CTL Blog

Inclusive Zoom Meetings, Part 4 - Facilitating the Meeting

July 28, 2021 | 10 Minute Read

This guest post is by Celine Greene, Senior Instructional Technologist in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

This post concludes the technology and facilitation guidelines identified in the introduction to this series on "Inclusive Zoom Meetings." The goal of these posts is to give meeting hosts and facilitators some concrete steps with rationales that, taken together, set up our Zoom meetings to being more inclusive. In doing so, we are not just inviting everyone to the table but also acknowledging that we all have different needs, different resources, and different comforts on different days.

The Facilitation: In-meeting Practices

There are a variety of resources that address how to facilitate inclusive meetings beyond the technology approaches. These suggestions existed long before meetings were shifted from face-to-face to online, or even blended between the two. As you prepare for your next meeting, no matter where you are hosting or facilitating from, please consider what is outlined here as well as exploring others' recommendations.

Welcome Everyone and State the Ground Rules

Expectations, including any specific ground rules, may have been shared in the pre-meeting communications. The initial welcome to the meeting is a good time to remind participants of these guidelines. It is also an opportunity to set the meeting's tone. The tone can include allowing for individual introductions, especially in smaller meetings, as a way to show everyone's "ownership" of the meeting. Depending on the size and purpose of your meeting, an ice-breaker activity may be appropriate.

Acknowledging gratitude in participants' attendance can establish a welcoming environment. When everyone is gently reminded of expectations, maintaining a positive meeting space becomes the right and responsibility of the entire group of individuals.

Address Participants by their Preferred Names

As long as the meeting was set to allow participants to rename themselves, you can remind people of this option. Refer to individuals by the name displayed on their video preview or the Participants panel. Using preferred names and pronouns is courteous and shows respect. It also reinforces your commitment to a comfortable, nondiscriminatory meeting environment.

Ask that Only One Person Speak at a Time, and that Anyone Not Speaking Mute Themselves

By reminding participants of some basic etiquette and modeling the expected behavior, the facilitator can establish an environment where respect is shown to the individual speaking. In addition, sharing only one voice at a time discourages the conversation from being dominated and encourages differing viewpoints.

Having microphones muted allows for greater focus. Even the presenters should mute themselves when not speaking, plus remember to reduce background noise when speaking and unmuted!

Encourage, but Do Not Require, Turning on Video

Seeing each other on video can feel more personal to many people. But there are many reasons why a person might not want to turn on their webcam video, from technology resources to environmental or personal discomforts. Sharing video may also highlight inequities. Seeing several live video feeds at one time may even be distracting. Since we can never know a person's situation or comfort at any given time, unless pertinent to the meeting, participating with video should not be mandated. When we leave sharing video and audio as an option, we give participants the right to exercise personal choice and control in managing their experience. Additionally, we allow for a comfortable meeting space with fewer distractions and unintended pressures.

Observe Participation

If you can have a co-facilitator in your meeting, it may be easier to observe requests, questions, and reactions during the meeting. If you don't have somebody identified before the meeting and find yourself overwhelmed, don't be afraid to stop and ask someone for help in monitoring participation.

If you can't read the chat in real-time, pause every now and then to read it and get caught up. If in talking, you respond to something typed in the chat, make sure to read the text comment or question aloud before referencing it.

Encourage Zoom Reactions feedback (go faster, go slower, yes, no, etc.). And look for and respond to raised hands or unmuted microphones, whichever has been encouraged from the meeting's outset. (The Zoom hand-raise function makes gallery thumbnails and the Participants panel reorder the attendees in the order hands are raised. But also remember that not everyone can respond or react immediately; be conscious that the order dictated by the technology may not reflect the eagerness of the participants.)

Observing meeting participation is crucial in the effort to not just welcome all voices but to actually allow them to be heard. It also is important to humble yourself to accept feedback in these observations, sometimes adjusting the meeting to better meet the needs of your participants.

Be a Proactive Moderator

If a question is asked of the group, allow everyone time to think before responding. If someone recurringly leads the conversation or if there are recurring interruptions, discourage the behavior. Practice redirecting the conversation. In addition, be aware of any microaggressions or other unacceptable behaviors. Everyone's voice, even those dissenting from popular opinion, is welcome in an inclusive meeting. Of course, courtesy and respect are deserved and must be maintained.

The Zoom chat can be used – to everyone or privately, as is appropriate – to address inappropriate behaviors. As a host or co-host, you also can wield the power of muting individuals or everyone and give an auditory reminder. Take the opportunity to not just address any misconduct, but to remind the group that we are each other's allies.

