By now, we’re all pretty accustomed to getting together with co-workers via conferencing tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, many workers have yet to master the art of the virtual meeting.
Online meetings require a different approach because they’re so different from their in-person counterparts. For one, it’s not easy to tell if people are listening and participating when their cameras and microphones are off. Many participants might give in to the temptation to answer emails or complete other work because no one can see what they’re doing. Additionally, virtual sessions can seem unnecessary without clear agendas and timelines.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t run effective virtual meetings. Digital conferencing provides opportunities to collaborate, educate, share, and sell across any distance. To make the most of these meetings, you just have to prepare ahead of time. Try following these four tips:
1. Familiarize yourself with the features of your conferencing technology.
You might not be the most technical person in the world. However, when you send out an online meeting invite, you’re responsible for understanding the platform you’ll use. You don’t have to be a Zoom whiz, but you should at least know the basics. That way, you can troubleshoot common problems and effectively use the tools at your disposal.
Rhea Ong Yiu, partner and management consultant at LIVEsciences, believes in the old adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. “A large part of inefficient meetings comes from unforeseen technical issues that derail the agenda,” she explains. “Many people grapple with the challenge of being the facilitator and the technical expert at the same time. Understanding the technology of the tools you are using allows you to design the right settings for the meeting, maximize the tool’s features to keep engagement high, and ensure that participants can follow the flow.”
A good way to grow your virtual meeting acumen is with dry runs. Practice working with technology that includes integration tools such as digital whiteboards and mind mapping software. When you prepare, you’ll be more productive and confident on every call.
2. Be on the lookout for conversational detours.
Good ideas tend to spark other ideas. Yet too much chaos can cause a figurative trainwreck. Joel Schwartzberg, author and professional presentation coach, says that derailment is natural but needs to be curbed.
“At times, you may be tempted to leave your train of thought to discuss something unrelated, whether the idea suddenly pops into your head or is raised by someone else in the room,” he writes. “One second you’re talking about leveraging social media, and the next second you’re talking about your favorite Instagram celebrities. This off-ramp is perilous because, when it drags on for a while, it wastes critical time and other minds begin to wander.”
How can you better manage everyone’s schedule and preserve productivity? Begin every meeting — even spontaneous brainstorms — by going over the agenda and time allotment. That way, everyone knows what the focus is. As the discussion evolves, you might need to shepherd conversations to ensure that what’s being said remains relevant. If a sideways thought seems compelling enough to pursue later, jot it down as a topic for a future meeting.
3. Stick to routines.
Do you host regular meetings? Maybe a brainstorm every Tuesday morning or a wrap-up at the end of the month? Any routine meeting should follow a specific road map so people know what to expect.
Routines have the power to keep people on task. Content marketing manager Elizabeth Perry reveals why the same old, same old can be a good thing: “Team members can be more prepared when they have a consistent schedule of what time they happen, what platform they are on, and what to expect from the meeting. Using a recurring Google meeting with a set weekly agenda is a great idea.”
When scheduling recurring meetings, be sure to keep adults’ attention spans in mind. Most people tune out after staring at a screen for too long. Consider giving five-minute breaks every half hour if you can’t shorten a virtual meeting.
4. Limit the people on your invite list.
About 26% of workers are worn out by virtual meetings. This could be partly because a lot of meetings include individuals who don’t need to be there. “Nobody likes to feel left out,” writes Larry Alton, an independent business consultant. “But when it comes to holding an efficient meeting, limiting the number of attendees can be helpful to the business.”
Take a moment to pare down your guest list. No one will complain if you don’t force them to attend a virtual meeting that isn’t in their wheelhouse. Limiting your attendees to seven people or fewer is a good rule of thumb. If you have too many attendees, the meeting might get off track.
Of course, you might need to have larger virtual meetings from time to time. Just pinpoint what you want to accomplish. Are you providing information? A large meeting will do just fine. Are you looking for intimate feedback? Keep the invite list small. You might find it hard to interact with everyone if you have to scroll to a separate page to see all your participants.
Virtual meetings can be huge cost-savers; they enable teams to communicate and collaborate despite physical distance. However, you can’t jump in without a plan in place. By following these four tips, you can run better virtual meetings and improve efficiency.