The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for the ‘meeting planning’ Category

Ashland Social Media and Virtual Meeting Coaching Groups: It’s Time to Register for Fall ’11 Sessions Now

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

What will you say and do when you step onto a Holodeck for your virtual meeting?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Image from France Telecom Magic Telepresence Wall

There’s news coming out over the last month that technology can – and will – soon provide us with new ways to be present with one another ala Star Wars/Star Trek “holodecks” and “holograms.”

If your fondest wish for a virtual meeting experience is to being able to simulate people being physically present (telepresent) with one another, here are a couple of new stories you may find interesting:

Fueled by extensive market research, Citrix and Cisco are taking different paths towards providing telepresence capabilities to business, education and medical markets. And all of this is fascinating for those of us who find technology fascinating.

But the even more fascinating inquiry – for me, and maybe for you – is wondering how these new holographic capabilities are going to affect our business communication practices and meeting processes.

Telepresence tools – like all of man’s tools – create new possibilities, new environments for human behavior. In so doing, they also create new limitations, new frames of reference that circumscribe behavior. Automobiles, for example, have opened up a whole new “way” of being on the planet – and a whole new set of constraints and hazards, too.

My everyday business requires me to think about new ways I can help my clients take advantage of social media and real-time virtual meeting tools to save time and money – without sacrificing quality outcomes. And every day I run into walls of assumptions about how people can – and should – interact around information and shared tasks together. Face-to-face is hard enough. Then there are the challenges of working together at a distance. . Climbing over the walls of  assumptions  about “appropriate” interaction in collaborative activities can either liberate groups or tie them up in knots. To be candid, quite often it does both – at first.

So, as I’m reading today about new possibilities for telepresence, I’m both excited about potential new terrain and more curious than ever about the new constraints clients are certainly going to encounter as they move to take advantage of these tools.

It’s going to be fascinating helping human beings look through their assumptions about what someone’s “quasi” physical presence might actually contribute to achieving shared outcomes. And how it might impede that achievement, as well.

So many of us have a Star Trek boy- or girlself who has been longing to be able to “see” and “feel” the semi-physical presence of others in our meetings. There’s no reason to deny it – it’s going to be totally cool!

And, if you haven’t already looked ahead to how having semi-physical presence possibilities is going to affect your communication and collaboration, I invite you this week to consider what you’re going to say and do when you step onto a “holodeck.” How are you imagining you’ll be able to contribute more to a virtual meeting than you can contribute now using FREE web conferencing tools that are already available?

Besides starting out with “Wow! Isn’t this cool? I can hardly believe this is happening…” how will you use telepresence to accelerate the achievement of your meeting objectives? And how will you work around the limitations that “quasi” physical presence may bring to the creation – and sustenance – of shared meaning that groups of human beings require if they’re going to get things done together?

I’d love to hear your thoughts here below or over at Amplify. Take your pick.

How do you design virtual meetings to enable high-energy collaboration?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

I’m reading a number of new blogs lately and one, in particular,  really got me thinking this week.

You can read the whole post I’ve been chewing on here on Jeff Lowe’s blog at .

In that post, Jeff’s thoughts are focused on planning for meetings in 3D immersive environments. But the issues he’s raising about the need to design the interactive space for collaboration are hardly limited to meetings in 3D environments. And, in particular, the list of questions Jeff poses for meeting designers seem to me to be crucial to the design of every virtual meeting in which your goal for the meeting is high-energy collaboration.

Granted, not all virtual meetings are focused on collaborative work.

But when you’re aiming for collaboration between people who aren’t in the same room (much less the same time zone), then creating a sense of shared presence is everything.  When we’re not able to be face-to-face with collaborators, the room, the meeting flow, and the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements and interactions need to work together seamlessly for human beings to achieve a sense of shared presence, shared meaning, and shared purpose.

I’ve clipped all of Jeff’s questions and raised a couple of additional points here on my Amplify blog. Please take a look and, if they stimulate you, too,  join in the conversation at Amplify – or right here below.

I’m always curious about what you’re thinking as you’re designing your virtual meetings… These seem like crucial questions to me.

