Executive Director’s Message: Making the Most of Virtual Meetings
And Texas Section Operations Updates
by Lindsay O’Leary PE, CAE | Executive Director, ASCE Texas Section
ASCE Texas Section’s volunteer leaders and staff team had a great first quarter, working on many exciting projects. A wide variety of educational programs are underway to meet the needs of members; and the recently released 2021 Texas Infrastructure Report Card educates the public and elected officials about the condition of our state’s critical infrastructure systems. Both the Texas and National Infrastructure Report Cards were strategically timed to guide the conversations of the 87th Texas Legislature and 117th United States Congress. Civil Engineers are eagerly learning more about the $2.25 T American Jobs Plan —understanding passing proposals can take several months. Plan highlights related to ASCE priorities include $621 B in transportation infrastructure and resilience, $111 B to rebuild drinking water infrastructure, and $100 B for power infrastructure. Additionally, President Biden would like to reach 100% high-speed broadband coverage and make such coverage affordable. We can look forward to updates from the Texas Section’s Government Affairs Committee and ASCE’s Government Relations on this vital topic.
I’m happy to share two matters just for Texas Civil Engineer readers: an update on Texas Section operations and tips for keeping attendees engaged in virtual meetings.
TEXAS SECTION OPERATIONS
The Texas Section held a first-ever hybrid Board Meeting on March 26, 2021 [Online experience screenshots below]. Board of Direction members had the option of joining in-person in Frisco or online via Zoom. A small group was able to attend in-person and BGE, Inc. generously lent us their large meeting room for the day. Although we missed having everyone in the same room, the virtual attendance option resulted in great participation by members across the state and beyond! President Sean P. Merrell PE, PTOE, RAS, F.ASCE invited ASCE’s Technical Region Director Candidates, Daniel F. Becker, M.ASCE (Washington) and Yinhai Wang PhD, PE, F.ASCE (Washington) to address members. During the meeting, we received an update from ASCE Region 6 Director Jerry Paz PE (New Mexico) who encouraged Branches to apply for the Region 6 Grant Program and asked all members to continue promoting Dream Big, now available on Netflix.
Treasurer Chris Nance PE lead an important discussion on membership dues during the Board meeting. Chris is charged with leading the Section’s Budget & Finance Committee and tracking the ASCE Texas Section’s Operating Budget. The FY2020-2021 Operating Budget is $620,000, with membership dues being the largest revenue category. Drafting, approving, and balancing the annual budget is no easy task. Over the last several years, the Board approved use of the Texas Section’s investment account to balance the budget. The Board and Budget & Finance Committee continue to consult with the Texas Section’s Financial Advisor regarding growth within our investment account and recommendations for limiting withdraws concurrent with recognized fund growth. With the uncertainty of membership numbers and overall economic impact of the pandemic, Texas Section leaders established a conservative approach for FY2020-2021. Following the Board meeting, the Budget & Finance Committee will continue to evaluate dues revenue and plans are underway in junction with the Membership Committee to weigh the value proposition of membership. I invite you to share your thoughts on membership dues and member benefits. Send me an email at [email protected] or give me a call at 512-472-8905 and I’ll pass along your feedback to the Budget & Finance Committee.
In other operational news, I’m happy to work with President Merrell on his goals for the 2020-2021 fiscal year: Adapt, Achieve, & Advance. He is directing the work of the Board, focusing on governance and strategic direction, while I oversee the Section’s day-to-day operations and administration. I am also excited about the work the Section staff team is doing with President Elect Patrick Beecher PE to plan for Leadership Development Weekend 2021 this summer. The Section’s leadership team is dedicated to advancing members, moving them forward faster in their careers.
Last but not least, I’m happy to share Section Communications Specialist Jenni Peters earned her Certification Association Executive (CAE) credential. The CAE is the highest professional credential in the association industry. The Section couldn’t be as successful as it is without Jenni’s dedicated support.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS: HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS
As Executive Director, I have the unique opportunity to be a part of numerous board and committee meetings of various sizes and formats. I also have the pleasure of attending meetings with agency leaders and legislators. Over the past year, all these meetings have been virtual. I’m happy to share a few of tips to help ensure meeting attendees are engaged in a virtual environment.
Holding an engaging meeting takes some effort. It requires pre-meeting planning and while that requires more of your time, increased attendee engagement will provide a significant return on the time investment in the long run.
- Provide the Agenda. Send an agenda before the meeting, even if brief. This will help shy or analytical engineers prepare. Some attendees feel more comfortable thinking about what they might say ahead of time. An agenda also conveys the purpose of the meeting, helping attendees to understand what the meeting hopes to accomplish – and they see it’s worth their time. (An agenda is key to a successful meeting, learn more here.)
- Ask for Help. Just because you are the host of a meeting, that doesn’t mean you have to do ALL the prep work. Leverage your team’s skills. Have a team member who’s great at asking questions? Give them a call or send them a note before the meeting, tasking them to help new or shy team members find their voice during the meeting.
- This is especially helpful if you plan to use breakout features (more on that, below)
- Sometimes leaders need a gentle reminder that one of their responsibilities is to develop new leaders. You asking for help often encourages others to ask questions as well. They might have shied away from asking those questions without you starting the open dialogue.
- Be aware of your on-screen presence. Don’t shift or slouch, try a standing desk. Be sure to vary your voice – the pitch, volume, and rate – to avoid being monotone. Keep a soft smile… or go big! Look towards the camera to simulate the appearance of making eye contact. If you can’t turn your camera on, share a smiling profile photo. Check your lighting and your background, in case any last-minute adjustments or tidying is needed.
- Have an Icebreaker. As cliché as it may seem, introductions and icebreakers really do help attendees find their voice. Ask attendees to introduce themselves at the start of each meeting and to share a fun fact about themselves. This is especially important when meeting with a new team for the first time and when meeting with attendees from multiple locations.
- Quick Icebreaker Ideas: Where would you go for your dream vacation? This allows attendees to discover common interests. What’s your name? What’s an animal that you like which starts with the first letter of your name? – Lindsay. Lizards. (Yes, lizards. I also like snakes.)
- Leverage Technology. If your virtual meeting software can accommodate breakouts, use that feature! Breaking into smaller groups (3 to 5 attendees) for 10 to 15 minutes is a wonderful way to encourage brainstorming and collaboration. After the breakout session ends, ask one person from each small group to report back to the larger group. Using breakout features is a great way for meeting attendees to get to know each other too.
- Call on People. Teachers have been doing this forever, for a reason. It works! Trust me, if you start calling on attendees at random to ask for their input during a meeting, everyone will pay attention.
- Try something like, “Sean, I’d love to get your feedback on these options. Do you see any possible roadblocks given the schedule?”
- You can also provide homework assignments for meeting attendees, then go around the “room” at the start of each meeting and request a brief report on their assignment.
- Thank Attendees & Review Benefits of Participating. Thank all attendees before adjourning the meeting. Everyone’s time is valuable and their contributions to the team are appreciated. For meetings with volunteers, you might also remind them of the benefits related to the meeting and the work undertaken. ASCE Texas Section members are leaders, building better communities across the street and around the world. And developing relationships across the state is helpful now and for years to come.
- Never underestimate the significance of keeping the team morale high!