The pandemic has pushed police, fire, corrections and EMS departments to adopt new procedures and technologies to continue providing community services, as well as to fulfill internal responsibilities like training.
One of the most significant and likely lasting changes has been the widespread use of online technologies like Zoom, GoToWebinar, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams for departmental meetings, training events and community education programs.
Like anything, leaders and educators should be considering continuous improvement opportunities for their use of online meeting technologies. Here are five tips I’d like you to consider for your online meetings.
1. Start on time (and arrive on Lombardi time)
As a paramedic student, my instructor had two basic expectations: Show up on time and be ready to learn. Even more challenging for sleep-deprived paramedic students was that our classroom clock ran on “Lombardi time,” the adage attributed to the legendary football coach that if you weren’t 15 minutes early for lecture or a clinical shift, you were late.
Lombardi time is common in all sectors of public safety. As a webinar host, I commonly see attendees logging on 15 minutes before our scheduled start, and it is an unwritten cultural expectation in most departments to arrive at the station at least 15 minutes before start time.
As webinar presenters and hosts, we owe it to our peers and students to start on time. Let go of the notion that you need to wait a few extra minutes for everyone to log on to a web event. Don’t defer to the small percentage of attendees who either by choice or work commitments are unable to arrive early or on time.
2. Confirm display of audio, slides
When preparing to lift or move a non-ambulatory patient, suspect or inmate, I teach this technique:
“We will lift on three.”
“Is anyone NOT ready?”
(I only want to hear from people who are not ready to lift. Silence means we are ready. A voice or voices pauses the sequence to resolve the problem.)
“1 … 2 … 3”
When you are the speaker and have control of the screen, instead of asking, “Can you see my slides,” ask “Can anyone NOT see my slides?” Or even better state, “If you are unable to see my slides, send a text chat message so we can help you.”
In addition, have a presentation aide who can alert you if they, on behalf of all attendees, are unable to see your screen or hear your audio.
3. Under-promise, over-deliver on audience questions
Most meeting platforms allow attendees to submit questions by chat. It is a best practice to invite attendees, early and often, to submit questions or be ready to ask questions at the conclusion of the presentation. But too often, a meeting host will invite questions, share appreciation for the many questions that have been submitted, and then leave only enough time to answer one or two questions.
I encourage presenters to make question and answer a part of the agenda. Schedule at least 15 minutes for a 30-minute presentation. You can also ask the speaker questions from the audience during pre-determined transitions in the presentation.
If you are worried the audience won’t have questions, ask attendees to submit questions with their registration, write a couple of questions ahead of time, or ask the speaker for the one or two questions they are asked most often. Usually, it only takes one or two questions to prime the pump for the audience to begin submitting questions.
4. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone
An online meeting doesn’t have to be a single speaker and a set of PowerPoint slides. Push your boundaries and look for new ways to use the technology to maximize effectiveness.
I have found the most engaging online meetings are panel discussions without slides. Listening to several experts with a moderator, as well as audience questions, leads to higher-level discussions and more specific, detailed information based on the panelists experience and expertise.
If you are running a meeting for a group of people you know well or recognize attendees in a larger audience, call on them by name and encourage them to submit a question or share an anecdote from their experience. You might even choose to unmute them to share by voice instead of text.
Instead of a lecture, try different teaching formats that allow some attendees to actively participate while others watch and listen. For example, set up a series of role-playing simulations such as taking a patient history or a witness statement. Such online meeting simulations can be used by:
Paramedics to practice a radio report to the hospital or practice the patient hand-off to the emergency department nurse.
Police investigators to practice courtroom testimony with an attorney.
Corrections nurses to practice telemedicine visits with inmates.
Firefighters to practice reporting a scene size-up, based on a video or series of photos, to other companies en route to the scene.
5. Get to the meat
Akin to starting on time is delivering actual education content or meeting agenda items to the audience as soon as possible. The stale, tasteless burger bun of way too many online meetings is five or more minutes of housekeeping items to review technical details, speaker biographies and sponsor information. No one orders the best burger in the house for the three bites of bun before they get to a delicious burger covered in cheese and other sumptuous toppings. Challenge yourself to get to the meat within 60 seconds of starting.
Bonus idea: Most in-person meetings and face-to-face education programs start with early-arriving attendees interacting with one another or the speaker. Start the online meeting 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled start time to simulate some of the real-world social experience with friendly banter among panelists or asking attendees to respond to questions related to the topic or their experience.
Continuous improvement for online meetings
What have you learned during the pandemic year to improve delivery of and participation in online meetings for departmental meetings, training events and community education programs? Submit your tips and best practices with this form.
Editor’s note: What tips and best practices do you follow for online meetings and training? Share in the form below.