Foster Conversation

When you want participants to actively engage in the meeting's conversation, give prompts (both text and auditory) and communicate clear instructions as to how they should add to the discussion: Chat or microphone? Stamps or text on the whiteboard? Raised hand or other Zoom tool?

Depending on the meeting's size, you may want to use Zoom's breakout rooms either with random or purposeful assignments. Not only will this provide everyone more opportunity to engage in the conversation, it will also provide a comfortable setting for those who find it difficult to speak in a large-group settings. When you use random assignments, the smaller groups may be less homogenous.

Groups often benefit when there is structure. Give clear instruction on the allotted time before starting any breakout room, what the participants should be doing in this time, and whether each group should designate someone to report out after returning to the main Zoom meeting room. Also remind participants how to ask for help from within a breakout room. And if there are prompts before going to the breakout rooms, make sure to type them into the chat before opening the rooms, so the text remains visible to everyone.

Being inclusive includes getting to know each other as individuals and listening to voices that don't always mirror your own. In fostering conversation, minds can be opened, voices can be heard, bias can be diminished, and perspective can be broadened.

Be an Active Listener

Model the behavior you want of the participants. If there is conversation, make certain it is not just one-way. If there is feedback, make sure you acknowledge it. Try not to interrupt anyone or cut them off. Ask for clarification when appropriate. Address the question that was asked, either by providing an answer or wielding the power of honesty and acknowledging you don't know. (You can turn the unanswered question back to the participants for ensuing dialogue, or offer to respond at a later time.) Show appreciation for different perspectives.

Active listening is a sign of respect and a clear indicator that you want to learn from others, making participants feel welcome and that their contribution is worthwhile.

Announce Activities and Shifts in Display

Any change in the meeting's activity or presentation should be announced both orally and in the text chat panel. Examples might include launching a poll, sharing a whiteboard, starting a breakout session, or even announcing a 5 minute bathroom break. This is important for maintaining engagement and keeping participants on task, as well as essential for anyone who may not be able to visually or auditorily discern the meeting. Having the activity announced can also assist individuals with cognitive, language or cultural barriers. Providing proactive guidance is an inclusive practice that supports individuals; it is also beneficial to a meeting's success.

Present in an Accessible Manner

An inclusive meeting is perceivable and understandable by the most people possible. This includes meeting digital accessibility guidelines (such as don't rely on color alone), plus following these practices:

  • Face your webcam when speaking and try not to have back lighting, where your face is in a shadow. By facing the camera and limiting movement, lip-readers can better understand your speech and there are fewer unintentional distractions.
  • Speak clearly, without turning your head away from your microphone. This is beneficial for everyone; plus, it lends to more accurate auto-transcription.
  • If you mention a concept or acronym that isn't common to all the participants, explain it.
  • Share your screen with larger than normal text, knowing the display inside the Zoom app on someone else's monitor may not be the same as yours.
  • If part of the displayed screen or whiteboard is receiving focus, verbalize where attention should be drawn. (e.g. "The data series, in the bottom center of this slide, shows we are looking at ….").
  • Talk through any visuals that are essential to the communication, including text and annotations.
    • If the text is essential, such as a quote that will be referenced, read it aloud knowing not everyone can perceive the visual display.
    • Similarly, describe any non-decorative images.
    • If annotating, describe what you are doing. (e.g., "On this scatter plot, I am crossing out the outliers with a red X before drawing an estimated line of best fit …")

Be Flexible

Allow for interruptions and roll with the punches, from tech glitches to children, animals, and delivery personnel making surprise appearances or sounds. Be ready for the unexpected. If there is an agenda, do your best to stick to it but try not to worry too much if the meeting strays, especially when there is topic that deserves more attention.

When the inclusive facilitator is relaxed about disruptions, they reduce potential stress and anxieties for everyone. This allows participants to feel more comfortable.

Follow Up After the Meeting, Asking for Feedback.

Part of becoming better at something is incorporating reflection, both self-assessment and external. By being vulnerable to feedback, you demonstrate your commitment to being an inclusive facilitator. Follow through by not just seeking comments, advice, and constructive criticism, but also act. Learn to do better, making your meetings a place where everyone feels like they belong and that their presence is valued.

More Resources on the Inclusive Meeting

Avoid Zoom Doom: 10 Ways Managers Can Facilitate Inclusive, Virtual Conversations, Lindsey Pollak Career & Workplace Expert

How to Have More Inclusive Meetings Over Zoom, Ideas.ted.com

How to Lead Inclusive Meetings, Development Guild DDI

Microresistance as a Way to Respond to Microaggressions on Zoom and in Real Life, Faculty Focus

Strategies for Inclusive Zoom Presentations [PDF], Furman University

To Build an Inclusive Culture, Start with Inclusive Meetings, Harvard Business Review