14 Tips for an Effective Virtual Meeting

14 Tips for an Effective Virtual Meeting

As a leader, you want your virtual meeting to be effective, memorable, and productive. You want every attendee to walk away energized, with clear action items and a strong sense of purpose. Perhaps the best-kept secret in business is how easy it is to host a great meeting. Why then are so many corporate meetings a huge waste of time? Simply put, it is because we fail to prepare.

As a product owner, I have spent more than a decade managing remote teams. In fact, sometimes I feel all I do is host virtual meetings. Here are 14 tips I have learned along the way that will help you become a virtual meeting rock star.

1. HAVE A CLEAR GOAL

The most effective virtual meetings have a goal. Let me repeat – the most effective meetings of any kind ALWAYS have a goal.

How many virtual meetings have you attended where the topic could have been easily covered in an email, a quick message or a simple office conversation? The worst offenders are recurring meetings with vague subject lines and disinterested attendees who are multitasking until someone decides to take charge. I am sure you have been part of more than a few of those types of meetings. Everyone joins and chit chats for a few minutes. There are some questions about whether so-and-so is going to attend. Eventually someone asks if anyone has anything they need to discuss. You cover a few items. Then there are a few goodbye pleasantries and everyone celebrates getting a few minutes back. Finally, right as you are hanging up, someone says, “oh, I remembered something else!”

Next time, do yourself and every attendee a favor and document what the purpose of the virtual meeting is. Ask yourself, “What does success look like?” It could be that you need to have an informal brainstorming session, identify goals for an upcoming sprint, or review a proposal with an executive.

2. IS EVERYONE ON THE VIRTUAL MEETING INVITE NEEDED?

If you cannot articulate why someone should be included, chances are they do not need to be there. If your virtual meeting is full of silent participants multitasking in the background, it may be better to leave them off the invite.

A couple of follow-up questions I like to ask are “who needs to know the outcome of the meeting?” and “who will follow up with them?”

Many times there will be stakeholders who do not need to attend the meeting themselves, but do need to be informed about action items, decisions or other follow up items. If you ask yourself those questions before the meeting, you might spare a few minutes on someone else’s calendar.

In addition, if someone is included, make sure to create a virtual meeting environment where they feel comfortable participating – and have the means to do so. This is especially important if some attendees are gathered in a room together and others are connected virtually. Take extra care to include everyone outside of the room.

3. SEND THE AGENDA IN ADVANCE

If there is one sure-fire way of improving a virtual meeting, this is it. I cannot count the number of times I have sent out an advance agenda and the purpose of the meeting ended up getting resolved without the meeting ever taking place.

What’s more, when there is a clear agenda, everyone comes to the meeting understanding who is accountable for each item, how long you will spend on each topic, and what the anticipated outcome is.

For large groups, I like to have time bound discussions. What I have discovered is if you set a specific time for the next agenda item to begin it is much easier to shift topics and move on than if you allocate a certain number of discussion minutes per topic.

A sample agenda might look like this:

  • 10-10:10 – Review previous action items
  • 10:10-10:35 – Discuss target keywords for widget ad campaign
  • 10:35-10:55 – Review ad campaign creatives

I have found that sort of meeting invite is much more effective than something like this:

  • Review previous action items (10 minutes)
  • Discuss target keywords for widget ad campaign (25 minutes)
  • Review ad campaign creatives (20 minutes)

It is fine to be flexible with times – as long as you keep the purpose of the meeting in mind. However, if you really do need to cover every item on the agenda, feel confident speaking up during a discussion and say, “hey team, it’s 10:35, we need to move on to the next topic now. We can follow up by email or set up additional time to continue this discussion.”

What is also helpful is if you identify key attendees for various agenda items by name. For example, “Review Tatiana’s ad campaign creatives”.

4. ONLY SCHEDULE AS MUCH TIME AS YOU NEED

I worked at one company where almost every meeting on my calendar was an hour long. You might think that does not matter so much because if you get through with everything early you can always wrap up the discussion and give everyone some time back.

The reality, unfortunately, is that ended up being a rare occurrence. It is remarkably easy to fill an hour-long meeting. In practice, what happened is most meetings ran over because attendees were wrapping up previous calls. Attendees would straggle in and meetings would usually take a good 5-10 minutes to really begin in earnest.

