The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Archive for the ‘virtual classrooms’ Category

A Senior Couple Practices With Their New Webcam: A Whole World In One Vid!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

A friend shared this vid with me today because it’s outrageously funny. Take a look…

Look at the Monkey! Is this precious, or what?! The thing is, there’s a lot more to this vid than just the humor.

If you’ll watch it a couple more times after you’ve had your initial laugh, you’ll see that this vid demonstrates a handful of issues that human beings – of all ages, personalities, and persuasions – to encounter and move through on our way to developing webcam “literacy” – i.e., the ability to make good use of webcams for video mail, video conferencing, web conferencing, internet conferencing, and/or virtual meetings.

To be truly effective communicators in the 21st Century, we simply can’t afford to skip webcam literacy. No matter how young or old we are…

A new set of skills are called for when we step away from “publishing papers” online. Whether we’re pairing still webcam images with words or using moving pictures and sound to convey our messages, new kinds of “composition” formats are called for. We can’t just expect to turn our traditional 5-paragraph essays into audio scripts and throw in a few pictures for “visual aides.” That just doesn’t cut it with 21st century audiences. To give you their time and attention, your online audience expects you to acknowledge THEIR concerns and connect with them quickly, effectively, and with candor.

So, what are a few of the questions and issues people need to work through if we’re to make effective use of webcams as communication tools? Let’s make a list here, using the commenting box…

I’ll start.

1) Turning on a webcam is NOT the same thing as watching ourselves in a mirror as we record our pre-written speeches. We simply can’t help being fascinated with the way we look and how we sound as we’re using the camera (as the man was above). We’re human, after all. (Even chimps love looking at themselves in mirrors and on camera.) But, when we turn on a webcam, who or what else do we need to be paying attention to – besides what we look like and whatever it is we want someone else to see and hear?

2) What are some key differences between illustrating our words with still webcam shots (or screen grabs) … and translating our verbal scripts into a video recordings? When, how and why would you choose to use one or the other approach?

3) Your turn…

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.

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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Worried about how to increase the reach of your business? Grow your income? Enrich relationships with friends and family?

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

As my friend and colleague, Carolyn Shaffer, knows well, a lot of us tend to worry these days about a lot of things.

Will we have enough income flow to see us through the years ahead?

How can we nourish crucial relationships with family and friends – when everyone’s scattered across the continent, or the globe?

What can we actually do to decrease the demand for fossil fuels – so we don’t have more disasters like we’ve already suffered in the Gulf this year?

A few years ago, Carolyn claimed her heritage in a long line of women who had all been “born worriers,” and decided  to take on the serious job of dispensing lighthearted wisdom for the heavy times in which we live.

Carolyn Shaffer
A long-time educator and, for more than 20 years, a clinical hypnotherapist and life coach (, Carolyn has helped hundreds of clients move from fear and paralysis to joy and effective action. And, in response to the unprecedented global crises we face, Carolyn started to help thousands more learn how to make this shift quickly and affordably.

This week I will be Carolyn’s guest on her monthly Buddy Call. We’ll be talking about how all of us can move from worry to joy to effective action using virtual meeting tools (that are free or highly affordable) to reach more people and increase our income flow.

Strengthen Your Relationships With Family and Friends

Even if you aren’t in business for yourself, you can use the information and resources I’ll be sharing on Wednesday, August 11th, to take action on another front: strengthening your relationships with family and friends, especially those who live far away. In times of great change these relationships can turn out to be even more important than those multiple, flowing income streams.

Carolyn was a Madhatter in the Spring Session of the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Program, so she’s been hard at work this summer applying what she learned to create new programs that will extend her coaching practice – using virtual meetings. She told me this week that she found the program demanding, especially for a computer-technology-challenged person like her, but also a lot of fun. Yes, F-U-N.

On this call, I’ll be sharing tips and resources for how you, too, can enter the world of virtual meetings and have a good time while you’re there.

Using our computers to communicate with each other – using text, still pictures, moving pictures and live drawing, along with our voices -  really does create conversations that are more engaging, more spontaneous, and more creative than just talking on the phone.  It’s true!

So, please join us on Wednesday, August 11th, at 6pm PDT for an hour of fun conversation. The call is FREE. So, bring your questions. Bring your sense of humor. Hell, you can even bring your worries! Between the two of us, Carolyn and I will do our best to help you with those, too.

There’s no cost to participate, but you do need to register at Carolyn’s site. Use the link below to sign up and Carolyn will send you the call number, conference code, and give you access to the call recording – in case you’d like to listen, but can’t participate Wednesday at 6pm PDT:

The Why Worry Guide Registration Page:

See you there! I mean hear you there…or hear you then…  It’ll be fun!

Reality Trumps – Only Always!

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010


When you’ve become a successful face-to-face facilitator, coach, trainer, or consultant, learning to use virtual meeting tools can be a totally absorbing process. It’s true. Everything’s different than when we’re meeting face-to-face. We have to learn to translate some skills and find ways to live without some things we’ve learned to believe are essential for good relationship and high productivity.

It’s quite a dance. And to be successful virtual meeting leaders, requires practice. Actually quite a lot of practice. Like learning to dance – or riding a bike – no amount of time spent “thinking about it” substitutes for time spent just getting down the new moves.

