By: Austin Arias

It is safe to say, we are starting the semester in a reality we were not expecting. Our new virtual reality has tested us to rethink the way we do everything – our classes, our organizations, our access to services and offices on our campus and so much more. You are feeling overwhelmed and that’s perfectly okay. 

So, let’s talk about one part of the equation for you – your student organization. How we do what we do is different now, but that does not mean you organization cannot continue to thrive and grow during this time. You still have great opportunities to maintain and recruit members, host engaging events and serve as a meaningful community for your peers. 

Here are some tips to help you make one part easier – your organization meetings. (Hint, hint: much of this applies to virtual events too!)

Before you begin planning, consider the following:

  • Give Yourself Grace – You are not going to get it perfect the first time and things will be clunky in the beginning. Whether you are reading this after running five meetings or you are about to run your first one, each experience is unique and this will take time to get used to.
  • Try Different Things – How you run a meeting won’t be the same as an event!  Be willing to have different structures for each. 
  • Turn to Your Peers – Now is the best time to come together as an executive board and decide a plan of action together. This responsibility is not just on you. You are all in virtual spaces throughout the day and probably learned a lot about what you like and don’t like.  This is useful info to try innovative ways to engage attendees. Your advisor can help too! 
  • Understand your Resources – Research the services you have access to as a student through offices like IT, learning technologies or student activities offices. Be sure to understand what platform is supported by your IT like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex or Google Hangouts. Use what they support because then they can provide you support if something goes wrong. Plus, you will be able to save money with other platforms because IT-supported platforms are free! 

Running Engaging Meetings

  • Structure is Important – You have probably heard over and over again – you need an agenda to run a good student organization meeting. In a virtual space, it’s even more important. Assign time allotments to different parts to keep things moving. Share your agenda with members before the meeting, add names to who will present specific parts and add your goals for the meeting to the top of the agenda.
  • Maintain Your Same Routine – Sticking to your organization’s same meeting schedule is going to be important. If you meet with executive board officers on Mondays at 3pm and the general body Tuesdays at 6pm, keep it that way. In a virtual setting you will be tempted to do things different because virtual meetings mean no walk from the classroom building or working around meal times or practices. But, keeping things the same actually helps with your officer and member retention. We are all creating new structures and routines. Make this part a bit easier for your members and they are more likely to “show up.” Plus, if you are trying to recruit new members, you do not want to confuse them with a different meeting time each week. They will get overwhelmed and won’t come back. Pick your times and stick to them. Make sure your student organizations office knows them too so they can be current on your online organization platform and directory.
  • Limit Screen Sharing – If you share your screen with an agenda or resources the whole time, then you cannot see the members of your organization. Being able to see everyone’s video helps bring the in-person, more human aspect back into your meeting. They can pull up the agenda or resource on their phone or adjust their window size.
  • Utilize Breakout Rooms – Breakout rooms are great for committee meetings, small group activities and deeper discussions. Try and incorporate these a bit more often. Make sure you have a moderator like a committee chair or exec member in each room to keep the conversation moving and ensure the expected tasks are done.
  • Keep Your Organization’s Traditions Going – Your organization has a unique culture, don’t let it go. Still do that opening icebreaker, dance party, trivia game via Kahoot or member recognition activity (like member of the week or unsung hero). Share this responsibility and ask officers and members to plan the opening or closing activities. Starting and ending your meeting with something impactful will get members excited about the virtual meeting and it won’t feel like another class lecture.

Whew, so this is a lot of information, but do not feel the need to tackle all of it at once. Remember, give yourself grace, try something new and work collaboratively with others to build the most engaging virtual meetings you can. Take it one step at a time. Your organization will be better for all of your hard work. You got this, friend.

Learn more about Austin and his programs visit campuspeak.com/speaker/austin-arias/