25 Jan 9 Tips for a Successful Virtual Meeting
All teams, virtual and on-site, need to meet regularly for updates, collaboration and engagement. Because a virtual meeting can offer unprecedented opportunities to collaborate with with clients, partners and prospects anywhere in the world, there has been a surge in this type of communication.
Our team has been meeting virtually for over a decade and most of our business is done this way. What we’ve learned is, virtual meetings lack the interpersonal element, so it can be more challenging to drive the results you need. People can be distracted, it is more difficult to monitor engagement and sometimes you don’t get the input you’d get with an in-person dynamic.
Read below for a few tips we’ve learned from having conducted more than 1000 meetings online.
The Need For Speed
Simple logistical issues affect virtual teams more than traditional. Team members, contractors and clients in varying locations generally contend with different time zones as they organize to meet. Even the most tech-savvy professional can face slow internet connections, corrupted files or lagging audio. And, while a virtual meeting is a great way to bring teams together across long distances, it can’t perfectly match the personal connection of face-to-face conversations.
Be aware of your own technical capabilities and resources and optimize them for online meetings.
Know The Technology – Before You Enter the Room!
All of the best online meetings programs now offer any number of features to simulate an in-person meeting: upload files and presentations, share screens, use a whiteboard, raise hands, take polls and use any combination of audio, video and chat to communicate. But with each new feature, the opportunity for a technical failure grows.
Test your technology before a virtual meeting. With each new feature, the opportunity for a technical failure grows.
Test Your Tech
Test your technology before the meeting and provide an opportunity for clients, team members and other attendees to do the same. Many online meeting platforms provide a way to try out the program, learn its features and troubleshoot any connection problems in advance. Send out a link to all attendees a day or two in advance to avoid wasting time during the meeting stumbling to fix technical issues.
Understand Your Team’s Limitations
Scheduling and Time Zones
If your team connects from all over the world, meetings will take place in different time zones. It can be difficult to reach everyone during work hours, but be fair. Poll your team to find out what time works best for the majority or rotate regular meetings to different times to allow everyone the opportunity to participate. Consider ways to make the meeting available outside its scheduled time: record it or send out comprehensive meeting minutes for those who couldn’t make it.
Remember, attendees of a virtual meeting tune in from any number of places: home offices, kitchen tables, hotels, cafes and others. None of these spaces are free of distraction. Be aware of the distractions in your team’s environment and your own.
One recommendation is to create a “no mute” or “always on video” policy to ensure everyone pays attention. An effective, less restrictive, way to keep the attention of attendees is with your content and presentation.
- Encourage Participation
Ask specific questions to encourage people to stay engaged. Give summaries at the end of each topic of discussion and prompt for comments. Create opportunities for engagement to allow people to stay focused on the meeting.
- The Importance of an Agenda
Send out your meeting agenda in advance so attendees understand the structure of the meeting, the level of input that will be required of them and the points where they may offer feedback.
Record the meeting
Sometimes people just can’t make the call. Recording the call helps keep people accountable and more focused, especially if they know the recording might end up in their manager’s mailbox! To ensure everyone stays on the same page, record the meeting and send out meeting notes with key decisions and action items with a link to the recording. Then no one has an excuse for not getting their work done. Oh and feel free to give work to people who don’t attend – it helps to encourage them to make the next call.
Replicate the Personal Connection
Though online meeting programs provide many ways for attendees to see, hear and interact with one another, a virtual meeting still rarely meets the same level of communication as face-to-face discussions. To overcome this challenge, presenters or moderators must mimic the natural ways we form personal connections.
In business engagements, a face, name and personality are important to build trust and relationships between clients and partners. Use video and pictures to introduce yourself to new people in virtual meetings. Consider an introduction slide with pictures of family, pets or hobbies. Make an effort to help others see the person, not just the voice on the computer.
Put Your Best Face Forward
Engage through video, not just audio, to create a connection with others in the meeting. If you use video, your physical appearance should be appropriate and professional. Dress the way you would if you were to attend the meeting in person. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with video recording or streaming of varying quality. Flashy clothing can cause distractions. When you move on camera, your striped or patterned shirt draws the eye of your audience.
Eliminate other distractions by organizing the portion of your working space that will be seen on screen. Avoid inappropriate wall décor or mess in your background. Use headphones to limit audio distractions and echo. Look at your camera instead of your own face onscreen to simulate eye contact, create a connection and hold your audience’s focus.
Some people invest in screens to hide messy or otherwise unprofessional background clutter. Put your company logo with your favorite image and you’ll look like a professional broadcaster.
Finally, if you know you’re going to speak on camera in a meeting, be vain. Manage your lighting by adding a desk lamp directed at your face to brighten your image on screen. Pick a flattering (but professional) angle for your camera. Shadows across your face will distract others. As an added bonus, if you feel confident in your appearance on video, you can better concentrate on your content and delivery.
Small Talk – Break the Ice
Small talk builds trust and encourages collaboration during a meeting. However, people often hesitate to speak up candidly when faced with a camera and microphone. Ask questions in the short time before a virtual meeting officially starts to help attendees engage in conversation. Even simple conversations about the weather help people to get comfortable with the meeting format and one another.
Ask questions in the short time before a meeting officially starts to help attendees engage in conversation.
No one likes an ice breaker, but they do work. They’re even more important in virtual environments when we can’t depend on more organic ways of getting to know each other. When meeting with new clients or teams, try asking for a personal-professional introduction. Each attendee can offer a little information about themselves and their role, without being put on the spot.
Virtual meetings offer a lot of solutions to global teams, but they can present some challenges. Understanding the limitations and requirements for a virtual team can help make these meetings work for everybody. Read more about improving ways to work virtually here.