Now more than ever, virtual meetings are becoming more of a norm. I have found that more people are willing to meet virtually, whether that be for a business meeting, team catch-up, client catch-up or even an initial ‘meet and greet’. Whether you are using Zoom, Skype, Teams or some other system, many of the meeting fundamentals are still the same – with a few technology extras.
Tips for Virtual Meetings
1. Be professional
I like Zoom because you can select a virtual background. Sure, this can be palm trees on the beach, but it can also be a background you import, such as your logo or a more corporate background than either your bedroom or kitchen. Even if it’s just with the team, keep the format and background professional (and not too busy). It’s a great idea with Zoom to enter the meeting 5 minutes early and if you are the organiser, then allow others to enter the meeting ahead of time. In fact, encourage everyone to be ON the meeting at least 2 minutes ahead of time, so you can start on time. If you have someone new to the meeting, check-in with them beforehand if they have used Zoom (or whatever system you are using) and get them in even 10 minutes beforehand in order to allow time for any hiccups that first time they are on.
2. Setup right
Where possible, use a laptop and not a phone. Set the camera so it’s at face level, rather than you looking down at it. Remember to look at the webcam or camera, not at the screen. In fact, I always move the image of the person I’m talking with to the very top of my screen to help facilitate this. If you have to prop up your screen with some books, then do so. Test technology first if you are new to the system. Have a decent microphone and be aware that many headphones might make it quiet for you, but often share your background noise with the meeting. Be conscious of reasonable lighting. I know in a couple of my later business coaching or leadership mentoring calls, the light starts to fade as it’s getting darker and I almost ‘disappear’ so pop on some lights before you need them if you know you’ll be ‘losing’ the light towards the end of your meeting.
3. Plan & be organised
A good virtual meeting organiser will provide an Agenda and will be prepared for the meeting. That may be having reports ready on hand (with tabs marked ready) or perhaps it’s a text a short time before the meeting to remind everyone it’s about to start. Another reason I love Zoom is that you can set up the meeting in Zoom, send the invite via email and at the same time have the appointment added to your calendar. Another thing that I do is ask the person if they have used Zoom before as if they have not, I have a “Zoom Info Sheet” prepared and can send to them in order to give them some guidance on how to have their first Zoom meeting. I’m always a fan of efficiency and pre-empting any potential problems.
4. Alert family you’re in a meeting
With many of us working from home, whilst it’s cute to have a little one sitting on your knee, or hubby leaning in for a kiss, a business meeting is not the place. Alert your family or housemates you’re on a meeting so that they are quiet, don’t interrupt and keep it professional.
5. Dress the part
Sure, you might be wearing your PJ bottoms and slippers, but ensure the top end is professional, hair brushed. Whilst you are working from home, you ARE working.
6. Set an agenda & allocate times
For any meeting, there must be a purpose. Allocate time according to the importance of the task and in your agenda actually show the time allocated. If each team member is providing an update of their progress on the project, then alert them their time is say 3 minutes, otherwise, some people will still be talking 15 minutes on. Feel free to tap a spoon on a glass to signify their time is up and in fact, it’s great for someone in the meeting to act as timekeeper.
7. Less is more!
When it comes to the time we spend in virtual meetings (physical or virtual) the less time you spend, the better. Virtual meetings that have little purpose, allow for rambling or don’t have focus achieve nothing but wasting everyone’s time. Participants become bored, start checking emails and you lose their attention. Keep it short and sweet and if necessary remind people they are in a meeting and should not be checking emails, or browsing Facebook.
8. Set the rules upfront
Remind all attendees to turn off their phones and not be on email or doing other tasks. If you promise (and keep your promise) it will be a quick one, but everyone needs to stay focussed on the meeting. Remind everyone upfront also of time limits and when you’re expecting to finish the meeting. If you have a team that tend to have bad manners, such as putting people down, butting in or taking over … reiterate at the beginning that nothing should be directed to anyone who puts forward an idea, keep it positive AND don’t interrupt someone who is speaking. Also, remind people upfront to ensure they are in a quiet place. As the meeting organiser, you may choose to mute everyone OR ask people to mute themselves unless they are speaking – particularly if it’s a larger group.
9. Have a minute taker
This can be quite informal, but someone needs to take notes and distribute those notes later, particularly where there are action steps to take – who will do what and when.
10. Manage the meeting well
A good meeting Chair will:
- Start on time (even if the boss hasn’t arrived yet)
- Introduce everyone in a friendly way
- Reiterate the rules with a positive and uplifting tone
- Allocate a timekeeper and minute taker
- Keep the meeting on track. Don’t allow people to ramble, or to ‘showboat’ or to have somewhat private discussions with another participant. If that’s starting to occur, interrupt and suggest it might be great for them to have a separate meeting afterwards to discuss that directly with each other.
- Ensure it’s clear what the outcome was, or what action is being taken, by whom and when so that the minute taker is clear on what is being noted.
- Finish on time and if necessary schedule the next meeting there and then whilst everyone is present.
11. Cancel it!
If the meeting is no longer needed, then simply cancel it. Also, think twice before you call a meeting; maybe it’s something you can deal with via email or a quick call with one or two people – where you can avoid a meeting, feel absolutely free to do so. Wasting time does no-one a favour.
12. Be prepared for glitches
I always have the mobile number for anyone I’m meant to be in a meeting with. If things glitch, then I’ll ring them, talk and sometimes we will just switch to a phone call. The thing here is to remain calm, not stress out and simply to revert to your ‘Plan B’.
Meetings are one of our greatest ‘time vampires’ and can be incredibly painful if not managed well. Virtual meetings managed well, kept concise and on track can be efficient, effective and productive. If you know of someone who has meeting challenges or would value some tips on how to improve their meeting experience, please feel free to pass this blog onto them.
I coach business owners, professionals and business coaches as well. Check out this page to learn more.