With so many of us now working remote, virtual meetings have become pretty commonplace. However, despite this huge boom in virtual collaboration and communication, there are still some fundamental dos and don’ts for running great online meetings that are frequently overlooked.
The problem is, when virtual meetings are treated the same way as in-person meetings, assumptions and misunderstandings can much more easily arise. It might also take longer to clearly communicate an issue that in person would need less explanation or clarification. Team members may also be expected to be fluent in digital tools they’ve never seen or used before.
When these potential issues are not taken into account, team motivation for the project or subject can quickly evaporate. What would normally take half an hour can drag on into an endless video call that no one wants to be in.
In order to help you get the results you need from your online meetings, and make them much more fun to boot, we’ll be running through our essential tips and tricks for effective virtual meetings. With these techniques, you’ll enjoy smoother interactions, engaged and active participation from your team members, and get the outcomes you need. Combined with the right digital meeting and workshop tools, the perfect agenda, and honed online communication skills, you’ll be wowing colleagues with your virtual meetings in no time.
Let’s dive in!
Tip 1 - Set the ground rules for your virtual meeting
No one likes to be the rule maker, but if you want your online meetings to run smoothly you’re going to need some basic rules to ensure all participants have the same expectations for the meeting and know what will be required of them personally. Depending on your industry and the focus of the meeting, you’ll have your own preferences for what these ground rules might be, but here are a few of the rules that we always abide by:
- No interruptions when others are speaking
- Video is on and audio is muted when each team member joins the meeting
- Use the chat box or raise your hand to ask questions
- Be on time
- Audio is muted unless you are the one talking
- No other devices are allowed (put your phone away for the duration of the meeting)
- Focus on the meeting (email can wait!)
To avoid any nasty surprises or unprepared team mates, send around your list of rules for the meeting in advance, along with the agenda. If it’s a recurring meeting, you’ll only have to do this once, however you can ask the team if there’s anything they want to add to the list once you’ve had a few meetings.
Tip 2 - Prepare a great virtual meeting agenda
Although we’ve probably all done it at some point, winging it is never a good idea when it comes to hosting a virtual meeting. Get your team excited and prepared for your meeting ahead of time by creating an agenda.
- Include a 5-minute slot at the start of your meeting to check how everyone is doing or to run a quick icebreaker activity. With so much remote work, some social interaction at the start of a meeting can be a real boost to morale.
- Remember to include time slots in your agenda for team member responses to topics, as this lets the team know that they will get a chance to give their thoughts and feedback on a subject. This lessens the likelihood of interruptions or a build up of frustration.
- Send your agenda around ahead of time so that participants can prepare for the meeting, and potentially come up with their own ideas or solutions to key challenges.
- Include a list of the digital tools you’ll be using in the meeting to give participants time to familiarize themselves with them beforehand and if necessary create logins.
Tip 3 - Get help from a co-facilitator
Organizing and hosting an effective virtual meeting or online workshop can be a lot of work for one person, especially if it’s a company-wide meeting or a workshop involving more than one team.
Offload some of the work of managing these meetings by delegating tasks and responsibilities to different members of the team. An additional benefit of doing this is if they’ve had a hand in helping to organize it, it’ll increase their engagement and sense of accountability during the meeting, too!
Some roles you might want to assign include:
- A note taker so that everyone has notes to refer back to after the meeting
- A co-host in case your technology fails or you need to quickly bow out
- A timekeeper to keep everyone on schedule
- A chat moderator to manage the chat box and flag any key issues to the meeting host
Get an introduction to facilitation and workshops
Tip 4 - Keep the virtual meeting short
Staying focused and engaged during a virtual meeting takes considerably more work than its offline equivalent, for both participants and host. Distractions–kids, pets, chores–are all around us when we work remotely and when we’re in a Zoom call it can be hard to ignore the list of work to-dos that we’re itching to get ticked off.
For all of these reasons, try to keep your meetings as short as humanly possible. Anything that can be followed up afterwards via email or Slack should be, and lengthy conversations should be avoided at all costs. If a topic pops up that requires a more in-depth discussion, schedule it for another time and when doing so only invite the team members who would specifically benefit from it.
We’d recommend trying to keep your virtual meetings to under 45 minutes, however if a longer meeting is absolutely necessary, schedule in short breaks to keep attendees refreshed and energized.
Tip 5 - Mix and match your digital facilitation tools
Depending on the sort of meeting you want to run, you’ll need to experiment with different sets of digital tools and platforms to find the right combination for your purpose. Here are some the things that digital tools can help with:
- Sharing documents or ideas
- Taking notes
- Planning the meeting itself
- Creating and sharing surveys
- Designing and doodling
- Presenting work and slideshares
- Recording the meeting
- Managing and delegating tasks
- Online communication
Take a look at our list of digital tools for online workshops and meetings to get an idea of the technology available and how different tools can help you. Don’t be afraid to mix and match the tools you need that best serve your purpose. If you can, and it makes sense, sharing your screen is always a good idea. But keep it moving! You’ll find your attendees are more engaged and less likely to try to multitask when they have something to follow.
Learn to confidently facilitate any meeting or workshop
Tip 6 - Test your virtual meeting setup
Like most things in life, practice makes perfect. In the case of virtual meetings, you’ll likely be utilizing tools and technology you’ve not used before, which is why it’s even more important to have a runthrough before the meeting itself.
- Ask a friend or family member to do a rehearsal of the call using the video conferencing software you’ve decided on to check the quality of its audio, video, screen sharing capabilities, and general ease of use.
- Try out different laptop positions to ensure visibility, minimal background noise, and a strong internet connection.
- Check that those brainstorming or problem-framing exercises you came up with for in-person meetings translate well to a virtual setting.
- Practice running through the whole agenda with a colleague to ensure you’ve allocated enough time for each segment.
Tip 7 - Be physically aware!
When working or interacting online, it’s easy to forget the importance of body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. However, how we choose to speak and hold ourselves in an online setting is just as important as how we conduct ourselves in person. When we pay attention to some of the basics of our physical presence during a virtual meeting, our communication is improved and other participants are more likely to remain engaged and enthusiastic.
Look into the camera
Looking into the camera may feel a bit unnatural, but this is the online equivalent of making eye contact with your colleagues, and an extremely important technique for holding their attention.
Sit up straight! Even on a video call, good posture makes you appear more energetic and self-confident, while slouching comes across very negatively.
Employ vocal variety
Avoid monotone and definitely avoid monologues: using vocal variety will not only make you sound more human, it opens up discussion and boosts engagement, too.
Animate your face and body
Just because you’re doing a virtual meeting doesn’t mean you’re a robot. The more human you are in your gestures and facial expressions, the more relatable you are to your team, and the more comfortable they feel about contributing to the meeting or expressing their opinions.
Tip 8 - Turn your mic off when you’re not talking!
Did we say that already? And, yes, we mean you!
If you’d like more tips, tricks, ideas, and techniques for running fantastic virtual meetings or workshops, check out some of our other posts on the subject: