“This is not the time for perfection” and other brilliant ideas from Beth Kanter

By Siobhan Mercer on 27th Apr 2020

Siobhan Mercer reflects on the insights and inspiration from an Ask Me Anything DigiShift session with the renowned Beth Kanter. The topics covered were virtual meetings, managing remote teams, and maintaining connection and wellbeing while social distancing.

Have you ever started a meeting with a silent “Minute of Quiet”?   

It seems counter-intuitive, right? We’re all too crazy busy just now to stop for even a minute!

For over a hundred DigiListen attendees this mindful meditative pause was like a collective sigh of relief, a moment to breathe.

“Thank you!” 

“I found the moment of quiet helpful” 

“That may have been the only minute I have relaxed today!”

This special minute and the following insightful hour were provided by Beth Kanter, award-winning author and one of the most influential women in technology.  We were very privileged to have Beth join us from California for our DigiListen Zoom call about virtual meetings and remote working. 

What complaints do you have about online meetings?  

Much as we all groan when the “icebreaker” word is mentioned in a meeting, as there are so many naff ones out there, a good icebreaker helps get us in the right frame of mind for the upcoming topic.

Beth’s first icebreaker was to ask what complaints we have about online meetings.

Beth asked everyone to hold their answer and press “send” at the same time. This instant act of so much scrolling text gave a good opportunity for Beth to remind us that if we do feel overwhelmed in a meeting, it is OK to look away, it is OK not to keep up with everything in today’s fast-moving world.  

What makes online meetings just awful? 

Despite this DigiShift having over a hundred participants, our similar answers showed that Online meetings have just four main problems.

  • tech/connectivity issues  
  • hardware problems (comfortable chair, better lighting, second screen)  
  • meeting timing problems (too many/ too long/ late arrivals/ poor structure) 
  • people problems (late arrivals, talking over people, not listening, not using mute) 

How does this make you feel? 

Again, our answers were very similar 

  • Tired/ exhausted/ drained 
  • Frustrated/ irritable/ anxious 
  • Fidgety/ unfocused 
  • Tense/ wired/ can’t switch off 
  • Connected/ closer to team 
  • Flexible/ able to work 

When all is said and done …. 

This is a great twist from Beth, as suddenly all the answers are positive.  

  • Enable us to continue delivering/ developing our vital services
  • Good way of connecting/ stay in touch
  • Lucky/ thankful to be working
  • Amazing team/ everyone trying their best
  • It is what is
  • Empowering/ loving new challenges

Outcomes of the icebreaker

This simple icebreaker

  • allowed us all to express how we are feeling
  • our similar answers let us know we are not alone in how we feel
  • quickly established that meetings are essential for us to deliver our vital services but that there are some issues

Beth reassured us that things will get better. Like so many things in life, all we need to do is simply learn from some best practices.

Best practices for online meetings and maintaining connections at a distance 

Beth gave us nine fantastic top tips with interactive fun examples. You’ll find details in the resources section.

One of Beth’s key points was have fun! Mandy Johnson of SketchNotes has captured that brilliantly in this fabulous summary!

The SketchNote is an A4 visualisation of Beth’s session. Each tip has a sketch beside it. We started with one minute of meditation – sketch is person in lotus yoga position. Then Beth shared her nine top tips for successful virtual meetings - sketch is nine zoom pictures on a screen. 1) Don't wing it alone. Sketch is a desk planning diary. 2) Assign meeting roles. Sketch is Elmo, who represents “Enough, Let’s Move On”. 3) Embrace new workplace norms for meetings - children (and pets) are welcome. Sketch is Zoom screen with person and dog. 4) Encourage being on camera. Sketch is two zoom screens with person and question mark. 5) Use Zoom background to hide a messy house or create your own custom backgrounds. Sketch is person with trees behind them. 6) Use icebreakers and energisers. Sketch is two people stretching. 7) Say no to meetings without a break. Sketch is desk diary. 8) Use breakout rooms. Sketch is four Zoom screens with three people in each. 9) Continuous improvement. Sketch is emojis of glad/mad/sad faces.

This was the most fun meeting I’ve been in for weeks, up there with virtual team drinks and playing with masks/filters on chats with friends. Who would have thought a session on virtual meetings and remote teams could be anything but dry?

Highlights were:

  • watching multiple professionals making bunny ears with their fingers (use this in a meeting when it goes off topic and down a rabbit hole) 
  • finger dancing and copycat stretching (use these as mid-meeting energisers if anyone is flagging) 
  • our Zoom chat box included comments like “my other half is looking at me weird” and “my dog just retreated to the garden” 

You really must watch the video recording or listen to the podcast for this one. Beth’s tips will make your meetings easier, quicker, more productive and most importantly more fun.

Beth closed with these wise words we should all keep reminding ourselves in the coming weeks. 

“This is not the time for perfection.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not a normal time.

Be gentle on yourself, keep calm and keep going!”

Quote from Beth Kanter

Thank you Beth!

Further reading 

Useful digital alternatives if you miss post-it notes 

  • Web whiteboard to draw and write together
  • Padlet for easy and fun collaboration on boards, documents, and webpages
  • Google Jamboard to sketch your ideas, whiteboard-style
  • Miro online collaborative whiteboard platform