The Virtual Meeting Coach

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Posts Tagged ‘virtual meeting coach’

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?

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!

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….

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!

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

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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

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

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

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

No Magic Pills or Siskel and Ebert Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Meaningful Experiences – Using Real-Time Virtual Meetings

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Madhatter's Tea Party 6-Week Virtual Meeting Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fascinating work for me! Hard, hard fun!

Join us, if this interests you…

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

April 19th – Madhatter’s Tea Parties Begin!

Friday, April 16th, 2010

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

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

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

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

Yes we can.

Here Come the Seniors! Cloud Computing, Social Media and Virtual Meeting Technologies to the Rescue!

Sunday, November 15th, 2009
Computers Frustrate Me – Why Should I Care About Them?
View more presentations from Meri Walker.

A Report From the Field

This fall, I piloted a 4-week, face-to-face, hands-on Cloud Computing course for seniors and aging Baby Boomers who aren’t yet ready to call ourselves “Seniors” ;-)

I call the course, “Up, Up and Away,” and I promise to take people who are frustrated with their desktop computing experiences from hair-pulling to happy smiles and thicker wallets in just four weeks using a cheap mobile computer and Cloud apps. The first folks who signed up were my neighbors in the Mountain Meadows Community in Ashland, Oregon. In four weeks, participants made faster strides than even I had anticipated!

I took their performance as affirmation of three things:

1) The course design is sound and provides a useful scaffold for people who want to create a whole new relationship to computing to do so in just 4 weeks
2) Seniors can and do learn new tricks a whole lot faster than people might give them credit for
3) Mobile computers and Web 2.0 Cloud apps are going to change all of our lives – not just the lives of young people!

The photos above were made on Friday the 13th when a big crowd turned out for the Mountain Meadows‘ November “Friday Forum” to hear me talk about the way I look at new opportunities for seniors who willing to invest in cheap laptops or netbooks and learn to use free Cloud apps. New online ways to engage in lifetime learning, telehealth options, telemedicine options, meaningful online community participation, inexpensive (or free) connection to family members and other caregivers – wherever they are! And so much more… My deepest thanks to Cindy Earle and Hunter Hill for the photos!

I’m just crazy about my neighbors at Mountain Meadows! They’re all so smart! And they’ve moved into this community to manage their lives in new ways while they “Age in Place.” Coming to live among them has been a life-changing experience for me, personally. As a group, they’re deeply committed both to their own lifetime learning and to maintaining healthy, active relationships with the people they care about – here and across the globe! So, over the next 6 months or more, I’m going to be taking groups of 12 of them “up in the Cloud,” using “Up, Up and Away” as the vehicle. If the first group’s success was any indication of what’s to come for Mountain Meadows, this community will soon be setting a national standard for active, senior communities using the internet, social media, and virtual meeting technologies to optimize resources for “Aging in Place.”

I’m excited about “Up, Up and Away!”! And I’m looking for opportunities to offer it locally while I also finish a train-the-trainer program so that people who would like to can offer it in your areas.

I very much want to share my introductory talk, “Computer Frustrate Me – Why Should I Care About Them?” with churches, clubs, professional groups and at professional conferences several times a month during December, January and February and on into 2010. But I don’t know how to do this without investing lots of time or money on marketing.

Got any ideas?

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