As a marketing agency Account Manager who works remotely from my home office, virtual meetings have become an essential, cost-effective and convenient way to interface with my clients and colleagues, many of whom are scattered throughout the country. By enabling participation from any geographic location (with a stable WiFi connection, of course), it's no secret that conducting meetings virtually drastically reduces business travel expenses – as the costs of flights, accommodations and meals are eliminated entirely.
And who doesn't want to cut down on unnecessary expenditures, right?
But what you might not expect is that virtual meetings can also foster a more productive and inclusive workforce! In fact, studies show that remote employees who leverage virtual meetings can be up to 13% more effective.
That being said, not every screen share or conference call is set up for success. Without the right structure and guidance, a virtual meeting can quickly go awry (perhaps, something a little like this...).
To maximize the virtual conference room experience for each of your meeting attendees and to improve the overall effectiveness of the session, here are a few best practices to follow:
Choosing the right technology is critical.
Skype for Business, Zoom, GoToMeeting and WebEx are all excellent, collaborative virtual video conference platforms that allow participants to share documents, chat and record the meeting. Some solutions also provide customization options you can use to brand the meeting room with your company's logo and colors. What's more, if you're really looking for a sleek, professional and reliable virtual event delivery platform, there are a few on the market that offer self-managed solutions for your internal or external conferencing, webinar, education and training needs. No doubt, we can expect that as the 'virtual workplace' becomes increasingly popular, the number of communication tools and software available will grow in tandem.
- If you're using a new platform, practice makes perfect! Don't forget to review and play around with the various features, functions and navigation before going live.
- As the meeting host, always be the first on the call. Allot a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting for new attendees to download any software that's required to join your meeting, or to work out any technology bugs or connectivity issues they may be experiencing. It can happen to the best of us!
Meeting pre-work is essential.
Creating and sending a defined and detailed meeting agenda (well in advance!) will help keep participants focused and on task. Be sure to attach the agenda when you send the meeting invitation that integrates with the attendee's calendar. If any pre-work or document review needs to be completed before the meeting, make this explicit in your message. Nothing kills a meeting's momentum faster than a lack of participation because nobody's done their homework.
Another good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid presenting new data during the meeting. Again, you're better off sending over important documents several days ahead of time and asking participants to review all materials prior to the meeting, so they can be fully invested in the content and prepared to participate in the conversation.
- When creating your agenda, be sure to tackle important topics at the beginning of the meeting when everyone’s energy levels are high.
- Keep meetings to a reasonable number of attendees so everyone can feel valued and have a chance to contribute without feeling rushed.
Beginning the meeting.
As you prepare to start your virtual meeting, be sure to eliminate any ambient noise. I reiterate that if you happen to be hosting the meeting, you should be the first one signed or dialed into the meeting room. This gives you the opportunity to welcome members as they join and make formal introductions. Keep in mind that some attendees may be joining from their cell phones and can only be identified on your platform's interface as Caller #1 or their phone number itself.
- Ask members to state their name before speaking, even if they've already spoken earlier in the meeting. Particularly when there are lots of attendees on the call or you're conversing with people for the first time, it's easy to confuse one speaker with another.
- To keep phone participants engaged (and to reaffirm that their input matters), ask for their opinion or response first when posing a question to the group. Moreover, you won't accidentally leave them out of the loop!
Facilitating the meeting.
One of the most common virtual meeting challenges is keeping members actively engaged. Yes, we're all super busy at times, and a stagnant virtual meeting may tempt attendees to 'mute' themselves and accomplish other tasks during the meeting—checking their email, text messages, the latest sports scores, Instagram, etc.
You can combat this passive listening by asking members to NOT mute themselves (provided they, too, are in a quiet space) and even by encouraging members to participate via video.
- Another way to keep meeting participants engaged is to leverage the platform's tools and features. In addition to inviting the verbal sharing of ideas, ask attendees to type questions or answers into the chat pane, assign members tasks, or utilize interactive polls. An appropriate goal is to have 80% of your meeting be interactive and 20% of it require passive participation.
That’s a wrap!
Before finishing up a meeting, always take a few minutes to summarize what’s been covered. Everyone will feel better about the time they spend on a call if there is a mutual sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps what's even more important is to assign next steps – or any action items that need to be taken care of by the members on the call. If possible, set the date and time for the next meeting while everyone is still present. And finally, after the meeting be sure to send out notes to all participants, recapping those same action items and providing further instruction.
- For more practical tips you can use to strengthen the performance of your virtual teams, check out this book: Leading Effective Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Distance to Achieve Exceptional Results, written by Guided Insights Principal Nancy Settle-Murphy. It's terrific!
Have any other suggestions for making the most of your virtual meetings? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.