11 Ways to Maximize Online Groups

1. Be present. Ask people to turn off everything else. No Facebook on the side. No TV in the background. Ask people to be present. Taking notes with a pen and paper—things that aid concentration and thinking—are OK, but doing other things often equals multitasking and the death of attention and presence.

2. Ask people to get close to the camera. Most of our interactions are through body language. It can be hard to connect when people are sitting on the other side of their room from the camera. Ask everyone to sit close to their cameras, so you all look the same, and can see each other’s eyes.

3. Turn mics on. Microphones switched off mean people can type and do other things. Mics on mean people are more likely to be present. Someone having a side conversation while someone else is sharing is likely to be a distraction to them and you.

4. Turn mics off. If someone’s dog keeps barking, house/smoke alarm goes off, etc., then mute your/their microphone. Disruptions need to be turned off if people can’t mute them in the real world.

5. Have a plan for sharing. Come with something ready. After the excitement of your first few meetings, you need to be ready in advance. In the real world, people share best when they have something prepared to work through. It can be as simple as having questions to ask people to respond to.

6. Invite people to share. Keep track of who is sharing and who is not. Invite people who have been quiet to share what they are thinking or feeling.

7. Ask people to ask to speak. Don’t let people talk over each other; ask people to raise their hands on camera or use the raised hand feature in Zoom. In a physical meeting, we can read emotions, interactions and body language, and sense times to start talking. In the virtual world, that is harder to do.

8. Ask people to not speak. This one can be hard, but for the sake of the group, if someone shares too often, it stops others from sharing. Just kindly ask people to wait a while for others to share and then circle back to them if there is time. People talking too much will cause everyone else to check out; watch for body language.

9. Make summaries. If you are a group leader and the sharing warrants it, make summaries of what people have shared and that you have heard. And then ask people to respond to that. This allows a second and deeper layer of listening.

10. Do the next right thing. We all have different personality types, some of us more at home in the virtual than others. Some of us struggle significantly without being physically present, relying on touch and immediacy for feedback about how things are going. Online gatherings require you to forgo that type of feedback and just do the next right thing. Did everyone share who wanted to? Did you cover the materials you needed to? Over time, you will learn the new micro feedbacks that come in the virtual until you can reread a room. Do your best to help others, and don’t worry about being perfect.

11. Start 15 minutes early. Invite people to start early for coffee and chitchat. This lets people settle down, warm up and know their tech is working. It then means you hit the ground running on time together.

Jason Swan Clark
Jason Swan Clarkhttps://www.jasonswanclark.org/

Jason Swan Clark is co-leader of Sutton Vineyard in the south of London, U.K. and leads the Leadership and Global Perspectives Doctor of Ministry degree for Portland Seminary.