My First Virtual Administrative Meeting

I just spend the last hour and a half using the virtual chat feature on the Suncoast site talking about competition details and issues for the FTCC. Let me tell you, the chat works awesome. I mean, it actually works. This same functionality from 37 Signals’ Campfire product costs about $49/month (for 60 simultaneous chatters), but with the shoutbox plugin for WordPress (actually Pierre’s Wordspew, which is a modified version of the Jaleneck AJAX Shoutbox), it’s totally free. Here’s what the message window part looks like:

sample virtual chat

I set the reload time to 0.1 seconds (from 4 seconds originally), and didn’t experience any hanging or waiting issues. Plus no one had to sign in. You just pick your name in a little box above the send window, and voila. I also modified the CSS of the chat box so that it would fit on a page rather than a sidebar. (The original shoutbox is styled like the image below.)original shoutbox

However, that said, a meeting is a meeting. If you aren’t prepared, or if no one has an answer to anything, or if there are some unsolvable issues that will be difficult, the meeting is going to be just as frustrating online as in person. However, virtual meetings have several added handicaps:

  1. You can’t always detect sarcasm.
  2. Sometimes someone sends a message that interrupts the flow of a conversation. If someone keeps switching topics or going off course, it can be detrimental to the conversation’s flow.
  3. It’s also annoying when someone just starts lurking, like they’re watching TV while they chat or something.

However, virtual meetings have advantages:

  1. It’s an easy way to assemble remotely located people.
  2. You have a transcript of everything said.
  3. People who are shy in person can voice themselves in writing.

This Thursday at 7 p.m. we’re going to have a fun member meeting (not an administrative issue meeting). All members and non-members of the Suncoast chapter (Tampa Bay, Florida area) are invited. Others can listen in I suppose. I’ll also post a transcript of the meeting afterwards. Overall, I’m pretty excited about virtual meetings. If you can type fast, and you have remotely located members, it works quite well. I’m hoping it will appeal to all those members who aren’t coming out to the in-person meetings.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), API documentation (code examples, programming), and web publishing (web platforms, interactivity) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS, email, or another method. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

7 thoughts on “My First Virtual Administrative Meeting

  1. Pingback: I’d Rather Be Writing » 37 Signals, To Do Lists — Printable To Do List To Get Organized

  2. Rhonda

    Hi Tom

    We used chat software for all executive meetings of the Australia Chapter of STC when I was on the committee, and I suspect they still do. The Australia Chapter covers an entire continent, as big as the continental US, so virtual meetings were a necessity, not a ‘nice to have’. With chat software, we could have executive committee members living around the country and not be forced into having the committee from one city only (as used to happen way back when before the internet in other organisations I belonged to).

    I agree with your summation though – preparedness for the meeting (virtual or face-to-face) is essential, as is the ability to follow various threads as people respond at slightly different times. One thing I did find though, was that sometimes we went off on tangents – but as with a face-to-face meeting, it was the responsbility of the Chair to bring it back to the topic. Some Chairs are good about this; others aren’t. It’s just perhaps more obvious in a virtual meeting.

    Having a full transcript was good too – no more ‘he said, she said’ summations of what was or wasn’t agreed.

    Glad to see that WordPress has this facility now – is it only for the downloadable WordPress or for any sites on WordPress.com?

  3. Tom

    Rhonda,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with virtual meetings. Do you remember what chat software you used?

    The chat/shoutbox isn’t available for WordPress.com — just for the own WordPress sites you host (WordPress.org). However, if you’ve been thinking of switching to a self-hosted site, the latest version of WordPress has an import feature to import your posts from WordPress.com sites.

    That’s cool that you used virtual meetings in Australia. I can see how they would be absolutely essential when everyone lives so far away. I live close to the people I was chatting with, but it would have still taken me an hour and a half in driving time.

  4. Rhonda

    Hi Tom

    It was something called BlueChat – basically like MIRC or other IRC programs. I think it’s been around for quite some time and pre-dates many current chat programs. It uses Perl. Some details available from http://www.bluesparks.com/ A quick search opn Google came up with other apps of the same name, but these are used for Bluetooth-enabled devices.

    I know the Australia Chapter used BlueChat or MIRC or similar long before I was a member of the executive (I joined around 2003).

  5. Pingback: Why Have Adminstrative Meetings - Dogpile Web Search

  6. video instant messenger

    Thanks for sharing you unbelievable experience!Sounds like you enjoyed it and were totally satisfied!I never tried it myself!By i am planning to make one online meeting very soon, therefore i am gathering info about it!

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