The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for April, 2010

Bringing the Whole Body/Mind into Virtual Meeting Rooms – The Madhatters Tea Party – Facilitator Review #2

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The Madhatters Virtual Tea Party #2, was another wild ride for the Madhatters and their friends, fans, and followers. It was hosted by the inimitable Gretchen Wegner – Interplay leader, academic coach, blogger, and inventor of MuseCubes.

I admire Gretchen’s commitment to bringing the whole body/mind into even the most intellectual of human pursuits – like writing and other academic pursuits.

I also admire her commitment to keeping play at the front of the mind.

It’s been my personal experience that these two commitments yield work experiences that provide human beings with deep satisfaction – not just paychecks. And, when work enables human beings both to express the skills we have mastered and to experience our fathomless human creativity, then it becomes the highest expression of our humanity. While also producing something of value.

Gretchen’s Virtual Tea Party gave participants an opportunity to see, hear, and begin to imagine a whole new range of possibilities for using live, real-time virtual meeting rooms to faciliate whole body/mind interaction – at a distance. It was a fabulous first-time demonstration of Gretchen’s potential for adding authentic telepresence to her skill pack.

Here’s a recording of a video chat that Gretchen, Tom Carroll of, and I had Thursday, April 29th, as we debriefed our experiences and talked through some of the background issues Gretchen found herself dealing with during the party. We talked for a little over 28 minutes. As I did last week, I’m posting the recording here in the hope that it provides some additional value to participants in the 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp - and to anyone else who’s lurking in the shadows, peeking through our Virtual Tea Party windows, listening for tips and tricks you can use to improve your virtual meetings.

As always, I welcome your comments below, anytime you’d like to contribute to this conversation…

When Choosing a Virtual Meeting Tool, No Magic Pills or Siskel and Ebert Reviews Work

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Both the Madhatters and Madhatters Virtual Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Campers asked me today if I could provide them with some lists of virtual meeting tools, so I’m sharing some links to places interested people can find these kinds of lists online:

There are dozens of these kinds of lists online! Maybe hundreds of them. You can do your own research just as easily as you can follow these links. You’ll find a ton of information about meeting tools and their various features.

I don’t provide some “Virtual Meeting Coach” list of virtual meeting tools because as soon as I issued a list of tools, it would be obsolete. Features are being added weekly, new companies are coming online weekly, and companies that have had great tools in the virtual meeting space are going broke and going offline weekly.

So, those of you who are getting excited in the Madhatters Tea Parties and want to start testing and researching other options outside DimDim right now, please feel free to kick off your own research using these links. I also encourage you to do your own Google searches on virtual meetings, web conferencing, online meetings, etc. so you locate the most current data about what’s available right now.

No Magic Pills or Siskel and Ebert Reviews

I wish I could just give all of you a “pill” or some definitive list that would allow you to point a finger and just pick the right tool for you. But, frankly, that would be about as useful as providing you an index of all the pharmaceuticals on the market for depression (or some other complex illness). A list of pharmaceuticals doesn’t tell you anything about how the drugs really work in real human bodies with complex needs. And neither do tables of virtual meeting tools tell you what will “make the perfect virtual office for you.”

The tool(s )you choose to use will depend on the interaction of three fundamental factors:

1) What you do well – what your “Lion” strengths are (remembering our first Madhatters Tea Party?)
2) What it is you want to accomplish with your clients/coworkers at a distance.
3) What your clients/coworkers want from you – at a distance – and how they are willing to receive it from you.

The sites above offer a variety of ranking systems. Unfortunately, the criteria used for the ranking are anything but standardized. I wish I could change that. But, that’s just the way it is. Virtual meeting use is an art … not a science… And we’re operating in a volatile economy that’s changing the ways we think about working together every week. So the science is going to take awhile longer. Like maybe a decade or so…

There’s a Reason I’ve Become the Virtual Meeting Coach

And, it’s not to hawk virtual meeting tools for a sales commission. I’m an independent communication consultant who has been advising and coaching people in the skillful use of face-to-face interactive meeting strategies and electronic messaging tools for over two decades. I don’t have a “favorite” virtual meeting tool because there are mountains of things that people want and need to be able to do in virtual meetings. Many tools do some of those things pretty well and none of them that do all of them perfectly. Not even close.

So, I hung out my shingle about two years ago now in the interest of saving people time and money in your research and development processes. I delight in helping people identify ways you can take what you do best and port your special sauce into online meetings. Then, I like helping you frost the cake by tailoring your online meeting and business processes so you get the full value and delight available from the tools(s) you choose to use.

