The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for the ‘team meetings’ Category

More Good News for the New Year: ShowDocument Offering FREE Use of Premium Tools for 30-365 Days

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I just heard more good news for people who want to try out the full collaborative capacities of ShowDocument this year. Charter members and new users will all be able to do screen sharing, record meetings, share webcams, use a free conference line, share video from YouTube, share maps, edit documents, and much much more – all from our personal ShowDocument meeting rooms.

Yes, you read that right. Charter members will be able to use all the premium features FREE for the next 12 months. New users will be able to access the full premium feature set for 30 days FREE and then either revert to the basic tools (which are excellent!) or pay a reasonable license fee to continue their access to all the premium tools.

I’ve been using ShowDocument and other fine tools made by HBR Labs for over two years now and I have to say, I think they’re superfine. Easy to use. Reliable. Elegant. Take a look.

If you like ShowDoc, come back and let me know. I’m interested in interviewing a half-dozen new users of virtual meeting tools over the upcoming 90 days. If you’d be willing to have a quick chat, please just drop me a note.

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.

Geometry, Morale, Virtual Meeting Mastery and Oreos

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

It’s storytime, friends. I’ve slowed down a bit this summer and as I begin gearing back up for the Fall, I’ve got a little story to share. If you’ve got a few minutes, please grab a cool drink…

Last weekend my dear friend, Diana Fairbanks, helped me gather up and move a bunch of things I’ve been storing at another friend’s property since I moved from Austin to Ashland almost four years ago. It was hot, heavy, dirty work in 105 degree heat and we were filthy, thirsty, and bone-tired when we got back to my place late in the afternoon with a car, a truck and a trailer piled high with stuff.

Fortunately, two cheerful, strong-backed, willing-to-work high school boys, Austin Huerta and Nick Geiger, were waiting to help us unload everything and fit it – somehow – into two small storage spaces under the building where I live.

As we began unloading, Austin and Nick noticed the flat file drawers stacked in the back of my car and asked me about being an artist. This opened a conversation about how much the boys loved Tetris and making art but hated geometry. We bonded immediately – across three generations – and the conversation about art and geometry kept us all from worrying too hard about the decision-making and stacking work as we hoisted stuff out of the vehicles and started tucking it into two pretty tight spaces.

As Austin quickly and skillfully transferred containers of different shapes and sizes from one place to another, he talked about how much he loved playing Tetris – and how irrelevant the kinds of problems he was being asked to solve in geometry seemed to him. And, as Nick helped Austin shoulder the heavy stuff, he chimed in about how much he loved drawing – but how painful geometry was for him because the formulas just made no sense to him.

As the boys demonstrated, moment by moment, how much geometry they had clearly mastered, I told them how happy I was that two smart young guys were having so much trouble with the damn theorems and postulates because I’ve been an artist my entire life and geometry was the only class I ever got a “D” in.

We agreed that theorems, axioms, postulates and corollarys weren’t the only way to work with shapes and that making art – and moving stuff around in space – were much better routes for people like us. Before we knew it, the work was done and we were high-fiving with a cheer for “Screw the postulates!” I thanked them for their cheerful company and quick creative thinking and we took off to get drinks and clean up. Despite the hard work and the heat, morale was high all around. What a day!

So, what’s this got to do with virtual meetings?

Well, three days later, as I’m recovering, I’m starting to wonder how I’m going to integrate everything into my life and my work now that all my stuff’s back under one roof. It’s a big deal to have all my books, tools, and supplies in one place four years after moving across the country! I went downstairs to survey the storage spaces and smiled immediately remembering the way the cheerful conversation with the boys lifted everyone’s morale.

And I’m also realizing that maybe it’s not quite true that theorems and postulates don’t work for me when I’m designing new solutions.

What might be truer is that, when I’m working as a coach, I’m always working with some theorem, axiom or postulate, assembling new corollaries, and searching for neat, provable little “systems” I can share with clients. Especially now that I’m helping coaches and consultants transition their face-to-face services into virtual meeting rooms.

But the thing is, instead of working with precise lines, protractors, and little letter-and-number-labels, I use words and phrases, together with photographs and video and cartoons and sometimes even little interactive games. There’s still a lot of rigor in the work and the systems have to “prove out” — or they’re not useful to anyone. And I notice that’s a liberating insight…

Advanced Coaching for Virtual Meeting Mastery

Throughout the Spring Session of the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Program, Tom Carroll and I debriefed the Hatters about their action-learning experiences and I posted the videos here in the Virtual Meeting Coach blog. In those video interviews – and the written posts – Tom and I were actually fishing for axioms to share with the whole Virtual Meeting Camp.

But there was little time for me to reflect on my own learning, as the program director. So, I decided to chill a bit during the first part of the summer, have some fun turning 60, and take time to mull over the feedback the Hatters and Partiers shared so generously at the close of the session before attempting to design any followup coaching programs.

