Achieving effective virtual meetings is a real challenge, even more than in face-to-face meetings. In this post we share practical tips to achieve successful online meetings.
…and if after reading this article you long for more leadership tips, don’t miss our posts about the foundations of high performance teamwork:
– High Performing Teams: Psychological safety is the key to successful team work
– Teamwork: 4 toxins that can make teams derail, and how to avoid them
Remote meetings are part of the day to day in more and more companies. At the latest, since the Coronavirus outbreak and the boom of telework, Zoom, Teams, Skype, Hangout, Meet, Slack & Co. have become an indispensable part of work. Which makes it crucial to learn how to conduct effective virtual meetings.
What are the keys for successful virtual meetings? First of all: to generate great remote meeting experiences, you have to apply the same best practices to run effective in-person meetings. If you follow these guidelines, your business meetings will already feel pretty productive.
In-person vs. remote meetings: similar, but not the same
In a lot of aspects, virtual and in-person meetings don’t differ: for either to be efficient, you would want to have a clear meeting purpose. And you would only invite the attendees that really are required to achieve the desired outcome. And obviously all attendees would listen out to other participants without interrupting, in order to achieve highly productive meetings.
Still, there are some major difference between remote meetings and offline meetings. Running a great virtual meeting is a bit like producing a successful TV show: you need flawless technology, an impeccable image and sound, and usually some more preparation to create a great meeting experience.
Failure to plan [virtual meetings] is planning to fail.Slack
The most important check to guarantee highly efficient virtual meetings happens before sending out an invite. Ask yourself if a virtual meeting actually is the best option for the outcome you want to achieve. Often you’ll realise that a simple phone of conference call will just be good enough. Especially if you take the realities of attendees into account: some might be on the low edge of tech savviness, others might face regular connectivity issues.
Technology ready to go: 3 basic checks to guarantee effective virtual meetings
If a remote meeting turns out to be the best option, make sure your technology is ready for an efficient experience. Check these 3 basics before connecting : is your internet connection stable? Do microphone and headphones/speakers work properly? Is the camera ok? Most remote meeting solutions let you check all of these right before joining a remote meeting. And there is a reason for it, so use the check.
Only this way will you avoid the typical “I can’t see/hear you” or “You’re cutting off” experiences which makes others loose time while you are trying to fix your tech. On top of the obvious flaw, these setbacks push other participants to do something else and be distracted. Not a good start for a great remote meeting.
Take care of your image to run successful remote meetings
Even though you run a virtual meeting, it’s all about an exchange between human beings, not robots. And given we are social beings, one factor that increases the effectiveness of remote meetings is having a neat image – beyond the simple fact of having a functional webcam.
Make sure you have an appropriate lighting: avoid backlighting, consider a front light to illuminate your face and finally make sure to have the optimal framing. Usually a close-up where you fill some 2/3 of the image will do.
And remember to use gestures. Or can you imagine an in-person meeting where all participants stay stiff like display dummies for 45 minutes? – Right. Not moving or using gestures is not natural. So, make sure to use your body or objects in virtual meetings. For example, you can play with the distance between you and your camera. Just the same way you would do, if you were delivering a speech to an audience.
Another important thing to take into account when connecting with others virtually is to observe where your eyes go. We naturally tend to look at our screen, because that’s where we see the others. On computers this means that you are not looking at your counterparts, but slightly below.
There’s two tricks to help you look at the camera: first, place the window of your video conferencing software close to your camera, and obviously make a conscious effort to look at the camera when you speak. The 2nd trick: fix a photo of a person you like right behind the camera. This visual aid will help you looking at the camera automatically. Finally, a warning: beware of using virtual backgrounds. They are to video conferencing what automatic animations are to PowerPoint slide shows. Distracting noise. Virtual backgrounds look strange, make you look strange, and unconsciously suggests that you have something to hide. Instead, use your real background. Just make sure your it is neat.
A clear sound is critical: effective virtual meetings & active listening
The sound of a meeting is even more important than a flawless image. By the way, virtual meetings have one characteristic we love: as soon as more than one person speaks, nobody understands a word. Thus, we are bound to listen actively without interrupting each other. To guarantee the best possible sound quality of your virtual meetings, follow these practical advices:
Put yourself on mute while you’re not speaking. This is the best way to protect the sound environment of your online meeting. And as host, make use of the mute all function most video conference solutions offer. Also, make sure to use a headset or an external microphone and headphones instead of your internal mic and speaker. The quality of the sound is simply not the same. We at Shine use directional microphones with noise reduction.
As for the sound, we have one last recommendation, in case you want to create real impact: use the full range of your voice. You can become louder or softer, increase your pace and slow down, and make pauses to stress important points.
Remote meetings have advantages, use them to run effective virtual meetings
Although you might not believe it, Online meetings offer a series of advantages compared to conventional face to face meetings. You just have to know them. These are four options inherent to online meetings you can use to run effective virtual meetings:
Always have a shared document at hand
Our experiences shows that it’s always good to have a shared document ready for co-creation. We have a natural tendency to note actions, decisions, co-create contents or fill a parking lot with topics you want to address in a separate meeting. Doing so in a shared document increases the efficiency of memos, and it allows to do a final check at the end of the meeting to be on the same page.
Use the chat, emoticons and 3rd party tools
Zoom, Meet, Teams & Co. offer 3 very useful functions to increase the efficiency of online meetings: chat, emoticons and polls. Make sure to use them. They allow attendees to interact and contribute while it keeps their attention on the meeting.
If you want to provide stellar experiences and depending on the objectives of your meeting, you can also use applications such as Mural. At Shine, we use it in combination with Zoom to develop leadership teams virtually and provide experiences that are very similar to face-to-face offsites.
Humans, not robots: 2 keys to achieve mastery in conducting effective virtual meetings
These are our best practices to run successful online meetings. We promise: if you use them, you will experience considerably improved and effective virtual meetings. Still, we have 2 more recommendations to offer. And these really make a fundamental difference:
If one attendee connects virtually, all connect virtually: Did you ever join an in-person meeting as only remotely connected attendee? Then you know this feeling of being there, but not quite being at the same table. Even when hosts really keep the remotely connected in mind, the conditions for the virtual participants often don’t match the people who are in the room. One simple rule makes a real difference: if one person joins the meeting virtually, all go virtual. Everybody connects through his/her own device and the meeting turns 100% virtual.
If one attendee connects virtually, all connect virtually
Create room for personal connections: Efficient work depends on the level of confidence and a sense of being in the same boat. By nature, in distributed teams time to socialise is scarce. You can compensate this by starting your meetings with some time to connect with the reality of each one. “Where are you?”, “How do you cope with working remotely?”, “What emotion do you bring to our meeting?” or more risky things like “sharing a personal object that is important to you” can break the ice and create moments of personal connection. Or have a slack channel open 24/7, where everybody can drop in for a chit-chat when they feel like.