EuroComm18 Interviews: IAF’s Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte on how to engage people in virtual meetings and facilitation for communicators

We are delighted to be welcoming Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte, the Managing Director of Xpedio and the Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East in The International Association of Facilitators (IAF), to EuroComm18. Mirjami will be busy at this year’s EuroComm18. She’ll be both presenting on day one, and hosting a workshop on facilitation on day two as part of the recent agreement between IAF and IABC to cooperate on training and development.

Mirjami took the time to virtually sit down with us and discuss what she’ll be talking about at EuroComm18 as well as how communicators can benefit from facilitation. You can see Mirjami and learn more about the IAF at EuroComm18 in Copenhagen on the 9th and 10th of April.

Q: So tell us about yourself Mirjami.

Mirjami: I’m a professional facilitator based in Finland and I run my own company called Xpedio which is specialized in facilitation, the development of organizational culture and strategy. I am a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). I’ve been member of the IAF Certified as Professional Facilitator since 2008, and since the beginning of last year I’ve been the IAF’s regional director for Europe and the Middle East.

Q: We’re really excited to be working closely with the IAF. And we’re also excited about your talk, which will be focused on keeping people engaged through virtual meetings.

Mirjami: Online calls and meetings are part of daily life in multinationals. This type of engagement is incredibly challenging. It can be difficult to engage people face-to-face, and this is amplified when meetings are undertaken through the internet. You may not see the person as the cameras may not be switched on, and this essentially means that communication is compromised. There’s a need to find ways and tools to improve the engagement for those who regularly hold online meetings. I want to share simple tips to make virtual meetings more comfortable and effective for everyone.

Q: What should we be doing differently when it comes to virtual engagement?

Mirjami: Let’s start with awareness about the need for active engagement, both offline and online. Much can depend on the company culture and how meetings are led, and certain cultures may not be suited to promoting employee engagement virtually. We need to start with changing the cultural mindset, and this will take effort especially at the beginning of any change process.

We have to remember that naturally there’s a difference between face-to-face and virtual meets. With face-to-face, the participants are full of energy, and you can also energize others through body language and interaction. In a virtual meeting, we’re more restrained and so the meeting leader needs to consciously put in more effort with the tools you have, such as your voice, through addressing people by name and the like.

Q: So, if I’m leading a meeting online, how should I behave and be aware of to make my virtual engagements successful?

Mirjami: The first question is to ask if the participants are actually listening to you or are they doing something else, which is what usually happens. During virtual meetings the attention span is shortened and attendees start to check out other issues whilst on their laptops. You cannot take for granted that people are listening. You need to actively and continuously engage the audience from the get-go, either by calling out people directly and ask for verbal or written answers. You can use the virtual tools, the chat-box and emojis – there needs to be frequent engagement to make sure that attendees are switched on to what you are saying. Many online meeting programs have tools such as a white board or chat-box, and leaders need to become familiar with these tools, so they can promote two-way communication. The simplest thing they can do is turn on the video cameras.

Q: You lead the IAF in the region, and IAF is partnering with IABC for EuroComm18. What can communicators do with facilitation to drive engagement and successful outcomes.

Mirjami: Trust and acceptance are a result of two-way communication, and people become more interested, more committed and more engaged when they are asked rather than when they are told. Work-life has become more complex and we have shorter attention spans, so engagement has become more challenging. And yet people do want to have a conversation and be asked for their views. This is even more true of millennials and generation Z employees. It’s become ever more important to have a participatory approach to communications in the workplace.

Q: What does facilitation mean for communicators and their ability to engage?

Mirjami: The IAF offers a set of standards for professional facilitation. We aim to promote a level of professionalism when it comes to facilitation, as well as the possibility for people to develop specific competencies and through that promote the power of facilitation worldwide. We want to make facilitation more accessible to everyone, including communicators. This year we are offering a mentoring program for new facilitators to help develop themselves through the support of a professional facilitator. Have a look at the IAF website, get a sense of what we do, and come and meet us as well at EuroComm18. There’ll be lots of IAF members present at EuroComm18, and we’ll be happy to share more insights into what facilitation is all about.

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