2020 will go down as the year virtual meetings take center stage. As concerns over COVID-19 continue, companies are reevaluating large gatherings and are instead meeting in the virtual world to conduct their businesses.
Executed well, virtual meetings can enable geographically dispersed teams to collaborate, solve problems, and get work done as a group. Inefficient meetings, however, become a waste of time, leading to unproductive and disengaged employees.
Leaders must consider the unique challenges of virtual communication to get the most out of their teams at every meeting. Below are some best practices for planning a successful virtual meeting.
Tip #1: Set a plan
This is true for any meeting but even more pertinent when you have attendees calling in from various locations.
For every virtual meeting, it’s important to have a plan beforehand so attendees know what to expect and how they can contribute to the conversation. Here are some key best practices:
- Share your agenda ahead of time: Send the agenda to attendees well before the meeting, so they have clear expectations of what to prepare. Provide details in your email invite about key talking points and any relevant documents, files, or research you’ll be referring to during the meeting.
- If applicable, provide attendees with the opportunity to view the document or add comments before the meeting: Give everyone equal opportunity to contribute to the meeting. You can do so through document management tools like Google Drive. Whether it’s a slideshow, video, or annual report, using file-sharing tools like Dropbox and Box will ensure everyone is in the loop.
- Provide expectations for how the virtual space will be managed: Ensure all attendees are on the same page about how the virtual meeting will be conducted. For example, should attendees mute their videos while others are speaking? Is a discussion expected or is the meeting mainly led by the presenter?
Tip #2: Schedule ahead of time
Coordinating times for attendees who are on different schedules and time zones can be challenging. Below are some recommendations for ensuring everyone is on the same scheduling page:
- Pick time frames that work for everyone’s time zone: For example, if you are expecting attendees in New York and London, an ideal time to schedule meetings would be 10 a.m. in New York and 1 p.m. in London.
- Use tools that help you choose the right time frame: Figuring out who is available at what times can be confusing. Rather than let time zones get the better of you, consider using appointment scheduling software to help with automatic time zone detection of all attendees.
- Schedule meetings in advance: The more heads up attendees have ahead of meetings, the less likely they will have scheduling conflicts. If you have to schedule a last minute meeting, make sure to check that all attendees have time blocks open.
Tip #3: Establish etiquette for virtual meetings
Practicing proper etiquette sets the stage for a seamless and productive virtual meeting. Here are some helpful etiquettes for hosts and participants to establish prior to every virtual meeting to ensure a smooth meeting experience:
- Test all technology prior to the meeting: Check your meeting connections in advance. This includes your video, Wi-Fi, and screen sharing capabilities. When possible, establish the connection about ten minutes before the meeting begins.
- Meet face-to-face on video: Ensure that every member at the virtual meeting can see one another. 55% of communication is body language, while another 38% is tone of voice, according to research. Meeting face-to-face on video is much more personal than meeting with a disembodied voice on the phone, and it helps build more of a rapport too. It also allows participants to pick up on body language and cues, such as when someone has finished speaking or if they are just taking a pause.
- Set aside all distractions: As many as 83% of attendees say they checked their email at an in-person meeting or presentation—and that’s with other guests in the room to hold them accountable. Remind attendees to give their full attention to participants and reduce distractions like email and text messages during the meeting.
Tip #4: Keep participants engaged
All scheduling and planning are for naught if your audience isn’t engaged. Here are our recommendations for keeping your team present and engaged for a virtual meeting:
- Give space for casual conversation: Don’t be too quick to quash small talk that naturally happens at the start of a meeting. It gives remote teams the chance to connect on a personal level before getting down to business—the same as they would in person.
- Introduce methods to drive participation: Encourage everyone to act like they are in the front row by creating opportunities for participation. For example, participants can be given a chance to submit questions well before the start of the virtual meeting. If necessary, you can also implement a poll or encourage more questions over live chat.
- Ask questions frequently: Check in constantly throughout the meeting to give participants a chance to share and make sure they’re following. Instead of asking open-ended questions, be explicit in what you’re asking. For example, instead of “What do you think of this tool?” you should instead opt for: “Do you think this tool will help with productivity?”
Tip #5: Follow up
Just like an in-office meeting, the discussion that follows at the water cooler can be just as telling as the session itself. Here’s what you can do to ensure communication is clear and there’s no confusion:
- Conclude with a water cooler conversation: About five to ten minutes before the meeting ends, ask your team if they have any further questions or concerns. This is when participants are open to share their reservations or doubts.Summarize and debrief with your team after: You can do so with a follow-up email both about what was covered at the meeting, what key decisions were made, and what actions are required of your team.
- Ask how the meeting could’ve been better: Take stock yourself. What worked? What fell short? You don’t have to apply all of the above principles in these less formal sessions, but taking the time to honestly listen, assess, and revise will ensure the most successful meetings in the future.
Choose the right software for your virtual meeting
The key is determining which of these tools are the right fit for your team. When choosing tools, ask yourself:
- What is the key functionality my virtual meeting needs to be successful? For example, do you need everyone to work collaboratively on a document at the same time? Then Google Docs is the likely solution. Do you need team members to view a demo in real time? Then screen sharing software is for you.
- What is the average number of participants in your virtual meeting? The meeting software you’ll need for a one-on-one virtual meeting can differ widely to one that allows you to host a meeting with over 15 employees. Make sure the web conference or meeting conference you’re considering provides that flexibility.
What’s your virtual meeting strategy?
Tell us about your virtual meeting strategy. What are some best practices you can share for holding successful virtual meetings? What is the best way to connect attendees in different rooms or different continents? Share in the comments below.