The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for the ‘facilitation’ Category

Using Interplay Strategies in Virtual Meetings To Bridge the Mind/Body/Spirit Split

Friday, May 28th, 2010

(c) 2010 Sara Harford, “How Far Down Is the Bottom?”

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of this session of the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Programs has been the participation of two different Interplay leaders as Madhatters, along with a crew of at least eight Interplay-trained Virtual Tea Partiers.

The Madhatters Virtual Tea Parties began with Gretchen Wegner leading and then, this week, we wound up the 6-week-program with the founder of Interplay, Cynthia Winton-Henry, leading the closing party.

Cynthia’s Virtual Tea Party explored the subject of “meeting” in virtual meetings, providing participants with a variety of opportunities to experience and reflect on what Cynthia calls “body wisdom.” She used slides, whiteboard participation, text chat, video cam, and music broadcast through the teleconferencing system to elicit and contain participants’ responses to images, sound, words, and both recorded and live video. It was an ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable first effort from a master of face-to-face whole body interaction.

In this rowdy debriefing conversation following the final session of the Spring Virtual Meeting Camp, Cynthia and Tom Carroll (of EvolutionaryLearning.com) and I explore some of the issues that come up when human beings try to squeeze ourselves into virtual meeting rooms. It’s hard for all of us – especially in the beginning of our transition into virtual meetings – not to allow the tools to worsen the mind/body/spirit split that western education systems trained into us.

However, as Cynthia’s party demonstrated, it’s not at all necessary for virtual meetings to make this split worse! In fact, as both Gretchen Wegner’s and Cynthia’s parties aptly demonstrated, when the meeting host/ess makes embodied presence one of the chief objectives of a virtual meeting, participatory strategies can actually create some unique bridging where bodies, minds and spirits experience joining in real-time at great physical distance from one another. And, the research shows more and more that when multi-level connections are made or refreshed – at a distance – people experience a renewed sense of commitment to and responsibility for projects and teams they’ve signed onto.

This is exciting stuff to me!  I look forward to hosting some guest posts very shortly from Cynthia, Gretchen, and others from the global Interplay community. They have much to share with all of us who aspire to effective use of online meetings, web conferencing, and even 3D meeting technologies!

PLEASE NOTE: Because Cynthia is such a wild-and-crazy woman, she moves around quite a bit as she speaks. So, be prepared: as you watch this vid, you will experience a less-than-fully-detailed representation of her face at various times during the recording. Personally, I love the way the video alternates between a recognizable image of Cynthia and a kind of nutty pixel-headed avatar image. Very Madhatter-ish!

The Virtual Meeting Coach’s Love Song to The Gulf of Mexico

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame where everything shines as it disappears.
- Rainer Marie Rilke

Okay, I’m breathing deliberately at my desk. I’m taking short walks and breathing deliberately. I’m meditating. I’m chanting. I’m practicing the Power of Now, the Law of Attraction and doing The Work. I’m crying. And I’m still not okay about watching, helplessly, as the Gulf of Mexico turns into a toxic waste site.

I grew up going to the Gulf on vacations to swim with my family from the time I was a tiny girl. Then, when I was a teenager, we moved to the west coast of Florida and my adolescence was spent swimming on Lido Beach and Longboat Key. I had a short stint up in Georgia while I went to college and started a family, but I always went home to the Gulf to find my bearings. And I took my kids there from the time they were little. Even when I moved to Austin, I made as many trips as possible to the east coast of Texas to immerse myself in my beautiful Gulf. My whole life, it’s been my holy water.

So, while I’m now living in southern Oregon, I might as well be right there on the coast of Louisiana because I FEEL what’s happening there – every second – deep in my heart. And I’m at my wit’s end. I feel angry, helpless, and so sad I can barely breathe.

And, the worst part is I’ve been telling myself I don’t know what I can do – from up here – to help. Friends, colleagues and clients tell me they’re feeling the same anger, helplessness and sadness. My friend and colleague, Sharon Drew Morgan, even wrote a totally wacky post in her biz blog this week about Aliens and their possible role in this tragedy.

In fact, it was Sharon Drew’s post that actually shook me out of the trance of helpless rage at BP for failing to take responsibility for what’s happening. The insanity of talking about aliens popped my attention over to my personal responsibility as a driver whose demand for gasoline to power my car continues to fuel BP’s race to produce oil to meet that demand – at any cost.

And here’s a fresh video about the cost. The real cost:

So, What Can We Do – From Right Where We Are – About the Disaster in the Gulf?
If you can watch that footage without wanting to vomit, you’re a better wo/man than I. I can barely stand to watch it. Because I loved those waters. I loved those fish. And I love every single shell that washed up on the pristine, white sands of those beaches  since I first set my little foot on them. I’ve been picking up shells from Gulf beaches since I was three years old – shells left by sea creatures who died a natural death in those waters.

