At least for the foreseeable future, the days of large, in-person meetings and presentations are behind us as we try to navigate our “new normal” of virtual meetings. And whether we are thriving in the work-from-home environment or eager to get back on the road and into face-to-face meeting r
ooms, virtual meetings are how the majority of office workers are now collaborating with one another as a group.
If you’re responsible for scheduling and leading these meetings, it’s easier said than done. With teleconferencing meetings, there are a lot of little things that differ from in-person meetings — and a lot of little things that can go wrong, especially when strong communication isn’t provided to the meeting guests.
Here are a few tips and reminders, ranging from the pre-meeting preparation stage all the way to the post-meeting follow-up, that can help you ensure a successful virtual meeting.
As a teleconferencing host, it’s your responsibility to ensure the other meeting guests are provided with a meeting invite that provides details on:
Multiple ways to log into the meeting
Include the meeting URL, appropriate phone numbers and login details. For example, some guests may be in their car and unable to access the URL. It’s safe to assume everyone won’t all be joining in the same way, and providing all options allows for a more-prompt start time.
Correct meeting date and time
There may be a scenario where some of your guests live in a different time zone. As you’re scheduling the call, make sure to confirm their correct time zone to establish a practical start time. No one enjoys 5 a.m. meetings.
Goals and objectives
Above the call-in information within the body of the meeting invite, stating the call’s goals and objectives provides the guests with clear communication about the call’s subject matter to help them prepare, if needed. This also provides the host with introductory talking points to remind attendees of the purpose of the call before the conversation begins.
Meeting presentation or agenda
In addition to delivering the meeting goals and objectives, attaching the meeting presentation or agenda allows the guests to review the topics to be discussed in the meeting beforehand. It also allows the guests to follow along during the meeting if they are unable to view a shared screen.
Have the virtual meeting room up and ready 5-10 minutes before the start time. This will allow your guests to join in right away, not having to wait for the meeting room to open up, and allows you to welcome those who arrive early one by one and introduce yourself. If, as the host, you will be late for any reason, be sure to email the attendee list and provide an updated estimated start time. Be mindful of everyone’s time, stick to the agenda, and do your absolute best to start and end at the times that were scheduled.
Allowing time for errors
As the guests join the meeting room, allow a few minutes for everyone to join, as some guests might be late from getting off another call, may be having difficulties logging into the meeting, or may be juggling schedules with children. (For more info on working with kids at home, read our previous blog about how to work with kids in the house). Life can easily get in the way when working from home. It’s important to be patient and continue to communicate to the rest of the meeting attendees as any errors/difficulties arise.
Recording the meeting
If you choose to record the virtual meeting, provide the guests with a heads-up at the beginning so they are aware the conversation will be recorded. Recording a meeting call can offer a great avenue for reviewing to add to your meeting notes after the call, or for providing guests with a copy of the call for their records.
Once everyone is on the call, ensure introductions are made so every guest knows who each attendee is and what their title is. If you can gather every person’s information up front, this is something that should also be added to the invite.
Making eye contact
Your first virtual meeting can be a bit awkward, especially if you’re unsure of where to look. As tempting as it is to look at yourself, do your best to look into the camera on your computer. In regard to in-person meetings, eye contact is not only important, but also respectful. This rule still applies to virtual meetings: If you make a habit of looking into the camera lens, your guests will see you making eye contact. Ensuring eye contact helps to keep the conversation feeling more natural. The more you practice this, the less awkward it becomes.
At times, guests can have background noise they’re unaware of that distracts from the conversation and makes it hard to hear those speaking. At the start of the meeting, request that those who are not speaking keep themselves on mute. Also, be sure to pay attention as each person speaks. There will be situations where your attendees are unaware that they are on mute and will continue to talk, not realizing that they can’t be heard. It is also easier for attendees of virtual meetings to inadvertently talk over one another, since all meeting guests are not face-to-face. Before you begin talking, allow the speaker before you to completely finish their thought, and help facilitate others finishing their thoughts if cut off by another guest.
Since virtual meetings are being held on desktops, tablets and mobile devices, it’s now more important than ever to keep your audience engaged. Email and chat notifications could be potential distractions. Encourage participation to help dial in your guests’ attention, to increase engagement and to receive any feedback.
Keeping certain conversations offline
To keep the meeting on track and to ensure you’re sticking to the agenda, allow for certain conversations to be discussed offline. Follow up and schedule as need be.
End the conversation by summarizing the meeting and providing clear action items for attendees. Also allow an opportunity for any final thoughts from all meeting attendees. Some of your guests may be a little more reserved and not want to talk out of turn. Allow them this opportunity to speak freely.
Within a day of the meeting, email any follow-up documents or meeting notes. Providing any documentation of the subject matter from the meeting will help keep each guest organized and provide the direction for their assigned action item(s).
Often, one meeting can create the need for another meeting. Be sure to schedule any appropriate follow-up meetings. It’s best to complete all follow-up deliverables on your end on the same day as the meeting, when it is top of mind for you and the meeting guests.
Staying in touch
Once the meeting day has come and gone, don’t let any action items fall through the cracks. Send follow-up emails/make follow-up phone calls 24-36 hours after the meeting if no action has been taken.
Leading effective teleconferencing meetings takes time, patience and practice — but it is a new skill we all must acquire with the future of in-person meetings still unknown. Comment below if you are already practicing these tips, or if you have any additional tips or tricks that work for you.