Virtual meetings play a key part in the lives of modern-day team leaders and managers. It’s essential that they can confidently handle remote teams and enable them to hold effective conference calls, audio conferences, and online meetings.
Over the last few months, the number of virtual meetings has increased significantly. It’s no longer a case of the odd conference call now and again – now it’s the norm for meetings to be held this way. This is due, in part, to the rise in new telephony technology, including the VoIP phone (voice over internet protocol) and shared computer screens.
The accelerated impetus towards virtual meetings, however, is down to the recent virus crisis. It’s seen the trend in telecommuting goes through the roof. And now that we’re all used to remote working, 60% of all adult workers say they’d like things to continue this way.
In this post, we’ll outline six factors that will help you run effective meetings when face-to-face communication isn’t an option.
1. Preparation is crucial
Online meetings need preparation. And that doesn’t just mean setting up the technology. It means the following:
- Making it clear what the meeting is about
- Setting objectives
- Creating a timed agenda
- Having clearly defined roles; e.g., a facilitator, timekeeper, and note-taker
- Agreeing on ways of working – for example, mute microphones when not speaking
- Agreeing on the ways in which actions are recorded, communicated, and followed up
It’s also a good idea to set strict time limits. Time-capping a teleconference significantly boosts productivity and helps you make the most of the time allotted. For example, set a time limit of 30 minutes for a meeting with ten minutes allocated per agenda item. And be strict about setting a clear agenda. Meetings that only have a ‘vague purpose’ are doomed to failure.
Try not to hold meetings that are over an hour in duration and break the meeting up into blocks of 15 minutes if possible, to keep attendees energized. This can be a good opportunity for participants to engage informally – or grab a cup of tea.
Prepare a clear agenda with all key issues included, along with what’s expected of each attendee in the meeting. Send this out early, at least 24 hours before the meeting starts, and ask recipients to acknowledge they’ve seen it. Setting automated meeting reminders, such as those possible via scheduling software, is a good way to make sure everyone is prepared for the meeting.
Ask participants to restart their computers shortly before the meeting and ensure both audio and video are connected.
2. Keep participants engaged
It can be difficult to keep virtual attendees engaged as it’s tough to translate the energy and insights that come from face-to-face meetings into the digital realm. Some thought must go into this aspect of your online meetings. Plus, it’s especially hard to stop people from multitasking as they’re sitting at their desks.
To keep participants motivated, meetings should be kept as short as possible with just the necessary people present. It can help to plan an icebreaker session pre-meeting as a way to dissolve some of the awkwardness of meeting online, or you could start the meeting with a remote team building activity or short, interactive quiz.
Don’t allow any one person – manager or non-manager – to dominate proceedings. This won’t inspire enthusiasm from the rest of the team. Each person – both extroverts and introverts – should be encouraged to offer their opinions. You want the meeting to be as interactive as possible.
Minimize distractions that can lead to miscommunication. Make sure participants are sitting in well lit, closed environments with a clear background. It may be better to use headphones and a collar mic rather than a laptop’s mic to make sure communication is clear.
Build-in time for networking
In a live meeting, time is often set aside for networking, and participants often make useful connections by chatting to others. Aim to build in some breakout sessions where attendees can enjoy some social interaction or ‘watercooler’ moments.
3. Make sure you’re using the right technology
There are many SaaS products on the market designed to facilitate virtual meetings. Look out for the following when selecting the right one:
- Make sure your meetings software solution can accommodate the number of participants. If you’re planning a one to one meeting, a standard video calling solution will suffice. But when there are multiple attendees, it’s better to use a more specialized application. Some tools can allow you to host virtual conferences of hundreds – even thousands of attendees.
- Ask yourself which functions you really need. The effective tools for smaller meetings may not be as relevant in a larger meeting – or for when you’re running a meeting that’s spread across different time zones. It can also help to opt for a system that offers screen share or group messaging.
- If participants join the conference via several types of devices, you’ll need a software solution that supports this.
- To save someone having to take copious notes throughout the meeting, you can also use the best call center software that enables you to record the meeting – ready to share later.
This helps keep tasks and topics top of mind and reinforces certain issues that some participants may have overlooked. Whichever type of video conferencing solution you choose, make sure it is secure and has end-to-end encryption as standard.
4. Make the meeting convenient
A key benefit of an online meeting vs. a face-to-face meeting is that no-one has to book a flight or hotel to take part in. Attendees can join in from wherever they’re located. Even so, there’s still the problem of different time zones. If the meeting is to be held on a regular basis – e.g., a monthly team meet-up – change the timing of the meeting on a rotational basis.
That way, everyone has to experience a level of inconvenience – but not too often. It’s unfair to ask certain team members to regularly get up early or go to bed late just to attend. And make sure you advertise your meeting well in advance to avoid conflicting schedules.
Another layer of convenience is to make it easy to join the meeting. Ensure you give out proper guidance and information so that participants can use the technology and know-how to dial in.
Looking to the future, AI conferencing technology looks set to take cross-continent online meetings to another level convenience-wise – with the ability to translate speech into other languages in real-time, among other developments.
5. Know how to troubleshoot
Just as a PowerPoint presentation can fail during a live meeting, things can go wrong during a virtual one. To keep things on track when they start to go wrong, make sure you do the following:
- Commit to waiting just three minutes after the start time of the meeting before commencing. Mute late entrants to avoid them derailing your meeting.
- Ask someone to moderate any emails from those who can’t connect. Unfortunately, they can’t join, but it mustn’t distract the host. Let them know you will send them a meeting summary after the event or get in touch with them directly with a meeting update.
- Have a co-host. This means someone will be able to monitor engagement while the host is speaking.
- Know who to contact in the event of any technical issues.
6. Make sure you follow up
At the end of a meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to add their thoughts. Summarize the key points and next steps. Then follow up immediately while the meeting is still fresh in attendees’ minds.
For a meeting to be effective, everyone needs to leave with a clear objective. They need to understand what key deliverables have been set and what the next steps are. They need to be clear around deadlines and when the next meeting will take place.
It’s also polite for the meeting host to check in with attendees to find out how they felt the meeting went. This can be done via a quick chat or by sending out a feedback survey. Either option can provide useful insights into what needs to be changed next time.
After the meeting, send all participants the notes or a link to the recording.
From banks and government agencies to IT and pharmaceutical companies, all organizations need to have the ability to host successful virtual meetings.
A modern-day project manager no longer has responsibility for hosting a few virtual events but multiple meetings every week of the year. And as in any meeting scenario – whether live or online – there will be pitfalls and challenges to overcome by both the presenter and the audience.
Preparation is key in technical terms and creates an effective meeting environment where active participation is encouraged. Team leaders also need to be prepared for the unexpected to host a successful virtual meeting and know how to troubleshoot issues quickly, so the meeting isn’t derailed.