I love coaching individuals (and groups) through a step-by-step process that helps you quickly clarify what’s true for you about the three factors above. And then I’ll help you select and practice with the tool(s) that will best fit you and your clients’ needs. If you want more, I also offer groups in which I coach people in the adaptation of their favorite face-to-face engagement strategies to virtual meetings. I want my clients to make meeting with them virtually a true pleasure for others – instead of a pain in the #ss.

By all means, if you would enjoy spending your time doing the research yourself, please start with the links above. It’s horribly time-consuming but also great fun uncovering all the new stuff out there.

On the other hand, if you’d rather spend your time making money with your core business processes – and you’d like to save substantial trial and error time – you can hire me to consult and coach you quickly through the process of transitioning some of them online.

The Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Programs are one highly affordable way I’ve set up to help people learn and practice in small groups. I also work privately with clients who really need to speed things up by focusing on their specific needs in a one-on-one setting.

I offer a FREE 20-minute virtual meeting consultation to anyone thinks you’re ready to get started so you can see if you think we’d be a good fit. Feel free to use the contact form at VirtualMeetingStartup to set up a free consultation.

The Language and Culture of Virtual Meetings – The Madhatters Tea Party Launch

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Opening day of the Madhatters Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp went just about as I’d imagined it would. Wild. Crazy. Full of surprises. And a little on the chaotic side for the first 15-20 minutes.

How else would you expect things to go with a gang of mostly inexperienced virtual meeters, coming from a dozen different frames of reference, with wide-ranging computer literacy, using both PC and Macintosh computers, and connecting through a free teleconferencing line and a full-featured multi-media virtual meeting room at the same time? And did I say most of them were middle-aged women?

As the Madhatter of Madhatters, I was utterly delighted by the whole event! It was the quintessential Virtual Madhatters Tea Party!

When it was over, participants’ feedback reflected various levels of cognitive overload … and excitement …and curiosity …and a desire for more!

I had a debriefing conversation about the first Madhatters Tea Party today with my colleague, friend, and former client, Tom Carroll, founder of

Tom’s lifetime of research mapping human excellence and designing strategies to rapidly transfer that excellence from one human to another (and another and another…) has inspired me since we met a decade ago in Austin, Texas. When I first met Tom, he was a Senior Performance Consultant at International SEMATECH where he and his colleague, Mike Bown, helped semiconductor engineering and wafer fabrication teams make the most of their full human capacities in a high pressure, multi-company, multi-cultural consortium whose mission was to ensure that the US get ahead – and stay ahead – of the rest of the world in the development of semiconductor technologies.

These days, Tom has moved into his own consulting practice where he continues to research and test ways to help human beings perform better, faster, and cheaper in a variety of industries where the competition is tough and stakes are high.

At my request, Tom was a participant/observer during the first Madhatters Tea Party and I’ve asked him to continue observing. I’ll be publishing a series of our “behind the scenes” debriefing conversations here on the blog to help the Madhatters and the Virtual Tea Partiers – and anyone else who’s interested – get some background context for the experience-based-learning they’re doing.

I hope you find  something useful for yourself in this dialogue and, as always, I’m interested in your thoughts and feelings. Please feel free to comment below.

This first conversation is focused on Tom’s perceptions about the Virtual Tea Party and explores some of my assumptions about the language and culture of virtual meetings. Out of my training in educational psychology and anthropology, my personal experience teaching ESL and cross-cultural communication, and my research and testing of hundreds of virtual meeting technologies over the last three years, I have come to believe that immersing people in a learning experience that is both safe and serious is the only sound way to help human beings quickly build the literacy and fluency each of us needs in order to make the most of new, online meeting tools.

In this economy, the stakes couldn’t be higher – particularly for independent business people with high-value services to sell.

I’m completely convinced that once we understand how to use them, virtual meetings can allow teachers, trainers, coaches and consultants to lower costs while providing more and better service.

Give a listen. And by all means, feel free to share what you think…

Exploring the Culture of Virtual Meetings – Using Madhatters Tea Parties!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

What the #$&($# is a Virtual Madhatters Tea Party?

Everyone knows how to behave and relate in a traditional meeting environment. We’ve been doing it all of our lives. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. We have protocols. We have Robert’s Rules of Order, for heaven’s sake.

