“While it sounds sacrilegious to say, I find that online networking can actually outperform what happens when you put a bunch of people in a room and hope that they’ll engage,” says professional meeting planner Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings.

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February 15, 2021

Virtual Reality is not a panacea, insists professional meeting facilitator and designer Lee Gimpel. “More than anything, bad, unproductive, tiresome meetings are a function of the format and the content as opposed to the technology,” he says.

Lee Gimpel, meeting planner and founder of Better Meetings, says holding events outdoors might give meeting planners a pretext to do things differently and try new approaches that they might not have been able to get away with in a normal conference center.

Lee Gimpel, founder and principal of Better Meetings, says that this kind of interactive approach makes for a more successful result than the typical Zoom-with-drinks approach. Holiday parties are “largely about bonding, even if [they’re] not advertised as a teambuilding event,” he said.

International consulting firm, Factum Global, recently hosted an interactive virtual session about “Thriving internationally in times of COVID-19 and beyond.” Facilitated by Lee Gimpel of Better Meetings, the event featured a dialogue with Thomas Smith, Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Scott Stuart, CEO, the Turnaround Management Association (TMA).

In a way, tackling Thanksgiving conversations, you’re faced with many of the same challenges that would also confront you during business meetings. 

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

Lee Gimpel said he uses an online concierge service to help him decide which products to buy. “I turn to them when I’m about to fall down this rabbit hole of choice,” said the Washington, D.C., resident, who founded a conference and meeting company.

“It’s important to ask what an event doesn’t need to carry over online — as well as what could be new, different and valuable if we’re not bound by time and space as we would be in a convention center,” Gimpel says. “In a number of respects, a virtual event can actually deliver more value than one that’s in person.”

Have you ever been tricked into attending a webinar or an online presentation because it promised to be interactive and engaging? Rather than delivering on these buzzwords, it ended up being basically the same old boring online presentation that one has unfortunately come to expect.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

As this trend seems here to stay, it’s time to really think about your home office as your full-time office and outfit it accordingly for both individual effort and the remote meetings in which you’ll participate.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

Management is more about meetings than debates. Chief executives spend hours each week in meetings; on the other hand, very few CEOs’ calendars have debates penciled in.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

It’s important that people actually have a reason to be on video and they engage through the camera early on. That could be brief introductions or it could be small breakouts at the start of a meeting.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

“Just as we never see a giant group of 50 people talking to each other at a roundtable or a reception, big numbers like that don’t work well in online breakouts,” says Gimpel, who thinks that breakout rooms of three to four people typically work best in a virtual environment. “People can easily connect at this size, but they don’t get lost in the shuffle and facelessness of a big group.”

As someone running a meeting or conference, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what’s happening on stage or at the table is the only thing that matters.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

Using breakout rooms is not a magical panacea. You still have to be thoughtful about how and when you use them. One of the biggest missteps in using breakout rooms is simply putting too many people in one.

Lee Gimpel
Forbes Contributor: facilitation, conference & meetings expert

Thom Singer met Lee Gimpel from Better Meetings through the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Lee is a meeting expert who works with groups to ensure their conferences, conventions, board meetings, and networking gatherings have lasting impact.  In the past few months he has been in high gear helping associations go virtual.

Lee Gimpel, Founder and Principal at Better Meetings, likes Zoom’s breakout rooms as a means of replicating “the watercooler moments” that happen in a physical space.

“Many organizations suddenly started holding meetings virtually, but few probably had ‘the talk’ about what their online meeting culture would be like,” says Lee Gimpel, founder and principal, Better Meetings.

According to Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, a meeting design, facilitation, and training firm, “If you don’t know why you’re meeting, it’s hard to know if your time was well-spent or not. Just jotting down a simple statement at the top of your agenda or in your calendar invitation can go a long way.”

“Think about ways to keep an audience from having to sit still and quiet for long blocks of time, while also reducing the amount of time you personally have to hold their attention. It’s much easier to fix the format than it is to fix a presenter,” Gimpel says.

Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, a meeting design, facilitation, and training company in Washington, D.C., recommends preventing participants from changing their names. To do so, use the Security button in the host toolbar. “Being able to lock down these controls prevents [people] from being disruptive and limiting the damage they can do.”

Many organizations just suddenly started doing all their meetings virtually. Few of them probably had “the talk” about what their online meeting culture would be like … “It’s important in terms of culture and consistency to stop and think for a moment how your organization is going to handle this new environment.”

― meeting expert Lee Gimpel

Meeting trainer Lee Gimpel of Better Meetings says Zoom is especially useful for keeping teams connected. “I like Zoom’s breakout rooms as a way to replicate the water cooler moments that happen in a physical space.”

“Zoom adds a little name tag to participants’ video boxes. This is really nice when people don’t know each other. You can also go a step beyond just names and edit them to add roles, locations or other bits of information that are helpful in a work context or that help people in the room build some interpersonal connections,” says meeting expert Lee Gimpel.

Lest you think a virtual presentation is like any other face-to-face experience, it’s important to remember that it is not: The bar is actually set higher. “It’s easy for participants to drift into another browser tab, get sucked into their phones, or decide to fold laundry instead of giving you their full attention,” explains Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, a meeting training, design and facilitation company.

What makes a meeting a success? That answer is likely different for someone tasked with the immense responsibility of organizing the event versus an attendee.  Lee Gimpel, a conference facilitator, meeting trainer, and event designer in Washington, DC.

Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, recommends pairing up attendees and asking them to share something relevant to the task at hand. For instance, if the group is working on a new product idea, prompt them with the question, “What’s a product that you really like and why?” or if they’re marketers, ask them to describe their all-time favorite ad campaign.

As someone who provides meeting facilitation training in Washington, DC as well as in Maryland, and Virginia, I’m struck by two aspects of the region that make it unique for entrepreneurs.

― Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings

“There’s an old adage that brains work when they’re turned on,” says Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, a meeting design, facilitation, and training company. “Yet, in many meetings, it’s really easy to zone out; your brain is not asked to do anything more than keep your eyes open.”

Better Meetings’ Lee Gimpel recommended that when meeting someone, look for ways to make a real connection. “This could be the result of knowing something about someone that you have in common . People tend to try to connect on banal topics that don’t do much to build rapport (weather or transportation to the meeting),” he said.

“So many of today’s conferences and events are still stuck in yesterday where it’s just one ho-hum speaker or panel or workshop or PowerPoint presentation after the other. Whether it’s creating a larger experience, gamifying content, or crafting more audience participation, there are great, easy ways to make events both more immersive and effective.”

― Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings, a meeting design, facilitation, and training company in Washington, DC.

“Many conferences focus heavily on sharing knowledge, but they seem to miss a focus on connecting people and their experiences, ideas and challenges. Attendees don’t want to be bored. They don’t want to be lectured to for hours on end. Rather, they want to be able to connect, to learn from others, to share their knowledge and feel like their time was well spent.”

― meeting expert, Lee Gimpel

As someone who works in meeting design and facilitation, Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering’s overarching focus on people and connections over logistics really clarifies what I want to bring to clients.  Lee Gimpel, founder of Better Meetings

“I think organizers get caught up in the logistics and focus on impressive food and cool décor, but then forget about the attendees and why they’re at the event,” says Gimpel. “More than having great healthy food options, I want conferences to have great content and make awesome connections. If they did that and I had mediocre food, I’d still rave about the event and want to return the next year.”

Networking is emphasized at all times. “We make a great point of telling our guests they’re expected to mix and mingle and be available — not just show up, speak at a lectern and leave,” says Lee Gimpel.

If the boss is leading a discussion, subordinates may not dissent for fear of retribution. And as often as one hears, “There are no dumb ideas,” people don’t always feel comfortable making outside-the-box suggestions.

A handful of meeting spaces like Catalyst Ranch, most of which have opened in the past few years, operate in the U.S. Though unaffiliated, they share common decor themes, which is to say they all resemble kindergarten classrooms. The spaces are awash in natural light, done in bold colors, and filled with comfy chairs and an assortment of toys.