With customer advisory board (CAB) meetings taking place virtually now and for the foreseeable future, CAB managers and executive sponsors should take steps to ensure these meetings deliver utmost value to their members and their own host companies. While preparation, engagement, facilitation and outcome communication remain keys to virtual CAB meeting success, having managed and facilitated a quite a few such meetings this year, there are some additional recommended preparation measures that should be taken to ensure a beneficial meeting.
As such, here are five must-do tips to prepare for virtual CAB meetings:
1. Specify roles and assign a tech lead: When preparing for your upcoming virtual CAB meeting, be sure everyone is clear of their roles and responsibilities. That means not only your executive sponsor and session owners, but also who will be facilitating the meeting, who will be taking notes, and who will be advancing the slides that all see. What I have seen work best is that the host company also assign a tech person to not only ensure that all participants have a perfect online experience, but also address any problems as they come up during the meeting. These would include those not able to get into the meeting, those who might be conveying background noise and may need to be muted, those who can’t hear everyone, etc. We’ve all been on meetings where someone – perhaps even yourself – is having an issue. Having an assigned tech person to help in such matters can really save the day – and your meeting.
2. Test all technologies: In line with above, you’ll want to test everything and practice with the actual technologies you’ll be utilizing during your virtual meeting. This would include not only your meeting platform (e.g. WebEx, Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, etc.) but also testing your participant headsets, computer cameras and microphones, your polling capabilities (with your actual questions), whiteboard, breakout rooms, video capabilities, etc. While everyone understands that technology can fail us at the worst possible time, testing and preparing can mitigate most problems and keep your meeting on track.
3. Enable member and internal communication: Be sure you have communicated to your members how they are asked to interject and contribute their ideas during your virtual meeting. While this might be simply speaking with their comments, you might suggest they identify themselves before they do. In addition, you might use the “raise hand” or chat feature that some platforms offer. Furthermore, you’ll want to be sure you have an internal communications channel that CAB members can’t see, including a way for your facilitator to communicate with presenters (e.g. to communicate time checks or if a member has a question) as well as with the slide advancer and tech person.
4. Organize introductions: In virtual CAB meetings, you are unable to simply “go around the room” to conduct introductions as you would for an in-person meeting. That means you’ll want prepare an organized way to conduct introductions at the beginning of the meeting. I recommend a listed “batting order” for CAB members to see so they know when they can introduce themselves and communicate their top current business challenges. You’ll also want to be clear on this for your own company and third-party participants as well, although these can and should be much shorter than the member intros. To prepare for all this, you’ll need a solid list of member rsvps and company participants to ensure smooth introductions.
5. Run through all content on a single presentation: Of course, all content and exercises should be practiced to ensure they are clear and delivering the desired meeting objectives. That means communicating session goals and questions to be answered by CAB members, and that breakouts include the teams, timing, and requested outcomes with time set aside to review, discuss, compare and contrast. Best practice here would be including all content on one master meeting deck, to eliminate switching out computers and presenters, which can introduce delays and technical issues. Using a single deck also forces session owners to get their content finalized well in advance – and not introduce new, un-reviewed content on the virtual meeting itself.
Preparation and practice is always necessary to conduct a strong CAB meeting, and perhaps even more so for virtual engagements. Investing in these steps will not only maximize the effectiveness of your meeting, but also put your company in a positive light in front of your best customers.