Live, online meetings have introduced a whole new meeting culture – one that takes time to make sense of. One that takes work to become familiar with. Software developers have spent a long time planning for and investing in new, synchronous meeting technologies. They’re spending a fortune advertising them. But the truly astounding thing is how little has been done to address the deep culture change required for human beings to shift into new, online meeting environments.

It’s like a conspiracy of silence that makes no sense to me.

So, I’m a bit of a drama queen. And I’m more than a little fascinated with Web 2.0, collaborative technologies, and the promise of live, synchronous meeting tools. There’s never been much about me that anyone would call “normal.”  But when I moved from Austin up to a small town in southern Oregon, and launched into three years of research and testing of virtual meeting tools and strategies, I never expected to turn into a Madhatter. But I did.

And yesterday – just like a Madhatter – or maybe the Pied Piper – I led a cadre of experienced facilitators, trainers, coaches, and consultants right off the cliff of well-known face-to-face meeting practices into the free-fall of immersion in a live, multimedia virtual meeting. It was a wild and crazy experience! And, judging from their immediate feedback, they got out of it just what I’d hoped they would – all their pre-existing notions of how human beings “should” behave and communicate were flushed out of the dark corners of their minds and deposited on the virtual “table” for us to examine and learn from. Oh, goody! In times like this, that’s just what highly experienced professionals need to be doing, because…

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you already got.”

So, yesterday we used DimDim in a fishbowl kind of format together with a separate teleconference line at that wasn’t as reliable as I might have wished. But I promised the participants that the program would focus entirely on the use of FREE virtual meeting tools because I truly believe – based on my own personal experience – that buying a license for a virtual meeting tool before you really understand the NEW DYNAMICS OF THE CULTURE OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS is an exercise in futility. And expensive to boot.

The best way to learn any new language – or any new culture – is to be fully immersed in it. And that’s what the Madhatters Tea Parties are doing: dunking the participants and their friends head first into a whole new culture.

Over the coming weeks, as we share Tea Time online on five Monday afternoons, the group will be opening to meeting with others in new ways – ways that we can’t meet face-to-face. They will be examining assumptions about dia-logue and collaboration strategies. And they will also be developing new professional skills – and new ways to deploy old professional skills – while we are, together, immersed in a series of new kinds of meeting environments, testing some new ways to coach and consult with others at a distance.

I’ll be blogging about what I’m noticing as we move through the Virtual Tea Parties. I hope regular and new readers will feel free to get into the conversation around this folksy kind of ethnographic inquiry I’ve gotten into. It’s a wild and crazy ride! And I’m lovin’ it!

If you want to read more about the programs – and possibly become a Madhatter yourself during the summer session, go here. I’ll be posting a new video for the 10-Week Madhatter Group Coaching Program later this week on the Virtual Meeting Startup site along with a more extensive written description about the program.

Creating Meaningful Experiences – Using Real-Time Virtual Meetings

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Madhatter's Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp

From Clark Quinn’s blog, Learnlets, December 8, 2009:

What if the learner’s experience was ‘hard fun’: challenging, but engaging, yielding a desirable experience, not just an event to be tolerated, OR what is learning experience design?

Can you imagine creating a ‘course’ that wins raving fans?  It’s about designing learning that is not only effective but seriously engaging.  I believe that this is not only doable, but doable under real world constraints.

Let me start with this bit of the wikipedia definition of experience design:

the practice of designing…with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience…, with less emphasis placed on increasing and improving functionality

That is, experience design is about creating a user experience, not just focusing on their goals, but thinking about the process as well.   And that’s, to me, what is largely ignored in creating elearning is thinking about process from the learner’s perspective. There are really two components: what we need to accomplish, and what we’d like the learner to experience.

Our first goal still has to look at the learning need, and identify an objective that we’d like learners to meet, but even that we need to rethink.  We may have constraints on delivery environment, resources, and more that we have to address as well, but that’s not the barrier.  The barrier is the mistake of focusing on knowledge-level objectives, not on meaningful skill change.  Let me be very clear: one of the real components of creating a learning experience is ensuring that we develop, and communicate, a learning objective that the learner will ‘get’ is important and meaningful to them.  And we have to take on the responsibility for making that happen.

