Entire books have been written about doing better virtual meetings. Heck, I’ve written two of them myself, but if there was a simple list of things you can do better, it might look like this:
- Clearly identify your objective and desired outcome. Form follows function, and knowing what you want to achieve will determine which tools you use and what form your meeting will take. If you can’t clearly state the objective and what you want to achieve, you’re not ready to meet yet.
- Learn and use the features of your meeting platform that will help you achieve your goals. 80% of people use only 20% of the features of meeting platforms. Consider what tools you’d use in a traditional, in-purpose meeting such as whiteboards/flip charts, discussion, and sharing content visually. Then think about the features available like webcams, screen sharing, chat, polling and whiteboards. If you don’t know how to use those features, learn and practice. They will add value to your meetings.
- An agenda will make a huge difference, and there are 5 parts to a great agenda. If people don’t know why they are meeting, aren’t prepared, and aren’t sure how to contribute and add value, there is no way to ensure good outcomes. The five parts of an effective agenda are:
- The logistics- How will people connect to the meeting? Put any links or connecting information in the meeting invitation so people can access it using any platform
- The purpose of the meeting- If people don’t know why they are meeting, it’s hard to hold them accountable. Clearly stating the purpose of a meeting gives you a set of rails to run on, allowing you to keep the meeting on task.
- The desired outcome- A specific, clearly defined outcome makes it easier to manage time, avoid getting sidetracked, and measure the success of your meetings.
- The expectations of participants- People will behave in ways that are expected and inspected. If you expect all participants to participate in a meeting, are those expectations clear and explicit?
- The material and preparation needed for success- Participants must have access to relevant materials in sufficient time to be prepared for the meeting. Send links to the content inside the meeting invitation than as attachments.
- Open the call by re-stating the objective, desired outcome and expectations. If everyone hears and agrees to the rules, it’s easier for people to be accountable for reaching the goal together.
- Don’t mute the audience on entry unless the audience is too large. Give people the chance to contribute, greet each other and chat just like they would in an in-person meeting. You’d be surprised how much difference it makes in building relationships and helping people connect.
- Build in chances to interact, in a variety of ways. People can’t sit for long periods of time, staring at a screen, then leap into action when the speaker is finished. That’s why “hold your questions ‘til the end” doesn’t work. Check in with your participants for understanding, allow questions in the moment when you can, and let them participate both verbally by unmuting their microphones, but using chat, polling and other alternatives.
- Give people enough time to respond when you ask for input. One of the most common mistakes people make on meetings is to not give enough time for people to respond. When you ask for questions or input, be silent for five full seconds. This is also known as the “5 Hippopotamus Rule.”
- Solicit the help of your team to make the meeting work. It is very difficult to lead a meeting, listen to answers, write on the board, scan the chat and watch the clock. That’s why we don’t do it as well as we should. By enlisting the help of others to watch the time, serve as note taker, or handle whiteboard duties while you focus on facilitating the discussion, you can be a more effective meeting leader.
- Don’t let people “over-contribute.” Some team members may dominate the discussion to the exclusion of other, more introverted, team members. Don’t be confrontational with these folks (unless they are wildly out of line). Instead, ask the questions in ways that encourage others such as, “Let’s hear from someone we haven’t heard from yet.” Also, call on people individually to contribute. A simple tip is to use private chat in the meeting to let people know you’re going to call on them and prepare them to successfully contribute. And, of course, let them use their voice or chat to contribute as they are most comfortable.
- Follow up to make sure the next meeting is a success. The success of one meeting leads to the success of the next. Action items need to be documented and followed up on, otherwise it will look like “the same old thing,” and become demotivating. If people aren’t responding during the meeting, find out why in private off-line conversations. Coach your team members to be better meeting participants.
If this looks a lot like the rules for regular meetings, you’re not wrong. Just as we urge you to “think Leadership first, location second,” approach your meetings with a similar outlook What would make for a great meeting? THEN ask: how do we do that virtually.
One thing that will surely derail virtual meetings is technology. Find out if your team has what it needs to communicate successfully from a distance with this free assessment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.