Using Virtual Meetings to Support and Enrich Collaboration

Monday, November 1st, 2010

On his e-learning focused blog, Christopher Pappas just provided a quick, meaty overview of several of the best free virtual meeting, web conferencing, and online meeting and online learning tools. I hope you’ll take a look at it today.

For several years, Christopher and I have been learning and from each other – across the globe. He’s in Greece and I’m in southern Oregon. And we’ve both been participating in online communities focused on e-learning. We haven’t met in person yet, but I look forward to getting a chance to shake Christopher’s physical hand one day soon and thank him for this post and all the rest of the pointers he’s shared with me and other colleagues focused on helping people work and learn from each other at a distance.

People have asked me several times to make a post like this and I’ve simply been too busy to take the time, so I’m grateful to able to point you to Christopher’s blog.

I particularly appreciate this vid he found from the folks at Yugma because it articulates a crucial distinction between intermittent and persistent collaboration.

I love the way this vid highlights the magic of using virtual meetings, web conferences, and online learning tools to enable different people to think about and work on the same thing in different ways – in real-time. Because that’s what’s important: the people working and learning together using whatever tools they find easiest to use when they’re not co-located.

I’ve found Yugma to be a practical tool for what the Yugma team calls “fluid collaboration.” So are all the other apps Christopher highlighted in his post. They all provide simple, practical, browser-based platforms for people to work together – both intermittently and persistently.  There are a couple of dozen other tools that work well, too.

But the issue isn’t really so much about finding the right TOOLS to use. The trick is understanding how to work with others fluidly and collaboratively. The real challenge isn’t so much how to technically access an online whiteboard or do a screen share. It’s learning to think about work and learning as continuous processes of creating and nourishing a sense of shared meaning – and purpose – with others.

Four years ago, I relocated from Austin, TX, a busy major metropolitan area, to a sweet town of 20,000 in rural southern Oregon.  Since I did this, I’ve been using all kinds of free virtual meeting tools on a daily basis to work with old and new clients across the country and continents.

After my move, clients and colleagues (many of whom have since become clients) started telling and showing me that they didn’t understand HOW I thought about work and learning as processes of persistent collaboration.

They didn’t understand how I chunked the work into manageable pieces we could accomplish in 30-90 minutes. They didn’t understand how I set up the tools to make it easy for us to interact in real-time. And they didn’t understand how I made decisions – on the fly – that made it easy for BOTH of us to contribute to the work product at the same time. (Especially useful when people have different ways of thinking and looking at what they need to do together.)

So, I started coaching my clients and friends and colleagues…and now, four years later, I’m “The Virtual Meeting Coach” as well as a health and wellness coach who uses virtual meetings to support my clients’ deliberately reorienting their lives around their natural strengths.

Over the last four years, I’ve field-tested all kinds of helping strategies, from one-on-one coaching to small group meetings. At this point, I’ve discovered that the one-on-one coaching is the fastest and easiest way for people to learn. But it’s also the most expensive. Some people need to speed things up and are ready to go for it, one-on-one. Others can’t focus all their energy on new skills because they’ve got a lot to attend to just to keep their revenue streams flowing. I can help in either situation.

To address the needs of people who can’t do one-on-one work right now, this year I developed what I call the Madhatters’ Tea Party Group Coaching Programs. They provide a 10-week fun, high-energy, and emotionally supportive practice environment where small groups of people can quickly learn “fluid collaboration” processes by doing them weekly – with me and their friends, fans and followers.

Participants report the outcomes are greater ease and a sense of excitement and facility at creating both intermittent meetings and persistent collaborative practices that nourish – and sustain – a sense of shared meaning and purpose with the people who are most important to them. Even when they’re not able to be physically co-located.

If you’re not sure which tools you’d like to get started with, I hope you’ll take a look at this post in Christopher’s blog.

When you’re ready for some one-on-one coaching, or to build your skills by practicing in a small group – using whichever FREE tools you like the most – I hope you’ll give me a call. I use all of the tools Christopher highlighted in his post and many others. I offer a FREE initial 30-minute consultation and I’d love to hear more about your situation.

As “The Virtual Meeting Coach,” I’m committed to helping smart people learn to use the free tools in ways – and at a price – that’s affordable and sustainable for everyone as well as our fragile Earth.

This is the future we’ve been waiting for, friends. The tools are FREE and they’re available NOW. If you’ve still got a lot more to share with others – and you can’t afford either the time or the money it takes to fly and drive all over the place all the time to share it – I’d love to help you get started collaborating fluidly with the people who are most important to you – in the areas that you’ve got crucial gifts to contribute. We need your gifts. Now.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Navigating the Scylla and the Charybdis of Face-to-Face and Virtual Meetings

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Regular readers of this blog have heard that I went “over the hill” this summer: I turned 60. It’s been quite a ride!

Along with taking time to reflect on the journey this far, I’ve started culling through my extensive library, passing on books I don’t need to carry with me for the next decade, and reclaiming those I can’t live without. One I can’t live without is Homer’s Odyssey. Curiously, re-reading this ancient story over the last couple of weeks has given me some new insights about our modern lives –  including things like remote work and virtual meetings. One seems particularly useful. You tell me…

Time changes many things, but one thing that’s never changed is that human beings need to interact socially and work together in order to accomplish all but the most rudimentary tasks.

We need to build meaningful relationships, bond with co-workers and clients, align people around key messages and directions, nourish collaboration and innovation, share information and knowledge with one another, and encourage each others’ contributions and accomplishments. Right?

Over the last 40 years, the human journey from the Industrial Age to the Information Age has spawned national economies that are at once more complex and more interdependent. And these economies require more people – across the globe – to work together. At the same time, individuals, families, local economies, and the Earth itself, are struggling mightily to adapt to this increasing complexity and interdependence.

Since the end of World War II, people across the Western world have simply assumed that we can and will travel healthy distances almost every day to work together face-to-face. But both local and global travel are expensive, both in time and dollars spent. And travel fills the air with carbon byproducts. After fifty-plus years of explosive growth in human travel, the specter of climate change grows darker and heavier every day, across the globe.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

So, we’re “between a rock and a hard place,” as the saying goes. Human beings need each other’s help more than ever to accomplish complex tasks we cannot do on our own. At the same time, neither our individual pocketbooks, nor our organizations, nor our fragile planet can afford for the whole human race to travel around all the time so we can work together in the same place.

It’s a difficult passage, this transition to the 21st century.

The difficulty of the passage is quite similar, actually, to the difficulty of a passage the classical hero, Odysseus, had to make as he journeyed home to Troy a few thousand years ago. In fact, it was the difficulty of Odysseus’ passage between the Scylla and Charybdis that be the progenitor of our modern phrase, “between a rock and a hard place.”

In case you don’t remember, on his way home to Troy, Odysseus faced – and overcame – many perils. During one of the toughest, he had to pass through a strait flanked by twin terrors. On one side was a whirlpool, called Charybdis, which would sink the ship. On the other side of the strait was a monster called Scylla, the six-headed daughter of Crataeis, who would seize and eat six men. Neither side was going to yield an easy passage for Odysseus.

And, as we journey together into the 21st century, we’re navigating between two equally tough choices, as well. We’re passing between Scylla and Charybdis every time we have to choose between meeting with people face-to-face (incurring the associated costs – both in time and money) and meeting with people virtually (foregoing opportunities to read body language and facial expressions and bond with others – physically and emotionally – in familiar and time-honored ways).

Just as Odysseus had to make one bad choice or another, as we sail deeper into the complex waters of 21st century work, we have to make a sacrifice, too. Odysseus chose to pass closer to the Scylla, allowing her to take six of his men, instead of chancing losing the whole ship in the whirlpool of the Charybdis.

Every time we have to chose between conserving capital and expanding the reach of our services, we have to decide to drop irreplaceable cash and time into the whirlpool or sacrifice a fully-embodied experience with others. And, frankly, there just aren’t any good choices. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or fantasizing.

Face-to-face meetings are absolutely crucial for some social transactions. Online meetings are actually better for some transactions than face-to-face meetings. But, when you’re passing through the choppy, muddy waters between those two extremes, we all simply have to make some tough choices, just like Odysseus.

5 Questions to Sharpen Up Your Virtual Meeting Chops

So, what’s my best advice for those times in the middle? While I’m certainly no Tiresias, I am training my clients to use five fundamental questions to help them make tough choices about how they’re going to use web conferences as effectively as they would once have used face-to-face meetings – so they can pocket time and money for other things.

I urge you, too, to use these questions to clarify your virtual meeting plans and strategies:

These are tough questions. And the answers can’t be finessed. If you’re going to accomplish your goals using virtual meetings, you need to know – and use – the answers to these questions to structure your meetings as well as your between-meeting-communication. Any lack of clarity about any of this will compromise your chances of skirting the dangers.

Don’t kid yourself! People who are not actively developing their skills at using virtual meeting rooms as real-time multi-media communication “devices,” are in real peril as we journey deeper into the 21st Century. The good news is, with good help, developing online meeting skills is not that difficult.

My little e-book, “The Coach’s Short List,” is available if you want a solid set of simple structures to help you get started.

So, what insights does this simple metaphor stimulate for you?

Hospitality Industry Research on Face-to-Face VS Virtual Meetings

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

I’m always a little leary when the fox does research on how much better it would be for the hens to live out in the yard than in the hen house ;^).

On the other hand, this report bears at least some brief consideration by people who are investing time learning to use virtual meeting tools to save the time and money it takes to meet face-to-face with the people who matter most.

Take a look. I’m interested in what you think.

The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face

By: Christine Duffy and Mary Beth McEuen
Executive Summary:

With the advent of virtual-meeting technology, the issue of how to format group meetings and events has become remarkably complex. Meetings can be completely virtual, completely face-to-face, or a hybrid of the two. Leading companies are using all three formats. The challenge for meeting planners is to decide which format is most effective for important business outcomes. Rather than rely on personal preferences or currently popular approaches, the decision regarding meeting type is a strategic one that should rest on specific, scientific criteria. This paper examines those science-based decision criteria to help executives determine when face-to-face is the most effective approach to large-group meetings or events. This decision is important because face-to-face meetings require the greatest investment of all meeting types, and thus carry the greatest expectations for a strong return on investment. Face-to-face is most likely to be the best approach in the following three business situations:

(1)          To capture attention, particularly when you want to initiate something new or different;

(2)          To inspire a positive emotional climate, as a way to catalyze collaboration, innovation, and performance; and

(3)          To build human networks and relationships, realizing that information can increasingly be shared virtually whereas the greater value is in people networks and relationships.

The research presented in this paper provides a discerning approach to determining when an investment in large-group face-to-face meetings and events will have the greatest impact.


Fall Session Madhatters Tea Parties Starting Monday – 1 Seat Left!

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I’ve had a last-minute cancellation, so if you’d like to join the Fall session of Hatters, let’s talk before Monday…

I’m a Telecommunications teacher in Ashland, OR.


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Virtual Meetings Are a Cinch – When You Set Them Up Right

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

It’s 100% true. You can use your computer and free virtual meeting tools to grow your income and enrich important relationships. Take a look:

I love these Verishow clips because they show real-world situations with real people that are easy to relate to.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah…they might be actors. But they’re behaving just like real people. I have meetings like this every day with my clients, using a desktop computer or my laptop – from my home office, a coffee shop, or a hotel room. No kidding!)

If you took a couple of minutes to watch, you saw that virtual meetings really can be like child’s play!  Fast and easy for the host – and clients love them. They save everyone time, money, and hassle – whether you’re across town or across the globe from each other.

So…. The question is, if virtual meetings are really this easy, what’s keeping you from using them for 40-60% of your work?

That’s a real question.

Your answer might be something like:

1) I can’t believe it’s actually that easy – there must be a catch.
2) I don’t want to be chained to a desk on a computer.
3) I hate the way I look on a webcam.
4) I don’t want my privacy invaded all the time.
5) To use virtual meetings with my clients, I’d have to change so many things about the way I do business … and I don’t have time to do that right now.