Then, we need to design an experience that accomplishes that goal, but in a way that yields a worthwhile experience.  I’ve talked before about the emotional trajectory we might want the learner to go through.  It should start with a (potentially wry) recognition that this is needed, some initial anxiety but a cautious optimism, etc.  We want the learner to gradually develop confidence in their ability, and even some excitement about the experience and the outcome.  We’d like them to leave with no anxiety about the learning, and a sense of accomplishment.  There are a lot of components I’ve talked about along the way, but at core it’s about addressing motivation, expectations, and concerns.

Actually, we might even shoot for more: a transformative experience, where the learner leaves with an awareness of a fundamental shift in their understanding of the world, with new perspectives and attitudes to accompany their changed vocabulary and capabilities.  People look for those in many ways in their life; we should deliver.

This does not come from applying traditional instructional design to an interview with a SME (or even a Subject Matter Network, as I’m increasingly hearing and inclined to agree).  As I defined it before, learning design is the intersection of learning, information, and experience design.  It takes a broad awareness of how we learn, incorporating viewpoints behavior, cognitive, constructive, connective, and more.  It takes an awareness of how we experience: media effects on cognition and emotion, and of the dramatic arts.  And most of all, it takes creativity and vision.

However, that does not mean it can’t be developed reliably and repeatably, on a pragmatic basis.   It just means you have to approach it anew.  It take expertise, and a team with the requisite complementary skill sets, and organizational support. And commitment.  What will work will depend on the context and goals (best principles, not best practices), but I will suggest that with good content development processes, a sound design approach, and a will to achieve more than the ordinary.  This is doable on a scalable basis, but we have to be willing to take the necessary steps.  Are you ready to take your learning to the next level, and create experiences?


What Does All This Have to Do With The New Group Coaching Programs at

Let me briefly explain. For the past three years, Clark Quinn’s thinking has been of enormous value to me while I’ve been researching and testing virtual meeting tools. I stumbled across this piece today through a pointer in Harold Jarche’s blog and I have to say that this post describes in the most eerily synchronistic way the assumptions that have been driving me as I’ve been building my new coaching programs for

The Madhatter’s Tea Party Group Coaching Programs are, precisely, experiential learning programs. And as I design them, I’ve been focused much more on creating quality user experiences than on increasing or improving functionality.

Why? Because the kinds of people I’m most interested in supporting are already experienced teachers, trainers, coaches, and consultants who have developed high levels of functionality. They just don’t know how to take the things they’re best at and move their interaction with others into cyberspace. They’re subject matter experts (SMEs), but that’s not what’s most precious about them. It’s their compassion, their creativity, their curiosity, and the depth of their empathy for others that make a real difference in others’ lives. Like they say these days, “information is free, experience is expensive.”

Out of my extensive research and testing experiences, it seems to me the best way for teachers, trainers, coaches, and consultants to learn to SHARE THEIR LIVING PRESENCE WITH OTHERS across space and time is to set up situations in which they just DO it. And then fail to connect. And then learn from their failure. And then do it again. And fail to connect in another way. Learn from the failure. And do it again. Etc…

And, since adults really don’t enjoy failing – especially when they’re sitting in a room all by themselves in uncomfortable chairs, staring at a monitor, wearing a headset that pulls their hair and makes their ears hurt – I’ve designed the learning experience to provide regular high-energy interaction, in real-time. And what they’re doing is learning to dump their fear, worry, embarrassment, and self-consciousness as quickly as possible.

Because of this, the Madhatter’s Group Coaching Programs focus on the Madhatters un-learning how to act like subject matter experts – especially at a distance – more than on any deliberate, staged learning about pumping their expertise through the computer into someone else’s mind.

I’m documenting every step of the process so that the design can be repeated, quite pragmatically. But I’m definitely seeing that what I’m doing is creating an experience design that I’ll be replicating, not a traditional “instructional design.”

Fascinating work for me! Hard, hard fun!

Join us, if this interests you…

I’ll be writing more about all this in the days and weeks ahead. What do you think about all this?

April 19th – Madhatter’s Tea Parties Begin!

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Madhatters 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp
Coming up on Monday, April 19th: the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing in Oklahoma City and a Tea Party gun rally on the Mall in Washington.

For weeks I’ve been hearing Yeat’s “Second Coming” in my head.

Also on Monday afternoon, at 3:30pm PDT, I’ll be launching the Madhatter’s Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp. You can still sign up until noon, Sunday the 18th.

Of course there’s always darkness simmering in the bestial recesses of the Monkey Mind. I’m committed to rising above it, friends. Let’s use the internet to connect across space and time in real-time, not to divide us further.

Yes we can.

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