Top tips for successful virtual meetings

Since lockdown, meetings have shifted. Instead of meeting up in a conference room or even a coffee shop, entrepreneurs and innovators have moved online

Top tips for successful virtual meetings

Since lockdown, meetings have shifted. Instead of meeting up in a conference room or even a coffee shop, entrepreneurs and innovators have moved online, along with the rest of the business world. But virtual meetings are subtly different from in-person meetings, and it’s important to shift some behaviours to be make sure that your virtual meetings are engaging and effective, rather than the post-pandemic norm of deadly dull, leaving everyone ‘zoomed out’ afterwards.

A shift in behaviour is needed for virtual meetings, as well as for the ‘hybrid’ meetings that we’ll start having as some return to the office and some are still working from home. It involves a new style of leadership: virtual leadership. This is where the leader is focused on making it as easy as possible for everyone to do a great job virtually. As a meeting or workshop leader, this is your role. How can you design your meeting to make it easy for everyone to do a really good job, to get what they need from the meeting and to leave with absolute clarity? 

Virtual meetings are not just about technology. Of course, as entrepreneurs and innovators, we love all the possibilities that great tech gives us! But, with virtual meetings, it is possible to get far too focused on technology and forget about the other 90% of things that really make virtual meetings work. Of course, make sure that, within the limits of the technology you have available, you have the capabilities that you need and that everyone will be able to use it effectively. Then forget about the tech. Whether it is Teams or Skype or Zoom or anything else, as long as it works, it’s stable and everyone knows how to use it, that’s all you need. Technology is purely an enabler. Too many people have focused too much time and effort on it, to the detriment of really making their virtual meetings work. Let’s move on to what really matters…

So, beyond technology, how can a meeting leader transform a virtual meeting? One thing that people who attend virtual meetings crave is clarity, and you can give clarity by using what I call Magic 6TM statements:

  1. We are here to: This is the whole point of the meeting, and should be stated at a high level in just a few words.
  2. Today we will: This lists more detailed objectives. Usually four to six is about right.
  3. Our plan: This provides the time plan, showing the start and end times, breaks and more. If a guest is joining for a short while, include this information here. 
  4. Who’s doing what: Virtual meetings are easy to tune out of, unless you are playing a role in running them. So give out roles during the meeting, such as action-scribe and timekeeper, so that the load is shared and that people are involved.
  5. How we work together: This is seldom spoken about but makes such a difference when it is clear and agreed. What are your group’s ground rules? How will you work together effectively in this meeting? Some useful ones include: 
    1. Mute if you’re in a noisy environment (such as dogs barking, teenagers recording their latest songs or playing the drums);
    2. One conversation at a time;
    3. Everyone should expect check-ins every 10-20 minutes in random order.
  6. What’s Next: Be clear on what happens next and how the actions will be followed up

Another top tip for virtual meetings is to make them engaging. The trouble with virtual meetings is that it is much easier to get distracted and do something else than it would be in a meeting room. Email and social media are ready distractions on the same screen as your meeting, so it is really important to make them engaging, or you will lose people. How can you do this? 

Here are just a few of my top engagement strategies:

  • Agree upfront as a team that you will have very short check-ins with everyone every 15-20 minutes. It’s important that you agree that this will be in a random order, so that people know they could be called on unexpectedly and asked to contribute.
  • Use visuals. In PowerPoint and other presentation tools, there are options to annotate and draw on the screen. Use these tools and invite your participants to join in if they can.
  • Use stories. Our ancestors used narrative to pass ideas down through the generations well before we developed the ability to write. Our brains have been honed to retain information in stories and to pay attention to the beginning, the middle and the ending. 

One way to keep your meetings engaging is to have fewer of them. As a virtual leader, choose when it’s appropriate to meet together and when you can get the job done through tools that help you collaborate asynchronously (at different times), so people can be more flexible with their days.

My final tip is to counteract the long hours that many people are sitting in front of screens in video meetings, in some cases from 8am to 8pm. Start your meetings at 5 past the hour and finish them by 5 to. It will change your life! Just the extra ten minutes for a dash to the loo or to grab a drink or a snack, or to move, will make all the difference for you and your team. All the best!

Dr Penny Pullan
Dr Penny Pullan

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