Overnight, working professionals have transitioned from office workers to telecommuters, and are increasingly relying on video and audio conference apps to communicate with their colleagues.
Whether your organization is made up of 10 or 10,000 employees, running a virtual meeting takes careful planning and intention.
As a team that regularly hosts meetings via web conference and online platforms, we shared some of our practical tips on how you can make your next virtual meeting more effective and productive.
Before the meeting
- Choose the right technology. To have a successful virtual meeting, you first need to use the right audio and video conferencing software. For interactive group meetings, Blue Jeans, Microsoft Teams, or WebEx are popular web conference options. Meetings or events with a larger audience, such as classes or team presentations, should utilize broadcasting platforms, such as BlueJeans Events or Microsoft Teams Live.
Pro Tip: To make sure everyone can attend the meeting, use a scheduling tool like Outlook's Scheduling Assistant or Doodle to find the best time and date. Be sensitive to time zones and hours typically devoted to homeschooling and childcare.
- Protect your privacy. With the increased use of web conference apps for virtual meetings, there is an increased opportunity for unwelcome disruptions from outsiders. To prevent other coworkers or hackers from joining your virtual meeting, avoid using your Personal Meeting ID and instead create a unique link for each virtual meeting.
Pro Tip: Take it a step further by enabling advanced end-user security settings, such as waiting rooms and attendee passwords or locking the meeting once all attendees have joined.
- Have an agenda. Circulate an agenda and any supporting materials at least 24 hours in advance to allow attendees time to prepare and contribute. The agenda should outline the main topics, subtopics, and time limits to help clarify meeting purpose and attendee roles.
Pro Tip: Co-edit documents with your team in real-time using a central hub, such as Microsoft Teams, for sharing information.
- Test the technology. There's nothing more frustrating than starting a virtual meeting trying to troubleshoot the software. While you can't completely avoid technical snafus from occurring, you can avoid meeting delays by testing the tools ahead of time.
Pro Tip: Many video conferencing applications will let you join a test meeting to familiarize yourself with components of the platform, such as screen sharing and chat while testing your audio and video.
During the meeting
- Minimize distractions. Notifications and web browsers can serve as distractions during virtual meetings and can easily cause miscommunication. Before the meeting begins, close all non-essential programs and windows, set your status to do not disturb, and avoid multi-tasking.
Pro Tip: Find a way to be an active participant by volunteering to be a facilitator, timekeeper, or note taker. This will help you stay present and engaged.
- Mute your microphone. From dogs barking to shuffling papers or just typing on the keyboard, unexpected background noises are common during virtual meetings. While they may not seem like much, it can be distracting to others attending the meeting. To prevent any audio feedback, keep your microphone on mute until you plan to speak.
Pro Tip: As the meeting host, adjust your meeting settings to automatically mute attendees as they join a meeting, regardless of their connection type. Attendees will have the ability to unmute themselves once connected to the meeting.
- Elevate your presence. A virtual meeting is most effective when others are able to see facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. Arrive to the meeting with your webcam on and ensure you are visible to other attendees. Cameras should be eye level and on the monitor you plan to use for the conference. Videos look best in well-lit rooms, without backlighting from windows or lamps.
Pro Tip: Using virtual backgrounds can be a lifesaver to help conceal a messy background or a creative alternative to bridge the social distance with coworkers.
- Be inclusive. At the beginning of the virtual meeting, greet and introduce co-attendees and set the tone for participation. Moderators should ask for feedback often and encourage the lesser-heard voices to share their insights. Also, real-time polls, chat box features, and Q&As can be useful for gathering information and keeping attendees engaged.
Pro Tip: For those who are unable to join the meeting, record and share it through your team's preferred communication channel.
After the meeting
- Conclude with clear action items. Be disciplined about ending meetings at their designated stop times, reserving five minutes for wrap-up and next steps. All attendees should ensure they understand any assigned action items and delivery timelines.
Pro Tip: Manage and plan your team's assignments and due dates through a project management tool, such as Basecamp or Airtable.
- Share meeting notes. Once the virtual meeting concludes, share a concise recap of the discussion to all attendees. Make sure it includes meeting notes and a summary of any action items.
Pro Tip: Store and share your files securely among your team using a file sync platform, such as SharePoint or OneDrive for Business.
The future of meetings is virtual
While the current circumstances increasing the usage of web conferencing might be temporary, the trend of online meetings likely isn't.
If this is your first experience meeting virtually, it's going to feel awkward. There will be some challenges and technical hiccups along the way but just embrace it. Plug in your headphones, turn on your camera, and know you're learning yet another skill to succeed in the future of work.