Many professions were already adopting virtual meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and made such meetings a necessity and the new normal. Those firms that had already started employing remote workers, offering work-from-home flexibility, or regularly communicated via virtual meetings with clients had a head start on adapting to this business practice. But many firms and their clients were not as accustomed to the processes involved, or had experimented only mildly with virtual meetings.
11 Tips for Better Virtual Meetings
When conducted with a strategy, virtual meetings can be just as effective as in-person events, but with the added benefit of technologies that can automate the recording and transcription of the event. The following tips can help firms conduct more effective virtual meetings with other staff and clients.
1. Video is Better Than Phone
The concept of remotely speaking with one, or several, people is as old as the telephone. But a phone conference, which most professionals have had hundreds of, is just not a replacement for an in-person meeting. While it can be more convenient, especially when bringing together people from multiple sites, phone-only conferences are often disjointed and result in people speaking over each other. This is because communication is much more than just speaking words; it is about two or more people sharing ideas and reaching an understanding, even if it’s actually a disagreement.
Video conferencing is better in almost every way than phone. The most dramatic difference between voice-only and video conferences is the addition of visual cues, which make the event more productive and engaging.
When having a conversation over video, you can see when someone needs to interject, just as listeners can see when the speaker has truly stopped speaking or is simply pausing briefly. Participants can also provide other visual actions that add to the flow of information. Additionally, there are many tools for video conferencing that turn them into digitally-enhanced virtual meetings.
2. Video Conferencing Technology
There are several good technologies on the market, some free and others for a small fee, that offer tools that do more than just let people speak and see each other. Systems like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Skype have options for sharing visual elements, such as screen sharing, image files, and PowerPoints. Plus, they offer the ability to record and transcribe the meeting. This is in addition to attendee management, calendaring, reminders, and integrations with other firm software.
Just make sure the meeting manager is familiar with the technology and logged in and ready several minutes before the event.
3. Have an Agenda
Whether in-person or virtual, nothing can derail the effectiveness of a meeting like disjointed conversations that go far astray from the intended topic or get into details that are not pertinent to other attendees. An agenda will help keep your virtual meetings on track, on time, on topic, and relevant.
When constructing the agenda:
- note the owner of each subject (department heads giving status updates, individuals giving project updates, etc.),
- state the ending time of the meeting,
- and seek input from other team members.
Then share the agenda with all attendees prior to the meeting.
4. Invite Only Necessary Staff
A meeting that goes into the minutiae of varying departments, but has attendees from other departments included, will be tedious and unengaging. Meeting managers should invite only those staff who need the information that will be shared or have information that is needed by all or most of the other attendees. It is better to have shorter meetings with smaller groups of more focused attendees than mass events.
5. Break the Ice
A meeting that starts out slowly, is likely to stay slow, but you also don’t want to start by getting off-topic. An anecdote from a recent client interaction, a sales goal met, kudos to a team member, or other positive comments can prime the communication.
Other icebreaker options include:
- running a one-question poll of the meeting attendees (many virtual meeting programs have this function),
- asking for their opinion on the last week,
- a trivia question related to the firm or clients,
- or sharing a graphic of a positive business metric.
After this, segue into the meeting by ensuring that everyone knows who is attending, and introduce any unfamiliar or new attendees.
6. Make It Interactive
Meetings that are dominated by one person, speaking for 90% of the event, are more of a speech than a collaborative event. While the visual aspect of virtual meetings includes seeing other participants, a key advantage is that the attendees and hosts can also share screens and presentations, including interactive functions. Polls, games, trivia, and other functions enhance the meeting and interaction between participants. However, long PowerPoint decks can be tedious.
7. Limit Visual Elements
The point of a meeting is usually to give an update and to receive feedback. While screen sharing and other visual presentations and activities can enhance the meeting, if they go on too long, they can be counterproductive. Use those features sparingly, then return to the group view of attendees or the host to spur more engagement by more attendees.
When developing the meeting agenda and structure, particularly for regularly-occurring meetings, establish etiquette so users know to raise a hand or otherwise note that they would like to share or interject.
8. Allow Some Small Talk
For workers accustomed to the social interactivity of working in an office, including talking about sports, local events, and shared hobbies, the new normal of near-universal work-from-home can be disconcerting. While too much small talk can dominate a virtual event, allowing a little can help bring some levity and compassion.
Such light conversation is best kept to the opening and closing periods of the meeting, and moderators should absolutely discourage gossip or conversations inappropriate to the workplace. Businesses and firms using chat apps and communication tools, such as Slack, may choose to create non-work chat groups based on side topics like sports, community, or general chat.
Once again, caution staff against inappropriate topics.
9. Manage Meeting Length
Although working remotely may result in greater flexibility for many staff members, there are still other activities that they need to get back to, including “real work,” client meetings, or even just administrative tasks. Having a defined meeting end time, or a “no longer than” time, can ensure that attendees are available and can schedule their remaining time effectively.
How long should a meeting be? As short as is maximally effective. That is subjective, of course, but the longer a meeting goes, the less the attendees remain engaged—it is likely to stray too deeply into topics of no interest or value to most other attendees.
Research suggests meetings between 30 and 60 minutes are the most effective, with the percent of attendees paying attention dropping notably as time goes on. (https://meetingking.com/how-long-should-a-meeting-be)
10. Automate the Meeting Notes
Most virtual meeting systems have tools to automatically record and also digitally transcribe the minutes of the meeting, including references to which attendees said what. These notes are essential in creating followup plans and reminders, documenting key issues, and keeping senior management informed.
11. Create Your Own Best Practices
After meetings, and perhaps periodically during the meeting, ask attendees how they feel about the meeting process, length, focus, and interactivity. This feedback can help future meetings be more effective and valuable for all involved.
Enjoy Better Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings have instantly become the new normal and there’s no reason to believe, even after the current pandemic is over, that firms and businesses will be rushing to go back to all in-office staff and in-person meetings. Once the technologies have been adopted and learned, virtual meetings will be more ingrained in firm culture and will truly be the new normal going forward.