Older dog, new tricks in the video age

Since the full force of the Covid 19 shutdown took place a few weeks ago, Jon, Alex and I have had to rapidly adjust how we work. Yes, this older dog is sharing and learning new tricks in this video age just as fast as she can. dog with bowl

Ironically, I’ve been working from a home office for 26 years since the founding of Cause & Effect Inc. For at least the last five, I’ve been enjoying videoconferencing with colleagues across the US and Canada through the wonders of Zoom. I have been singing its praises. We even opened Christmas presents with the sons, spouse, fiance and my LA based daughter and my son-in-law over a few hours. It was a lot of fun.

I’ve been promoting videoconferencing as an essential skill of the 21st century board.

See: Technology-aided board meetings: A critical skill for your nonprofit board..


I never imagined that videoconferencing would be the only realistic way to connect with the nonprofit teams I work with.

And I’m sure that those directors, staff and volunteers never imagined it either. If you’ve already have a geographically disperse universe, you are likely an old hand. But most of our clients are within driving distance and they have had an abrupt learning curve.

When the shutdown occurred, I had to:

  • Convert all scheduled committee meetings to zoom.
  • Switch the 2.5  hour graduate class I teach once a week to a virtual environment, following all the required university protocol.
  • Convert two scheduled in-person workshops to video ones.
  • Jump onto as many peer to peer learning sessions, webinars and videos as I could stand in order to be a better user of the zoom tool.
  • Figure out how to stage two retreats that were supposed to be half or full day.
  • Set up video brunch and video dinner parties with family and friends.

Each day, I’m needing to learn new facilitation skills and also how to do things more efficiently.

So here’s some of what I’m learning to share with you.

  • Be patient with yourself. We’ve always let clients and prospective clients know when we haven’t done something before with a spirit of learning together.
  • Be patient with your team. It takes time to develop a culture of being together in a video space. For many, it is very tiring staring at the computer screen.
  • Set meeting norms. These are absolutely essential to working together.
  • Offer an earlier start time. One of these is earlier than the regular meeting so folks can get used to the technology or just chat with each other, as they might have before any meeting.
  • Use breakout rooms!! I’ve underscored that as the smaller conversations return some of the lost intimacy to the video platform. I’ve always used them when working with a big group in an extended time, but they have become more important than ever.
  • Intensify your meeting road map. I’ve always scripted my workshops and meetings by topic, the how, the who and the timing. Really dig into this as you’ll want more engagement by your participants. You likely will need to use enhancements like polls, white boards, chats, designated breakout rooms and other shared tools that need to be framed ahead of time.

And a few more tips:

  • Take breaks and trim the meeting time. As I said, videoconferencing and sitting in a chair is exhausting. It might make more sense and be more pleasant for everyone to split one four-hour retreat into four one-hour meetings.  I happen to think time for reflection is important anyway.
  • Figure out what can be done outside of the meeting. I’m realizing that because I’m pretty able to adjust with the flow, I took for granted the retreat or longer meeting format I’ve grown accustomed to. Now I’m thinking… can a smaller group do some of this work? Could an advance survey replace dot straw voting to present clearer choices and allow for more efficient decisions in the meeting?
  • Get help. Ask your colleagues for their advice. And don’t try to run sessions alone if you can help it. It is really hard keeping track of everything that could be happening at one time on a platform like Zoom. It’s easy to miss the hand up or pay attention to chat. You likely need two monitors (not there yet).

Whew!! that’s just a start. What new dog tricks would you like to share?

P.S. My very best wishes to you, your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to stay safe during this very trying time.

2 responses to Older dog, new tricks in the video age

  1. Bonnie Koenig

    Great tips, Gayle! I would especially concur with being patient – both those who are hosting the online sessions and those just getting used to them. We are all on a steep learning curve together. One thing I’ve noticed that some groups have started to do is to encourage participants to put a few items in their background (if they can via a bookshelf, table or something similar behind them) that shows hobbies or other items that might spark conversation. Then the inevitable waiting time at the beginning of sessions can be used for some group bonding by talking about various participants interests (instead of the weather 🙂

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