Even if no one has to hop on a plane to make a meeting, it is still equally as important to ensure your virtual meetings are effective and helpful.
Here are 5 tips for effective virtual meetings:
Tip #1: Pause
According to recent research on the subject, executives now spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 in the 1960s. Don’t rush to hold a meeting, and ask yourselves the following questions first:
- Do you have all the information you need to hold the meeting?
- Do you need to discuss and collaborate? Or can your need be solved by delegating and calendaring?
- Is it critical that the team are on the same page democratically? Or can one leader disseminate information independently?
If any of the above answers are a “no,” think critically about whether or not a meeting is needed. Your [busy] team will thank you.
Tip #2: Communicate
No one wants to start a meeting with a blare of feedback or an annoying echo, so it’s important to ensure every member of the project is set up for success. While the phone is an easy technology to master, the non-verbal cues and expressions you get from video-conferencing are important and valuable, even if no screens are being shared.
Call the client and any third parties in advance to determine the best technology for them to use in their office. Most modern offices allow for audio via a meeting room computer and a conference phone. It’s important to use only one source for audio to avoid feedback. If you are at all unfamiliar with the conferencing equipment, perform a test ahead of time to ensure you are comfortable. This will not only convey preparedness and professionalism, but it will also respect everyone’s time, which brings us to tip #3.
Tip #3: Minimize
Keep time zones and working hours in mind. If a developer is on the call, try to schedule the meeting early in the day, or around lunch to maximize their productivity.
- Always distribute an agenda ahead of time (more on that later).
- Track the time in long meetings so everyone is aware of where they are and can adjust if needed.
- If your calendaring service has a “speedy meeting” feature that defaults what would be an hour meeting to a 50-minute meeting, use it!
- Always be punctual.
- Always aim to end early.
Tip #4: Prepare
The key to successful meetings and presentations is preparation. Effective preparation renders the nuts and bolts of preparation invisible and allows both the leader and the participants to instantly flow into critical thinking and problem-solving. Here are some tips to help you get prepared.
Let the participants know what technology we’ll be using and provide links to install software if needed (like a virtual meeting client).
Every meeting needs an agenda. That agenda should be a guideline as to what to talk about, and in what order. The way to identify what those items should be is to ask yourself “What do we need to have at the meeting’s end that we don’t have now,” and compare that to the meeting attendees. If the agenda is relevant to all attendees, then you are in good shape. If not, either the agenda needs to be adjusted, or some attendees may not need to attend the entire meeting.
The agenda should be distributed publicly no later than a day in advance in order to give all attendees an opportunity to prepare for the meeting.
In addition to preparing an agenda we also recommend a “global notes” shared document for each team member to record their thoughts – this way, if there are any misunderstandings or vagaries, they can be identified in real time and clarified.
Effective preparation renders the nuts and bolts of preparation invisible and allows both the leader and the participants to instantly flow into critical thinking and problem-solving.
Tip #5: Recap
At the end of the meeting, ask if there is anything that wasn’t discussed to ensure that all attendees got what they needed. If there is nothing else, you can move onto the recap. In the recap, the leader quickly goes over what was discussed, the decisions that were made, and the follow up action items. Be sure to clarify any to do’s while you have all participants on the phone along with who’s responsible to complete each item by a set due date.
This recap should also be posted publicly to ensure that attendees, as well as others not in attendance, can see what was discussed and that each participant has a list of to do’s that they are responsible for completing.
Bonus: A Free Tip on Presentations
I have seen A LOT of slideshow presentations over the years. To create a presentation that keeps your audience engaged, keep onscreen text to a minimum and use the slides as a visual cue to support your key points rather than using it to read word for word to participants. Otherwise you’ll have just another meeting that should have been an email.