I simply cannot physically go down to the Gulf right now to help with the clean up. I’ve had the same kind of financially challenging year that everyone else has and I don’t have the cash to take off work and drive or fly down there right now to help with the clean up in person.

But, I can do something from right here. I can stand up – in my full humanity – and lead sans  shame or embarrassment. Like this guy:

Who cares if I look like a fool to start with? This is our precious Gulf of Mexico!!

So, here’s my declaration:

I can – and I will – offer every day to help people who sell professional services learn to use virtual meetings to start delivering some of your services without having to get into your cars to drive somewhere just so you can sit down in a room to work with other people. Sometimes we have to, but we don’t always have to do this!!

I can – and I will – keep reminding people through this blog that until we all learn to use these tools in skillful ways, we are just blowing smoke when we open our mouths and speak about “greening” this economy or “saving the environment.”

It’s time now for us to walk our talk! Will you join me?

The Times They Are A’Changin’
If you don’t know how to use virtual meetings to work with clients and colleagues at a distance, you have no other choice but to walk, ride your bike, ride the bus, or get into your car – or fly – to work with other people! But not having another choice is simply no excuse when the tools to work collaboratively – and at a distance – are FREE and I’m here to help you learn to use them!

The truth of the matter is this: Until each of us knows enough to be able to exercise choice with our colleagues and clients – ie., to work virtually sometimes, using live meeting tools and Web 2.0 collaborative applications, whenever doing so won’t damage crucial relationships – each of us must take personal responsible for creating the tragedy in the Gulf.

It is our driving habits that are the driving force in the demand for oil production.
Along with BP and lazy, selfish congressional regulators, it is YOU AND I who must take full responsibility for what our unquestioned – frequently senseless – work routines and habits are now doing to drive the demand for oil that is killing the Gulf and the other precious oceans!

So, how about singing along with me and Don Henley and song-writer extraordinaire Bob Dylan (celebrating his 69th birthday this week)? How about learning to use virtual meeting tools? And how about starting NOW?

Want to Do More Than Just Sing?
I’m starting up a new Madhatter’s Tea Party Group Coaching Program in July. It’s going to be fun…and it’s just not that damn hard!

If you want to participate, contact me this week right here for a FREE 20-minute consultation: http://virtualmeetingstartup.com/contact.html.

And if not now, when? While we keep fiddling around, the Gulf is burning.

Speaking of fiddling, a million thanks to Diana Fairbanks whose wide-ranging, quirky intelligence and warm friendship brought both the Rilke poem and the Leadership Guy vid to my attention early Thursday. You can enjoy her eclectic taste in music here on her new station at Blip.fm as you ponder next steps….

Human flourishing is not a mechanical process. It is an organic process.

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Everything Sir Ken says in this TED Talk, from February 2010, is just as true about adult learning as it is about our children’s education. And my commitment to this perspective about “informal” learning is central to the program design for the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching programs.

If we are to resurrect our local, national and global economies, we’re going to have to resurrect our spirits first. Starting with the spirits of adults! And the resurrection of spirits depends on organic processes, not pre-packaged “scalable solutions.”

Early in the talk, Sir Ken says, “Changing education is about challenging what we take for granted, challenging the tyranny of common sense…. And it’s very hard to know what you take for granted – because you take it for granted…”

Then, delightful, dry Britt that he is, Robinson quotes Lincoln:

‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with it. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.’ – Abraham Lincoln

Robinson went on to say so many funny and profound things. I captured just a few in text as I listened:

” The idea we are enthralled to in education – the idea that life or learning is or should be linear – is simply false. Every TED speaker has, either implicitly or explicitly, told us this for the last five years!

“Life is organic. We create our lives organically in response to things that happen to us. This is what is true. Yet, we have built our educational systems on a fast-food model where everything is standardized. And that model – as Jamie Olivers’ Food Revolution has been telling us – is depleting our spirits as badly as it is impoverishing our bodies.

“We have to change metaphors – from a manufacturing model based on linearity, and conformity, and batching people – to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We simply have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process.

“We cannot predict learning outcomes. All we can do – like a farmer does – is create the conditions under which human beings can begin to flourish.

“So when we look at transforming education, it’s a process of customizing and personalizing services for people you are actually teaching. Doing this is the key to the future.

“The reformation of education isn’t about ‘scaling a new solution.’ It’s about creating a new movement in education where people create their own solutions with external support based on a personalized curriculum.”

Amen, Sir Ken Robinson!! Amen!! Bravo, bravo, bravo!!

And bravo to the Spring, 2010, cohort of Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers! Your willingness to use virtual meeting rooms, video conferencing, Web 2.0 tools and innovative teleconferencing tools to learn together – online, organically, and grounded in your precious and personal passions and dreams – makes my life worth living. As a coach, as a trainer, as a consultant.

As a “teacher.”

I would like nothing better than to be able to use that word, “teacher,” again without thinking of a hapless supervisor on some horrid assembly line like the one Chaplain depicted so masterfully in “Modern Times” – now close to 80 years ago… Can’t we please wake up from the industrial /mechanical trance? The alarm’s ringing loud in the Gulf of Mexico!

Another Way to Speak About What We Do – Why, How, What?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

This deceptively simple talk holds the keys to a whole new way of thinking about whatever we used to call “positioning.”

Using Simon Sinek’s way of looking at what’s true about my biz, I end up speaking about what I offer in a whole new way. What do you think?

In everything I do, I believe in finding the least expensive and fastest way to get things done well … so I have as much time and money as I can to take care of myself, friends, family, and community the way I want to. Without hurting other people – or the environment.

I get quick, inexpensive, high quality results by learning – continuously – about new ways people can use personal computers and the internet to connect with one another to get the best outcomes we can afford.

These days, I coach my peers (people who sell professional services) to use virtual meetings so we can extend our reach, save money, save time, and strengthen relationships with our clients. Without driving or flying around all the time.

Are you someone who wants this, too? Want to be my client?

(I also consult around social media use and help people reap big benefits from “cloud” computing apps and processes. I do those things from the same perspective: finding the least expensive and fastest way to get things done well. But that’s another conversation….)

If you’re someone who also believes that getting stuff done quickly, inexpensively, and well – without hurting other people or the environment – really matters… I offer a FREE 20-minute consultation here.

Use the link on the right-hand-side of the page to schedule a one-on-one virtual meeting with me and let’s talk about YOU and virtual meetings.

The Challenge of Balancing Different Channels and Ways of Connecting Using Web 2.0 Collaborative Tools and Live, Interactive Virtual Meetings

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

After this week’s Madhatters Tea Party, Julie Lockhart, Tom Carroll and I debriefed in the live video chat above.

Because I’m traveling today, I have less time that I wish I could take to write up a bit of the context. That said, I want to make this conversation available to the 6-Week Virtual Meeting Campers and anyone else listening in, so I’m just posting it today with a brief intro.

Julie is an experienced classroom teacher and meeting facilitator with twenty plus years in a traditional higher education setting. Her first foray into hosting her own “outside the academy,” live, fully interactive, online meeting illuminated a host of issues for her. Tom and I were both struck with how well she managed the complexities of the tools and the ways she referred and deferred to her team around issues of expertise. It’s hard to jump from one cultural context to another and the Web 2.o tools not only allow us to share the stage with each other – they just about demand that we do so. And this is a whole new arena for people who’ve had academic enculturation about expertise and authority.

The new opportunities for 2-way communication and interdependence that collaborative writing/editing tools offer us, for instance, can be truly paradigm-shifting. The primary value we have to offer others is no longer fixed to us knowing something that others don’t…and transferring it to them. Exchanges of value are potentially complex, depending not just on providing others with new concepts or ideas, but on our skillful hosting of contexts where safe, trusting, creative dialogue and relationships occur on a regular basis.

Welcome to the 21st Century! It’s a wild and crazy world out there… What do you think?

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 EvolutionaryLearning.com, 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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_conferencing_software
http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pe48NjIzZGzkWcXotfwoseg
http://www.webconferencing-test.com/en/webconference_home.html
http://www.indiana.edu/~icy/conference.html
http://www.kolabora.com/news/2007/06/22/web_conferencing_tools_and_technology.htm

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 EvolutionaryLearning.com.

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 Freeconferencing.com 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.

How Can We Use Virtual Meeting Tools to Do A Better Job of ‘Informal’ Learning Support?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

When adults need to learn something new, they either welcome training/coaching/consulting opportunities – or they shy away from them. There’s not much middle ground.

When we look at the facts about formal learning, it’s no wonder there’s a divide like this. Whether we happen to be people who enjoy it – or not – formal training, coaching and consulting just don’t seem to improve people’s real-world performance of most things. Real life situations have so many more variables in them than even the most engaging workshops or simulations. People have a hard time translating great new information into great new performance.

