Online meeting success in a time of change

At a time of social distancing, following our simple guidelines for online meeting success could help make online interactions efficient and effective, keeping everyone engaged.

As nonprofits are moving to online board meetings, staff are working remotely and other business is primarily limited to online communication, here are some guidelines for successful online meeting management from JBL Strategies, a nonprofit strategic advisory business, based in Austin, Texas:


  • Set an agenda and identify who is responsible for each item
  • Keep reporting to a minimum – focus on decision-making topics (reports can be sent as attachments)
  • If possible (i.e. not an emergency meeting), send out the draft agenda and any reference documents or reports at least two or three days prior to the online meeting to give participants an opportunity to prepare and/or suggest additional items for the agenda
  • Ask participants to be online five minutes before the start of the meeting as there are often last-minute technical issues for some. Those waiting can mute their microphone and/or pause video until the meeting begins.

During the meeting:

  • Start with an opening round* to ensure everyone on the ‘call’ has been recognized as in attendance in a methodical fashion and keep a list of who is present to use as a check list for keeping track of who has spoken and/or who hasn’t.
  • If there is background noise or more than a dozen participants, ask everyone to mute their microphone except when they are speaking. This can help to minimize distractions. The trade-off is that people often need to be reminded to turn the microphone back on when they speak.
  • Consider doing rounds* for each agenda item to avoid the usual conference call issue of people starting to speak at the same time or talking over each other or not participating at all:.
  • Process:
    • Propose the topic and discussion items – whomever is presenting it to do so without interruption
    • Call for clarifying questions on the item i.e. anyone who pipes up but no one else may interrupt whomever is asking the question; the presenter to answer
    • Call for any discussion i.e. open discussion with chair facilitating
    • Call for a decision – if one is needed, whether Roberts Rules or other proposal/approval process
    • If no decision needed, agree on next steps and/or actions arising including who responsible.
    • Next item and so on.

Post-meeting – as always send out notes/minutes and actions arising

* Round—The meeting leader or facilitator uses the attendance list to make sure each person is called on at each step of the process. The person may decline to comment or contribute, but has at least had the opportunity to do so (this should be made clear up front, to be efficient with time). Do not move to the next step (e.g., discussion) before calling on each person. The meeting leader may choose to mix up the order at different steps in the process. The meeting leader may also choose to allow someone to react to a point just made, which is different than their regular turn.

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Posted in Board Leadership, Communication, Discussion, Nonprofit Leadership and tagged , , .