Unfortunately, as you may be aware, virtual meetings are not exactly superior to their physical counterparts. The human connection is missing, and communicating with people online is vexing and fraught with misunderstanding. The statistics bear this out: A whopping 67% of employees say more than half their virtual meetings hold no value whatsoever.
That doesn’t mean all virtual meetings are doomed to failure. With a little extra care and preparation, you can make them a resounding success. Here are five practical steps you can take to make sure your virtual meetings are a productive experience:
Create a clear agenda beforehand and distribute it
Playing it by ear or winging it is a recipe for disaster when it comes to virtual meetings. If your people don’t come in knowing what the meeting is about, the first several minutes will be spent bringing everyone up to speed. Meetings typically last about an hour on average, meaning that is more time than you can afford to lose. Further, it can be hard for participants to brainstorm ideas on the spot or contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner. The result is wasted time and an unproductive meeting.
If you plan the agenda for the meeting, however, you give your people time to prepare. They can think of talking points and contribute effectively, not to mention organize their schedules to leave enough time for the meeting. Here are some essentials to include on the agenda:
• Key points.
• Planned meeting structure.
• Expected contributions.
• Files, documents, research.
Start with an interactive quiz
Interactive quizzes are one of the best ways to start virtual meetings. The results can be displayed as a poll, so everyone knows where everyone else is at and can read the mood of the room. We recommend creating a brief, five-question quiz and displaying it on participants’ screens as soon as they log in. It’s a great way to ease them into the meeting and put them in an interactive mindset. Depending on the questions, it can also help them calm down and get rid of any nerves. Not everyone is good at public speaking.
Some example questions to ask include, “How are you feeling today?” or “What did you have for breakfast?” Depending on the type of meeting, a couple of humorous questions might be fun to include. Some managers like to ask questions like, “How much are you dreading this upcoming meeting?” It helps put everyone at ease and reminds them of the fact that everyone else is in the same boat.
Use icebreakers if necessary
Icebreakers may be in order if there are many new faces at the table, like if you’re hosting an inter-departmental meeting or you just merged several teams into one. In such cases, team dynamics haven’t yet been established. People often hesitate to contribute to prevent rocking the boat. Icebreakers allow everyone to get on the same page and get a read on everyone’s personalities.
Icebreakers can happen anytime during the meeting, not just at the beginning. Usually, they are simple games or activities that everyone can partake in together. Some easy, fun examples are sketching a challenging figure or sharing two truths and one lie, with the room guessing which is true and which isn’t.
Note that virtual icebreakers aren’t always appropriate. If people are pressed for time and have busy schedules, they won’t appreciate being made to take part in a “fun” activity. Also, using icebreakers as a way to change office dynamics is not a good idea — people catch on to the tactic fairly quickly and don’t appreciate being manipulated.
Lead the meeting to make sure everyone participates
For best results, virtual teams should be led by a personable manager or similar influential person in the company. Notice the use of the word “led” — it’s not synonymous with control or forcing an agenda on the room. Instead, leading virtual team meetings is all about hosting and guiding discussions via personal example. It’s about setting the right tone for the meeting.
Participants take their cues from the leader. If participants see you’re engaged, serious and fully involved with what’s going on, they’ll be the same. As such, leaders should communicate their expectations and also practice what they preach. Here are some tips for leaders:
• Keep your goals in mind and act accordingly.
• Dress well.
• Sit up, don’t slouch.
• Make eye contact with the room.
• Clearly state your thoughts or opinions.
• Direct the conversation from person to person.
Lay the foundation with ground rules
Further, to prevent meetings from devolving into chaos, you need some basic ground rules to provide structure. Here are some must-dos:
• Start each meeting with agenda reading.
• Introductions are mandatory.
• Keep phones away or on silent.
• No interruptions when someone is talking.
• Technology should be tested in advance.
• No working on other tasks.
• Keep the background free of clutter and noise.
Besides the non-tangibles, the technology you use also plays a part in the success of your meeting. Make sure you encourage the use of the right remote meeting tools to avoid technical issues like call drops and stutters. You can also leverage technology tools to create more wholesome, engaging environments to better hold everyone’s attention.
By implementing the suggestions listed here, you’ll be able to keep virtual meetings from going off track. Hosting a virtual meeting is a skill, like any other, and may require some practice before everything falls into place. When it does, though, you’ll find your meetings to be fun, enjoyable and, most importantly, productive.