The training, coaching, or consulting outcomes we set are often poorly realized because once we’ve transferred our “expertise,” we and the other parties move on. We go back to the real world. This means we’re no longer shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. Then, when clients run into problem situations in the real world – and need some brief, over-the-shoulder support for skilfully applying new principles or routines we’ve suggested – we’re not around. And they fail. The sad part us that clients are often too busy to take time to learn from their failures. So, even if they’ve mastered an acronym that enables them to recite by heart the new principles, new information, or new routines we shared, their performance doesn’t change much. Rats.

Besides hanging our heads or complaining, what can we do about this?


I suggest we make more frequent use of free virtual meeting tools to support clients in “informal” learning environments.

There must be hundreds of ways we can do this! This morning, here are a half-dozen ways I can think of right off the top of my head. I bet you can come up with a half-dozen more!

1. When someone is learning to use a particular piece of software or a complex website, you can do a quick desktop share to demonstrate, specifically, how you use the program or what you find most useful about a particular website. (You could also make a quick screencast and share it asynchronously, if you can’t get together in real-time and share some back-and-forth dialogue while you’re “showing and telling.”)

2. Skip the lectures and the production of accompanying “manuals” and simply publish process “checklists.” Then offer a series of short, conversational virtual meetings to explain/expand the process steps. Be sure to allow sufficient time for the back-and-forth people need to master the sequencing of new routines. Also be sure to allow for time to talk about what’s important to them about making changes to their habits. Everyone needs to establish their own sense of the meaning and purpose – to them – for changing things.

3. Develop a regular 30-minute “mentoring” meeting and use it to troubleshoot specific documents, images, videos, or other “evidence” that a mentee doesn’t know how to respond to as effectively as s/he would like. Call this meeting “Coffee with Susan (or Mike)” and schedule it for the same time every week or two weeks so both mentor and mentee can count on enjoying a cup of coffee while they get smarter about something tricky.

4. Host regular 8-minute virtual brainstorming routines to help clients, coworkers, teammates find new ways to solve specific real-world business problems. Invite the person with the problem to take 3 minutes to describe what it is that has him/her stuck. Turn the description of the situation into a simple question and ask the person with the problem to type that question onto the whiteboard. Then take 5 minutes for everyone participating in the VM to type their ideas onto the whiteboard as quickly as they can think of them. (Or open a Google Document and use it to capture everyone’s responses.) No evaluating, no discussion. No analysis. Just use one – or more – whiteboards to capture ideas as quickly as people spit them out.

Brainstorming works best when there’s little or no cross-talk permitted. Just “popcorn” the ideas aloud and capture the words in text. When 5 minutes is up, quit. Just let the person with the problem take the offerings offline and decide later how to use them. Stop promptly after 5 minutes and let someone else take a turn. Or come back later if you’re in a hurry. Online brainstorming can be a fun and creative “break” that people look forward to if you set a ground rule that you’re going to get in, do it, and get out – without belaboring anything.

5. Create a WIKI or a project team space (using vYew or Wiggio or Basecamp) where people can share their thoughts whenever they have time (asynchronously) and also at a regularly scheduled private live virtual meeting (synchronously).

Give everyone permission to add whatever they like to the online space. Ask a team member who’s not a control freak to “manage” the space so that it doesn’t get too cluttered. (But it’s important not to worry too much about the working-studio-look, either.) Active project spaces are great for just capturing and holding documents, photos, videos and links that people are finding useful and posting them quickly where others can find and use them in their work. It can be helpful to use part of your weekly (online) team meeting to “tour” the project space together and “survey” the riches. Take 5 minutes to hear from whoever parked things in the space during the week to say a few words about what they think is so valuable about the items that they added them to the workspace. If others agree they’re finding something useful, it stays. If not, it goes. Simple housekeeping.

6. Use virtual meetings for OJT (on job training). Set up a rotating schedule of short briefings that trainees/learners can attend. Use short videos or PDF text files to display content that can and will be repeated, but use the whiteboard and text chat and VOIP tools in the virtual meeting space to briefly discuss questions and concerns that come up for trainees/learners as they watch the video and/or read the text file.

Making changes or improving performance requires adults to master new information, new principles and new routines. But learning while we’re working also requires us to create and absorb the purpose of new routines so that we can make the most effective non-routine choices when unexpected or unplanned circumstances occur.

Scheduling a deliberate series of short online meetings based on various OJT learning topics allows trainers, coaches, and consultants to support both formal and informal change processes over the whole span of time it takes people to make lasting changes.

What are some ways YOU could use virtual meetings to support adult learners, clients, and co-workers in their ongoing ‘informal’ change processes?

You don’t have to write a dissertation about it. Just popcorn your ideas out below as comments. ;-) Why not use this space to do a little ‘informal’ learning right out in public?

After all, a blog is nothing more than an asynchronous meeting of the minds. N’est-ce-pas?


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