Or something similar. I’ve heard a hundred reasons since I opened my practice as “The Virtual Meeting Coach” and launched Virtual Meeting Startup.

Every reason people have for not already using virtual meetings with their clients holds the seed of a legitimate concern. But not one of them is a serious obstacle. Not one. Certainly there are concerns to address, and ways you’ll need to tailor your approach to make it fit your clients. But every day, I’m helping small- and mid-sized business owners – just like you – quickly work through the challenges.

So, go ahead! Take the plunge! Just sign up now so you can use Verishow, ShowDocument, DimDim or vYew – or something similar – and start doing this week what you see happening in these clips! All four of those tools have robust free versions- and there lots of others like them.


On the other hand, if you can’t bring yourself to take the plunge on your own… but you want to be able to meet with your clients this way in 2011 – I want to offer you a leg up right now. To get it, you can use THE CONTACT BUTTON at Virtual Meeting Startup and ask for a FREE 30-minute private consultation with me.

I’ll listen to you, ask a few questions, and make some free recommendations based on your unique situation and the needs of your clients and customers.


The Fall session of my 10-Week Online Group Coaching Program begins the week of September 19th. I’ve got 2 seats left in this group. And, if your situation is one that could really benefit from you being part of a learning group, I don’t want you to miss the chance to sign up for the next cycle.

Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of Interplay, was a participant in the Spring session of the program. Here’s something she said about her experience:

The Madhatter’s Program was great for my learning curve. In spite of personal and job time constraints, it’s proof that when the heart and mind are in the right place, things work. Meri was the perfect coach for me at this time! Her spirit of fun, play, and that its OK to fail help the change become incremental, instead of overwhelming.

I love Meri’s accessibility and the amount of practice she’s had. It’s also fun learning who the other Madhatters are and sharing with one another.

One more time, here’s a link to the contact form to request a free 30-minute private consultation with me.

C U soon~!

What’s keeping us from already using virtual meetings for 30-40% of our work? The status quo!

Monday, June 7th, 2010

I’m going to be speaking locally tomorrow with a group of nonprofit consultants about how they could begin using virtual meeting tools to generate new revenues in their businesses.

Experience levels vary widely, so I decided to make a little mindmap to illustrate the primary factors affecting our “individual” decisions about when to use virtual meetings in our work – and when not to.

It occurred to me, as I made the map, that others might find the format useful as you dig deeper into your work processes with co-workers, clients and suppliers.

It would be nice if we could just unilaterally decide to start using some of the virtual meeting tools to simplify our work and save us time and money without damaging crucial relationships.

But the truth of the matter is that we can’t start having virtual meetings alone. ;^) We need people to meet with, don’t we? And not everyone is working from the same beliefs, attitudes, and systems to keep things rolling in their organizations. Human beings meet in the ways that we’re used to meeting – because we’ve got systems built up around those ways. And, even if our habits, beliefs and processes are burning up irreplaceable resources, we can’t help but resist changing them. It’s human nature! Nevertheless, our beliefs, habits, attitudes and systems are going to need to shift – at least just a bit – if we want to reap the benefits available from virtual meetings. (If we could have just copied over our face-to-face practices and skills – as is – everyone would already be using these tools, wouldn’t they?)

Please feel free to link to this little map. Use it in your self-inquiry. Use it to support your inquiry with co-workers and clients. You’re going to need to talk carefully about which things might need to shift a bit so that everyone can SHARE the benefits and savings available when you start use real-time virtual meetings together to get stuff done. You, your co-workers, your clients, and even your suppliers – everyone stands to benefit. But only if you’re able to give each other what you need to perform – and stay motivated – when you’re not in the same place or even the same time.

So, which things need to shift in ways that won’t overturn your apple carts?

If you need help facilitating these kinds of internal conversations with co-workers or clients, I’d love to help.

And, if you’re all ready to start exploring some of the possibilities EXPERIENTIALLY, I’ve got two places left in the next Madhatters Tea Party 10-Week Group Coaching Program starting the week of July 5th. You can grab one of those spots for yourself by contacting me here: Do it today, though. This is a first-come first-served program and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on this opportunity.

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 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!

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