The conversation was intense. The group was sharing its ideas about a film called “The insult”, a film playing in Lebanon with the main characters being of two different ethnic groups. Their sharing was focused on the many tensions highlighted in the film which people had perceived while watching the film.
It played into the way the group was acting, even more so as it was a virtual meeting. They were so enthusiastic about sharing their learning that it quickly became challenging to be able to contribute to the exchange. People were talking over one another. They were taking any short silence as an invitation for the next person to share his ideas. And when two started at the same time, it took a while until one stopped talking.
In contrast, to live meetings, virtual meetings don’t provide us with the standard tools humans developed to synchronize their communication.
They are as simple as looking at someone else and observing how one is being invited to talk once visual contact is established. And, for the others in that space, observing how that transaction is unfolding and coming to an end. All of them are based on our ability to make eye contact and observe that movement.
However, these are not accessible in a virtual setting. There eye contact is hardly possible, even less so, when there are more than two present in the meeting. Creating conversations in such a space requires preparation and a facilitator willing to organize the conversation. This doesn’t necessarily mean establishing that many rules defining when someone may speak up. It means to keep an eye on the dynamic as it is unfolding and have a strategy in mind that can help people get back into the style of conversation they have come for.
The most important and often overlooked strategy is to slow things down.