As August 1st looms on the horizon, I’m starting to dream again about some fast, fun, effective ways I could meet clients’ requests for advanced coaching this Fall. And, as I reflect on the geometry conversation, I’m realizing that the Virtual Tea Party Group actually handed me some powerful axioms in their post-session feedback surveys.

From both sides of the action-learning experience, Madhatter Hostesses and Virtual Tea Partiers agreed they want more

  1. Learning community – to help them sustain morale while they take the time necessary to develop consistent virtual meeting skills
  2. Real-time feedback – so they can design and deliver superior services – at a distance
  3. Resources and support – for building excellent project team(s) that can help each other migrate successfully from 3D rooms to virtual meeting rooms
  4. Practice – being exactly who they are in virtual relationships

And, as I’ve been reflecting on my own experience, it’s clear to me that running successful service businesses – businesses that deliver both face-to-face and virtual servicesdepends on our successful application of a couple of crucial corollaries as we design new service products.

I wish I could take credit for authoring all these – but this is actually an Oreo. I can only claim credit for the creamy center. The top and bottom cookies come from leaders at Pixar Studios.

(1) For imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.
- Steve Jobs (CEO, Pixar Studios)

(2) Morale is the life-blood of imagination and without trust and respect, morale fails. Without exception.
- Meri Aaron Walker (co-author, “Teamwork is an Individual Skill“)

(3) With low morale, for every $1 your spend, you get $.25 value. With high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get $3 in value.
- Brad Bird (Director/Screenwriter, Pixar Studios)

I know, I know…

I can hear some of you muttering… “Tell me again, Meri, what’s all this GEOMETRY and OREO stuff got to do with me getting the results I need in this tough economy using virtual meetings?”

Hey, it’s summertime. And I just slid over the falls into my sixth decade… Rambling a little is just part of the territory.

What all this has to do with YOU, YOUR BUSINESS, and YOUR VIRTUAL MEETING MASTERY is this:

If you aren’t literally living and working within easy walking distance of all your coworkers, clients, and suppliers… (Not “A”)

… and if you are a service company that isn’t growing your profits fast enough to keep pace with this persistently volatile economy… (Not “B”)

… and if what you actually sell your clients, suppliers, and coworkers is your attention, intelligence and help applying new strategies to improve other people’s productivity and profits… (PLU$)


… taking time to learn to use interactive virtual meetings in ways that build trust and respect and sustain morale around you would be a great investment to make in yourself this year. (C)

So, are you needing

  • a smart learning community,
  • honest real-time feedback,
  • proven resources and support for making your migration into virtual meetings, and
  • a place to do real-world practice FREE tools with live, supportive audiences?

If you’d like to explore options with me, you can use this link to request a FREE 30-minute private consultation.

I’m always curious about what smart women business owners are dreaming and I’ll be happy to share some pointers about tools and strategies that could speed up your transition – without breaking the bank. And, I promise we won’t talk about geometry – not even for a moment!

Until next time, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! We’ve only got one life to live. I hope you’re taking time to enjoy yours because high morale really is the most reliable generator of new value in this tough economy!


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!

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:

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 as you ponder next steps….

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.

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?

Ready to Take Your Virtual Meetings Into Virtual Reality? It Looks Like Assemb’Live Makes It Easy…

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I just learned about a new virtual meeting tool that makes it easy to have virtual meetings – of all sizes – in virtual reality.

Of course we’ve been able to use Second Life this way for several years already. But many people find Second Life too complex and a little too immersive for their tastes. I’ve been one of those people myself. I just couldn’t see the ROI for taking the additional time to create scenes and develop avatars. I like everyday 3D reality a lot and I want to get off my computer and get outside as often as I can. Besides, I really like getting things done quickly with people I don’t happen to be co-located with. So, before now, virtual reality meetings just haven’t been nearly as interesting as being able to quickly see and hear other people in something closer to our everyday reality – using VOIP and webcams and whiteboards.

But today, on a tip from Jane Hart, I wandered over to Assemb’Live and I have to say, I’m curious enough about the simple frames and navigation they’re offering that I signed up for a test drive. On first inspection, it looks like the developers have been thinking about what I would call “meeting culture” in the same ways I already think about it. Meeting setup and invitation processes follow the same kinds of protocols as other meeting tools. Webcam participation is still possible. Voice is fully integrated into the participation process. People attending your meeting can participate fully with you – and you can manage the sound if you need to. Being able to choose from a simple set of templates for scene setting simplifies the experience of hosting. This leaves more time to think about what you actually intend to accomplish with your meeting – beyond just having fun playing with each other.

My imagination is provoked and my curiosity piqued – but not overwhelmed – by the possibilities in Assemb’Live. I’ll need to go inside and spend some time before I say more. If you’re looking for more virtual reality in your virtual meetings – and your attendees would enjoy that, too – you might want to give Assemb’Live a spin. If you do decide to try it, please leave me a comment below and I’ll come experiment with you over the next 30 days.

And, hey! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, too!!

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