move on. And then the online meeting environment, which you can do is call on people in a roll call kind of way, saying Fred, what do you think? Or Harry, what do you think, Janet, Is this okay for you, and then get people to commit to their peers, then they are on board with the decision, you can transfer that to a polling service, a lot of meeting management software has chat functions. And so you get people to put yes or no into the chat box, you can do some some things like the sticking point is if there is somebody who disagrees or has a dissent, and let's say it's it's an honorable disagreement, we're not talking about them being obstructionist, or anything else, anything like that? The question is, what do you do if somebody can't in good faith go forward? There's two options worked for me on a routine basis was you can to turn turn to the person who's got the problem with the decision making you ask them in a very artfully worded question, how to fix the problem. Because the last thing you want to do is have a person who descends from a decision, turn to everybody else in the meeting and say, help me fix that problem, which you want to do is put that in a in a fair and diplomatic way back on the shoulders of the person with the problem and ask them an artfully worded question. And the best one I've ever found is, what is the solution to your concern that will work for you, and work for everybody else at the same time. That's an invited invitation to say we're ready to help you resolve your issue. We need your leadership and guidance to figure out how you will do it. But also, you have a social obligation, everybody else in the meeting to be respectful of their needs at the same time. So that's what I call the turnaround question. And that's a good way to get people to come to closure. On the others. The tried and true tried and true method of majority rule wins the day. And but you want to be respectful in these collaborative settings that you're not doing disservice to the people who are in a minority. So what I'll do if I'm pushed into having to use a majority vote kind of activity, to say that's the decision making rule. We're gonna report it that way we're looking for what is the majority of we're gonna pick the solution the majority of people support, what we're going to have complete and respectful minority reporting for those people who can't agree to this decision, because we need to hand off a decision that is completely understood to what is the law level of support and why it's supported? And what are the concerns with it, that maybe somebody else beyond our meeting can deal with. So those are the two primary ways I get people to come to closure on a sticking issue sticky sticking point issue.


Chris Templeton 55:13

It's almost like the dissenting opinion on a Supreme Court ruling, isn't it? And that, you know, they, and I think that that's one of the things that in terms of this engagement idea, if I'm the person that doesn't feel like I got what I thought was the best approach, but I've been heard, and I've been able to express that to the group, and then hopefully move on and full support of the decision that was made with this whole idea of not leaving with a pocket veto. Having those outlets as part of that discussion. For somebody who's not in agreement with the decision has to be really, really important.


Michael Fraidenburg 55:53

It's extremely important, because people need to feel heard and acknowledged that their concerns are legitimate. So it does all of that. But this is even better than your Supreme Court analogy, because minority opinions or dissenting opinions, our environment, have information value embedded in it's not like issuing a minority opinion and everybody ignores it, right decisions out of these meetings are usually going someplace else. And so the dissenters, concerns well articulated, actually provides support for the decision making that needs to occur after after the meeting is over. So for me, it's it adds quite a bit of richness and, and robustness to the activity of having an online meeting. Yes, you get a majority opinion. But you get this rich, richer understanding what might be some issues with it that need further attention with so for me, dissenting opinions have a lot of valuable, very valuable information embedded in them.


Chris Templeton 56:55

It's it's powerful stuff. And I just think about much better we could make things with with these tips. So let's go through just a review of what's in it for the reader, Mike.


Michael Fraidenburg 57:09

Yes, good question. Because the frustrations that people experience with these online meetings are certainly real. For example, there are tools you can use to help people prepare for a meeting ahead of time. So that's a success element that you can capitalize on. There are plenty of tools you can use to get people to generate quality ideas during the meeting. So there's a real optimism that you get people to generate valuable, valuable material during the meeting. And there are plenty of ways to evaluate material once it's it's been exposed in the meeting. So you can do all kinds of activities to get people to evaluate their thinking. And the net result can be really more concrete and valuable decisions coming out the other ends and you can give definitive action decided in the meeting. And we're way beyond just talking about an issue. If you use smart planning, a smart idea generation smart evaluation, those kinds of tools that are readily accessible. In thinking about investing time to learn better online meeting leadership skills, a good question to ask is why are these skills skills important? A good question to ask is why are these skills important? If I can paraphrase one of the reviewers of the book, he put it well, and he said, considering the amount of time and resources we invest in online meetings, it's a shame to waste those resources. So an investment and gaining online meeting management skills is a good investment in being more productive overall. So I think a person who is good at doing online meetings gets several personal benefits out of it as well. One is they can do more work in less time. And so productivity, if that's on your mind, then better management, and meeting management skills will help you achieve that. You can also experience less stress, I know going into a meeting a lot of the students that I work with, are pretty fearful about the problems they're going to encounter. If they got tools and skills to apply, they have a lot less stress, and actually prosecuting or running the meeting. And then for me, it's important that my students get recognized for this leadership skill. So if they're able to construct good productive meetings, and run them in a way that makes their whole work unit more productive than they deserve, and often you can get recognition for this leadership skill


Chris Templeton 59:26

is really important. And you know, I think one of the things that if I am doing this right, not only should I be getting that, that kind of recognition from above in the hierarchy, but I'm probably also going to get a lot of it from the people in the meeting. I mean, meetings I've run that have gone well, I've been surprised at how much good feedback I've gotten and it's it's always a nice feeling, isn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 59:52

It's always a nice feeling. And you know, we all love to have recognition. So it's really a nice feeling when people say they appreciate The work you've done with him, but it has a lot of intrinsic value. That's important to think about as well, I think person who is a leader of an online meeting, just think about why are they doing this activity beyond just being asked to do? And usually when I asked that question of my students, they come back with some sort of answer. That's sad, because I like to feel like I'm making other people more productive themselves. I like to make that contribution. So there's a lot of self satisfaction and gratification, and helping people you care about you succeed in whatever activity is important to them. So asking the question, why do I want to do this? And answering it with some sort of motivation about I want to make people better and make the world better because I've, I've used their time, effectively in these meetings to produce good concrete outcomes is very satisfying, personal reward that I certainly get out of out of meeting management.


Chris Templeton 1:00:55

I'm impressed with what you do. And I can only imagine the number of changes you've helped people to go through to all feel better about the value of a meeting offline or online. But taking it online is just a whole nother level too, isn't it?


Michael Fraidenburg 1:01:12

Yeah. Well, again, tracking back to the reviews that considering the amount of resources we spend in meetings, including online meetings, it's just a shame to waste those resources. So it's a pretty valuable skill.


Chris Templeton 1:01:25

I hope you found this podcast useful, and that it's something that can make a difference in your day to day life in the new world of online meetings. Please feel free to go check out Michael's book@amazon.com simply search for mastering online meetings and you'll be all set. Thank you again, we look forward to your feedback.




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