Then, when we enter the virtual meeting room, we must let go of the “meeting” we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

When you can do that, you’re on your way…

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….

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!

Learning to Use Virtual Meeting Tools is Not For the Faint of Heart

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Back in the 6th century BC, Lao-Tzu said:

“Failure is the foundation of success. Success is the lurking place of failure.”

So, during this fifth month of the year 2010, I’ve been wondering if this means that sometimes the fastest route to success is right through failure. What do you think?

For the last 10 days, I’ve been participating in a collegial exchange at LinkedIn in a learning, education and training group. One member of the group raised the question,”What do you think the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, meant when he said, ‘Failure is the foundation of success…success is the lurking place of failure?’

Folks from around the globe have been weighing in on this question from a many perspectives. While I’m not any kind of authoritative interpreter of Lao-Tzu, I found myself provoked by the quotation and the question, too. I shared that it seems to me that…

“…Live, experiential learning environments provide real-world feedback. And this always includes feedback about failure. If we already knew how to do something, we’d already be doing it, right? I find experiential learn-by-doing environments with small-group coaching to be the fastest route to success. And it goes right through failure…”

I went on to describe a bit about the Madhatters Tea Party Group Coaching Programs as high-fun, low-pressure learning environments in which small groups of experienced trainers, coaches and consultants are transitioning from delivering high-value services in face-to-face meetings to delivering services in the very different environment of virtual meetings.

I shared with the group that I have deliberately designed the Madhatters Group Coaching Programs so that all participants – both Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers – have a chance to learn from their personal successes and failures as well as others’.

This means there’s not a lot of one-on-one handholding or upfront explanation going on in the Madhatters Virtual Tea Parties. There is quite a bit of communication through email and in two private online learning spaces – one for the Madhatters and one for the Virtual Tea Partiers. But, in the end, both coaching programs are based on two presumptions:

1)  Adults have enrolled because they want to learn more about using free or very low-cost virtual meeting tools in a safe, laughter-filled learning space and
2)  Everyone will be learning by doing.

This means both the Madhatter presenters and their friends, followers and fans – the Virtual Tea Partiers – receive weekly guidance and coaching. But the Monday afternoon Virtual Tea Parties are always more like zany “on-the-job training” sessions than like “recitals.”

I’m calling the sessions Madhatters Tea Parties because so many of our expectations for how human beings can and should behave when we’re “meeting” are turned upside down, inside out, and backwards. That’s just the truth of the matter in virtual meetings, isn’t it?

Each week everyone has an opportunity to learn by doing. There have, so far, been some delightful displays of genius! There have also been some gnarly difficulties getting the free online tools to work as promised and some problems with participants’ computer and phone equipment. Sometimes things happen as planned, sometimes they don’t. Either way, there’s a ton of learning going on – via both successes and failures. Sometimes there’s frustration, but no one’s getting hurt.

A current Madhatter participant, Cynthia Winton-Henry, one of the co-founders of Interplay, calls me her “Driver’s Ed Teacher.” Another Hatter calls me her “Director.” She says I’m eliciting new kinds of creativity and performance from her well-honed talents – stuff she didn’t know she had available. From my side of the game, both “driver’s ed teacher” and “director” seem like pretty useful metaphors for the two ends of the spectrum we’re developing. On the one hand, none of the Hatters has run a truly interactive virtual meeting before and they all need to master the connectivity tools. On the other, every one of them is already a proven trainer, coach and/or consultant who knows her stuff inside out and upside down and only needs help repackaging her “magic” for delivery at a distance.

Using sound and text and visual images, simultaneously with other people – at a distance – can be a bit overwhelming for people using web meeting tools for the first time. It can be a big surprise to be not only permitted – but expected – to do more than sit passively and observe others’ slideshows or software demos.

Faced with the need to choose where to put their attention, some participants – Madhatters and Virtual Tea Partiers, alike – have frozen or gotten really frustrated. Do I track the continuous flow in the public text chat, start up a private text chat with someone I know, draw or write on the whiteboard or the presenters’ slides, or just use the telephone bridge to speak? HELP! When what you’re wanting to do is be as fully present as you can with others, that’s a lot to figure out at once!

Other participants – those who’ve already acquired a taste for and some experience with multi-media – have found themselves so stimulated and excited by all the channels available to connect that they’ve been using all the channels at once! Which makes a lot of noise – both visual and auditory.

And from my perspective, all of this is just perfect! Learning by doing – in a deliberately managed and intentionally playful learning space – allows adults at different skill levels to learn what they need at their own pace.

This week, I’ve asked Susan Kramer-Pope, our fourth Madhatter hostess, to share her best advice about leading your first virtual meeting, based on the tricky experience we had together Monday in DimDim.

Here’s Susan sharing with me and Tom Carroll, from, who’s been our background photographer and my valued thinking partner throughout this Virtual Meeting Camp.

Now that you’ve heard from Susan, will you share your best advice for her – and other experienced trainers, coaches, and consultants – as they make their journey towards virtual meeting mastery? If you’ll do this, I promise I’ll compile all your responses and publish them here on the blog!

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