Even though Yahoo banned telecommuting, the evolving reality for most businesses is geographically disbursed teams, vendors, and clients. More and more, meetings are shifting from in-person events to virtual ones. But not everyone has grasped the basics of running a good virtual meeting. From technology hiccups to a basic lack of virtual meeting etiquette, we have a long way to go before we master the medium. If you’re in charge of virtual meetings or looking for a checklist to give colleagues who are, here are six strategies that you can employ to run effective and productive meetings.
1. Always test your tech
It goes without saying that if your technology fails during a virtual meeting, participants get frustrated and very little gets done. Whether you’re using teleconferencing or video conferencing on the computer, it’s important to check to make sure that your tech is working ahead of time. Test your phone lines; ask an admin or intern to try out video conferencing features and confirm everything works. Finally, be sure to send clear instructions for accessing the bridge no later than 24 hours before the meeting and send out a reminder 90 minutes before you’re scheduled to start.
2. Start with introductions but keep it brief
One of the hazards of virtual meetings occurs in the first 15 minutes. People log on in a staggered schedule. Side conversations are happening. Awkward hosts repeatedly ask “who is on the call?” Use a simple tactic: Ask people to IM you or drop you an email to confirm that they are logged on. Unless you’re missing a crucial person, start at the appointed time. Keep introductions brief; ideally give names, titles, and brief context if needed. Only resort to people giving long introductions if it’s otherwise unavoidable. If more context is needed, circulate a list of names and bios prior to the call. Intros should be brief, targeted, and let you get down to business as quickly as possible.
3. Have an agenda and stick to it
Circulate an agenda before the meeting starts, that breaks the call into 15 or 30-minute increments. It might feel like micromanaging, but if there’s a clear timeline for the meeting you’re much more likely to stay on task. Focus on who is talking or what needs to be resolved, depending on how the call is structured. As the person managing the call, this gives you a framework to keep things on target. Don’t be inflexible, but stay on your outline and make sure to include time for Q&A or discussion as appropriate.
4. Track action items
There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours on a call that’s designed to move a project forward, only to have it be unclear what the next steps are. Designate someone to track action items during the call. After the call, a follow up list should be circulated to the whole team that outlines action items by person and summarizes decisions made during the call. Be sure to include deadlines for deliverables where possible.
5. Create the space for creativity to happened
As mentioned above, it’s important to have an agenda and stick to it. It’s equally important that people on the call be invited to ask questions, discuss concerns, and pitch ideas. This can be done in one of two ways. If your speaker is interruptible, express that at the beginning of the call and give a clear mechanism for doing just that. Or ask participants to hold their questions until the end. Regardless, of what structure you take, stop and ask for questions at a couple of junctures during the meeting. Always end with a final open-ended question to capture any last minute thoughts.
6. Set ground rules for good behavior
One of the major issues for virtual meetings is that good etiquette flies out the window. People multitask and you hear them typing and their IM programs chiming. They eat or take phone calls and forget to mute their lines. Participants take calls in noisy places that disrupt the quality of the line and make it harder for everyone to hear. Set some basic ground rules, such as asking participants to mute their lines when they’re not speaking or to take calls in a quiet area. Whatever issues you’re anticipating, head them off before they start. Be polite and professional but firm. Your attendees will thank you.
Virtual meetings have created a world of opportunity in terms of who we can work with and our productivity potential. But it’s up to meeting organizers to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Leverage these six strategies, and your meetings will add rocket fuel to your business.