Jobien Hekking is the founder and CEO of Brainy Bunch. Brainy Bunch’s mission is to help organisations run online meetings that achieve much higher levels of effectiveness and which, at the same time, are much more enjoyable.
Yes, you’ve read that right. Enjoyable! In this interview, we’re speaking about how to tap into the creativity and potential of every single participant in an online meeting in order to increase the level of energy and effectiveness of online meetings to unprecedented levels.
Michael Gerharz: What’s so special about your events that you manage to get these high levels of energy that your participants report after the events?
Jobien Hekking: Well, what’s different about our offering is that it’s all focused on the connection between the participants.
Everything is aimed towards activating them very often so that they can be truly present and connect to one another so that they learn and they solve the issues that they have at hand. We want everyone to be able to participate and contribute on an equal basis. That makes a world of a difference. People leave the meeting with energy and new insights to follow up on.
Why isn’t that the way that everyone does online meetings? What goes wrong with the usual way of running meetings?
I think that a lot of people struggle with the preparation that is needed to really do this properly.
You do need to prepare the bite-sized info that you are feeding to your audience. You cannot just have a lecture of 20 minutes. You need to think it through. What is it exactly that I want my participants to think about? And what do I need to ask them? And how does that – with all intermediate results – build up to an answer to a central question?
This just doesn’t happen overnight. You need to put thoughts in that and people. And when you have a lot of stakeholders to manage and they have bosses that might want to just send the information and not limit themselves to three minutes, this makes it even more difficult. In essence, it’s just doing things a bit differently. But that takes a lot of courage.
Can you give us a short impression of how can we imagine such a meeting to unfold? For example, how do you specifically manage to keep the boss’ time to its intended length and keep people from just meandering with their thoughts? Or how do you activate people who prefer to stay calm in larger groups of people?
The main thing is to keep knowledge transfer as much out of the meeting as possible. If there is knowledge to be transferred, do that before the meeting starts. For instance, if you want to discuss a vision, you can have well shot interviews with the expert or with the boss who explains what the vision is, or a draft version of it. And then everyone can respond to that before the meeting starts. Or they can think of their questions so that at the meeting, they can start sharing the questions and the facilitator can just ask the speaker to respond to that. This way, you have a nice interaction instead of just a lecture.
Also, using breakout rooms is a great way to make sure that everyone can talk and think at the same time and share their knowledge at the same time.
And when you debrief in the chat or in a harvest document, then you really have everyone on board and they’re so present that they have a very deep and valuable connection and they burst with energy.
To me that sounds a bit like you’ve turned all the disadvantages or prejudices that we’ve had towards online meetings into sort of advantages. You thought deeply about what’s to gain by making the leap from offline to online, things like shooting videos beforehand when we’re looking at video screens anyway or making good use of the fact that it’s quite easy to make frequent exchanges to breakout rooms. So rather than looking at online meetings as a substitute for offline, you took all the things that work really well online to end up with an actually better experience in certain regards.
Exactly. Online meetings are not only very efficient. They can also be much more engaging and much more inclusive than meetings on site.
But I can imagine that despite the remote pandemic world, there exist a lot of prejudices towards online meetings. And now, as things are about to open up again, there might be some doubts whether on site might be just that bit more efficient. Do you face any difficulties in trying to convince people of the advantages and the power, that level of energy and effectiveness that you achieve with online meetings?
A lot of our clients work in the international sphere and travel will be hampered for many months to come, unfortunately. Also, even though we are from a small country, the Netherlands, national meetings also require travel time. And sometimes, it can be very useful to meet online for the reasons I’ve outlined previously. I don’t think online meetings are going away anytime soon.
I’ve also noticed that there is a large interest of people to learn how to do it well.
We will certainly be seeing more on-site meetings as the world opens up. But I think online meetings will remain a very attractive addition. For instance, if you have some onsite meetings in small groups and then you connect to a larger international group online for maybe one hour or two hours, and then you go back to your regional groups again, that can really work very well.
So, if I happen to meet one of my friends who is about to organize a large meeting and you had a wish free for me to pass one thing along to him, what should that be? What should I tell them so that they get totally hooked to that?
Well, challenge them to connect their meeting participants. I think that would be the main thing: to know that it’s not enough to have an online meeting be efficient, but to make it very engaging. Because if you do this well, if you design for that and prepare for that, and if you are willing to take that leap, then you will have so much more results – and better ones, of course. So I would ask you to pass that along.
This is certainly a powerful question: When was the last time that you found an online meeting in a large group of people really engaging and really, really fun to participate? I’m definitely going to ask this one or two friends.
You’re not alone in doing that. You run a company and you have a team of people. What are the roles in that team?
We have facilitators who design the meetings with the client. They can also moderate the meeting if the client wants to focus on the content or have a neutral chair. We have also a team of tech hosts who do everything in the background, like the breakout rooms, e.g. making sure the prompts appear in the chats at the right time.
Then there are tech support people who help the audience with sound and image problems. Finally, we have a team of interpreters who translate in breakout rooms and make people connect who have different language preferences. It’s really a nice team.
A brainy bunch – which is the name of your company. It’s yet another proof that what looks easy on the surface often requires a lot of work and coordination behind the scenes so that everything runs smoothly and the people in the meeting can actually focus on the work rather than the tech.
Exactly. The stronger their presence and focus on the work, the deeper the connection.
You’ve been to my masterclass on Leaders Light The Path. How did that help you to communicate your approach to online meetings?
For me, the main breakthrough was when you invited us to think of the persona as a person of flesh and blood and to really come up with a name. So who is this person? This made me much more vulnerable in my communication because it takes away the abstract persona that I am sort of feeling uncomfortable communicating with.
As soon as it became a real person, I needed to open up and engage in it. It feels more scary in a way, but also more genuine. That really helped me. I don’t know what the effect will be, but I feel more empowered to do so. That’s incredible. Really nice.
Thanks a lot. It’s so tempting to look for fancy ways of phrasing your offering. But it seems that what worked really well for you is sort of the opposite, to make it tangible, to bring it down to a human level so that you speak their language and you use a way of speaking that you would also use in a face-to-face conversation.
That’s true. I also invite people over to our online place. We have a regular workshop for newsletter subscribers or alumni, because we also do training. And then I really meet them and that’s just awesome. They’re just there in the room. That’s something I strive for, to have the screen just fall away – just like now, I feel connected to you. I don’t feel like I’m looking at a screen, but I feel connected.
One of the amazing things that technology has done for us that through a time where we have been physically distanced.
Definitely. What I love is that you can also make this happen in groups, so you can have that group feeling and it works. I can’t really put in words why it works. I really don’t. I just know it does.
It sure shows that this is your heart project – to not make this happen for your clients.
One last question. Who was a leader who lighted the path for you? And in what way?
Oh, to me that’s a very personal question. I don’t have this big leader that everyone knows. For me, it’s someone from my personal sphere who just taught me a lot.
Thanks, Jobien for these great insights into the world of online meetings.
For anyone who wants to level up their online meetings, who looks for better results, more energy, and for meetings that people really look forward to and that they’re eager to join because there’s so much fun and they’re so effective, I strongly encourage you to reach out to Jobien.
It was a pleasure talking to you. Keep lighting the path!