Don't Make Virtual Meetings a Bore
You have to hold a meeting, but everyone who should participate is somewhere else. What should you do?
Hold the meeting virtually.
More than 20 million virtual meetings are held every year. Some 85 percent of projects now include remote team members and that percentage keeps rising. If you plan it right, a virtual meeting will let you accomplish everything you could with an in-person meeting. Here's a guide for doing that.
7. Set a Goal
As with any other kind of meeting, be clear on what you want to accomplish. Do you want to convey information? Get everybody on board with your idea or directive? Generate ideas? Narrow down your goal as much as possible. You can't do everything in one meeting.
6. Choose Your Medium Wisely
A conference call will work fine if you don't need to use visuals. If you want to show slides and video and have lots of interaction, though, you'll need a web meeting platform. There are more than 120 options from which to choose, with the big names including WebEx, Adobe Connect, Yahoo Messenger and Google Hangouts. Choose the one that bests suits you and your needs.
If you're not familiar with any of them, get acquainted with one now. Knowing how to hold a virtual meeting is rapidly becoming a must-have skill for managers. Most projects these days include geographically dispersed team members, and senior executives don't like to incur the many costs required to bring remote people together. If it seems daunting to learn how to use a web meeting platform, ask one of your more techy direct reports for help.
Even meeting leaders who are highly tech-savvy should have someone on hand to help them deal with virtual meeting glitches when they occur.
5. Select the Right Participants
If you're gathering all the troops so you can make an announcement, the virtual meeting can be large. If you want interaction, however, it's best to keep the number of participants small.
Be certain you won't cause offense by excluding people who feel they should be there. Employees often complain there are too many meetings, but they're unhappy when they feel they've been overlooked. Give preference to remote employees when sending virtual meeting invitations to make them feel more included.
4. Give Proper Notice
Provide as much advance notice as you can. Avoid middle-of-the-night times for people in far-away time zones. Announce the start and end times via a link that accommodates time zone differences. Be certain that you explain the meeting's purpose. Set a clear agenda -- even for weekly meetings or other regularly scheduled meetings. You can describe the agenda with the aid of the platform's templates. Communicate your expectations to participants clearly. Tell them where the information they'll need for preparation and pre-work is stored electronically.
Encourage the use of smartphones and tablets. You'll make it possible for employees to take part wherever they may be -- provided they have connectivity, of course.
3. Keep It Short & Amp Up the Energy
It's hard to hold the participants' attention when a meeting is virtual. They're more easily distracted and might be tempted to multitask instead of giving the meeting their full attention. You'll do best if you keep the meeting as short and as lively as you can.
Become familiar with all the features available in the virtual meeting platform you've chosen. Use the platform's raised hands and polling features, whiteboard, document sharing, spreadsheets, applications sharing and both public and private chat. Ask someone to monitor chat because you can't give it your full attention when you're running the meeting.
Encourage everyone in the group to take part and identify themselves when they speak. If you haven't heard from someone for a while, ask what that person thinks. Everyone will get the idea that they might be called upon so they'll be encouraged to stay focused. Participants in countries where people tend to keep a low profile may need lots of encouragement to speak. If this will be the participant's first virtual meeting it might be good to talk with them in advance about the need to be an active participant. Be sure that nobody dominates the conversation.
Rehearse your introduction so you're certain you'll be as clear and concise as possible. Keep rehearsing and you'll find you can make the introduction even tighter. Think about having a subject matter expert as a co-presenter. Don't let the discussion get bogged down in details or get sidetracked into an unproductive area.
If the agenda includes only a few items, the meeting is small and participants may not know each other, you can begin the meeting by asking the participants to say a few things about themselves. It will help you build a more cohesive team.
2. Focus on the Outcome
Keep an eye on the clock to be sure you'll cover everything on the agenda. Let the group know time's running out so those who have something important to say will be prompted to say it. Recap the decisions that were reached as you move along. Be clear on who will do what and the deadline for each action item.
1. Celebrate Accomplishments
Be sure you credit everyone for their contributions to the meeting. Thank everyone for participating -- by name if the group is small. If you're planning to have regularly scheduled meetings, poll the group to choose the day of the week and time that's best for everyone. End on a high note. Follow up with remote team members who are responsible for specified tasks with phone calls or via social media.
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