From business calls to happy hours, more and more of our communication is taking place virtually. As great as the technology that connects us is, it also adds an extra level of complexity to our interactions. What once was just gathering people in a conference room is now connecting cameras and microphones, toggling a mute button, and hoping your kids and pets stay quiet while you’re talking. We can’t help with the last part, but we can help you host productive virtual meetings to impress coworkers and clients alike.
Before the Meeting
As with almost anything in life, the more prepared you are for a meeting, the better the meeting will be. With virtual meetings, the need for preparation is tenfold.
Create an Agenda
Before you schedule your meeting, you need to determine what you will cover during your meeting and what you hope to accomplish. Some questions to ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of the meeting? What do I hope to accomplish?
- What items do we need to cover during the meeting, and how long do I expect each topic to take?
- Do I need to meet more than once to accomplish my goal? If the topics to be covered will take more than 1.5 hours, the answer is likely yes.
- Am I the one leading the meeting? Do I need anyone else to lead a portion of the meeting?
The agenda should be a guide for how long the meeting will last in total and can help ensure that the correct attendees are invited and prepped accordingly.
Test Your Technology
If possible, test your technology ahead of time. Check to be sure your background is clear and work appropriate for video calls. Adjust your camera angle and lighting in your environment so you are clear and visible. Test audio devices like headsets or headphones for sound quality. Check your internet connection for proper speed; anything under 20 megabits per second is likely to lead to pixilation and audio delays. Troubleshoot any issues before your meeting to save yourself and your attendees a wasted hour.
Log in Early
Do not use valuable time in your meeting to set up technology or open files you may need. Log in to the meeting early to set up any devices you may be using, such as a headset or web cam, and check their connections. Open all files or windows you expect to use during the meeting, so they are easily accessible.
During the Meeting
As the host, it is your responsibility to actively drive the meeting, even if you are not the “owner” of the agenda items. You will set the tone for the pace of the meeting, the discussion topics, and the action items and takeaways.
Encourage Video Participation – If Necessary
Web cams are a great way to stay connected to your team when working remotely. Seeing other participants, even over video, lets you read body language and build rapport that leads to increased productivity and engagement. However, understand that not everyone will be comfortable appearing on video. From clearing backgrounds to testing technology to making arrangements for kids or pets, video calls involve more for participants than one might think. Only push for video appearances if it is critical to the success of the meeting. Be understanding if it is not.
Manage the meeting
Once the meeting has begun, one of the most important roles of the host is to moderate. Without the visual cues that indicate when someone wants to speak, it can be difficult for participants to know when it is “their turn” to talk and when others have finished their thoughts. The agenda you created initially can be particularly helpful in guiding the conversation through these moments.
As you come to each topic, be clear on to whom you are directing comments or questions. Allow each participant to speak without interruption by discouraging side conversations or those that may interject. When speaking up or answering questions, a helpful rule of thumb is to wait 2-3 seconds after someone has finished speaking to make sure they are finished with their thought.
Monitor the Chat
In most, if not all, virtual meeting software, all meetings will have an accompanying chat. All participants of the meeting are automatically added to the chat and able to view messages within. As the host, either you or someone you designate should keep the chat open and monitor it throughout the meeting. Participants may use the chat to ask questions or alert you to technology issues.
Turn Off Notifications
This is particularly important if you will be screensharing or speaking for a long period of time. As emails or chats come in, you don’t want them to pop up on your screen or make a notification sound that detracts from the meeting. The lack of outside distraction allows you to give your full attention to the meeting at hand, making it more productive.
Only Troubleshoot for Two Minutes
Even with preparation, there is always the potential for technology issues to arise in virtual meetings. If there are audio or video connectivity issues, do not spend more than two minutes troubleshooting. This wastes valuable meeting time. Instead, have a backup plan ready to go. For audio issues, have participants call into a conference line instead of the meeting software audio through a computer. For issues with screensharing, send the documents or links directly to the participant and be clear about what you are reviewing while they follow along.
Ending the Meeting
Finally, whether it is in-person or virtual, take care to end the meeting efficiently. As the host, make sure it does not run over the allotted time. Summarize key points that were discussed and what action items need to be done by whom. Share any meeting notes or follow up items within 24 hours of the meeting. Most importantly, make sure you are completely disconnected from the call before carrying on with your day.
Read more helpful do’s and don’ts for virtual meetings here.