I got a bit of culture shock when I switched companies and suddenly found myself in an environment where 30-minute meetings were the norm. I also discovered that often those 30-minute meetings were just as effective as the hour-long meetings to which I had become accustomed.

If you plan out your agenda, you should have a good sense for how much time you need and can plan accordingly.

5. APPOINT A NOTE TAKER

Every virtual meeting should have a note taker to capture main discussion points, ALL decisions made, any agreed upon action items (along with due dates) and next steps. Ideally, it is best to review action items and next steps right before the meeting ends to make sure everyone walks away with clear expectations.

Always send meeting notes to attendees as soon as possible after a discussion wraps up. I have found if I wait too long, sometimes I get distracted and do not end up sending out meeting notes.

Another huge benefit of having good meeting notes is you can send them to stakeholders, managers, other team members who could not make it to keep them in the loop.

6. END FIVE MINUTES BEFORE THE HOUR

It is interesting that this is a concept that is practically universal in schools, but almost non-existent in the corporate environment. Think about it – when you were in school, classes usually began on the hour or half hour, and wrapped up at :25 or :55. Those five minutes in between classes were essential to walk to the next class and maybe visit the restroom along the way. In an office environment, leaving that five-minute buffer allows attendees to stretch, check a message or two, visit the restroom and dial in to the next call.

Along with ending a few minutes “early”, it is helpful to establish ground rules for when to start a virtual meeting. Some meetings are not practical to begin without certain stakeholders present, but my general rule of thumb is to start into the agenda within 2-3 minutes.

7. LEAD THE DISCUSSION

Kick off the discussion with energy! Acting as if you are excited to be on the call really can set the mood for everyone else. This is especially important in virtual meetings, where others cannot pick up on body language and other engagement cues. As the meeting organizer, you are likely the de facto discussion leader. It is also your job to make sure the meeting sticks to the agenda and all attendees are active participants. If you have not heard from someone in a while, feel free to ask him or her a direct question by name.

Multitasking is often unavoidable in the corporate world, but during a conference call is not that time or place.

8. TEST YOUR CONNECTION AHEAD OF TIME

The first seven tips on this list deal with meetings themselves. Those principles apply equally to meetings in person or on conference calls.  The remaining tips focus specifically on remove or virtual meetings.

The first and most important tip for virtual meetings is to test your connection ahead of time. You may need to install an app or an update, you may have bandwidth issues, or there may be some unknown technical error. Save yourself the headache of frantically scrambling to let everyone know you will be late or that you have audio issues but logging in and testing things out ahead of time.

10. LEARN THE BASIC CONTROLS – MUTE, SCREEN SHARING, AND CHAT

Some video conferencing tools allow you to join a conversation already muted. I always take advantage of that feature if it is available (but be sure to test your microphone ahead of time). You do not want to be the person who joins a call and triggers some crazy reverb or audio echo.

If you are working remotely, you also want to be able to quickly mute yourself if you dog starts barking or unmute yourself if someone suddenly asks you a question.

If you are the meeting organizer, chances are good you will need to share your screen – even if it is just to share the notes you are actively taking during the conversation. Some programs require “presenter rights” to share screens. Others do not have such restrictions. Make sure you know how the tool you are using works.

11. ENCOURAGE WEBCAM USE

You might not think it is a big deal for virtual meeting participants to share their screens, but I have found it is a great way of silently encouraging active participation. This is especially true in short calls like daily standups.

12. CONSIDER YOUR ROOM LIGHTING

If you are not using your webcam, this makes no difference, but if you are using a webcam, make sure you are in a room with adequate lighting. Others should be able to see your face easily. If there is a bright window behind you, others might only see your silhouette. If sunlight is streaming in and lighting up one half of your face, consider adding a lamp from the other direction to balance things a little bit.

13. ADJUST YOUR CAMERA ANGLE

If you are using a webcam built into a laptop, chances are the other meeting attendees will be getting a great shot of your ceiling along with your head looming large in the foreground. A really simple fix is to stick a couple of books or a box under your laptop to raise the level of your webcam.

14. GET A DECENT MIC

While most working professionals rely on a built-in computer microphone when connecting virtually, investing a few dollars in a decent external microphone can make a world of difference for your meeting attendees – especially if you are doing a lot of talking. Most of us are working out of rooms with odd acoustics – sounds will bounce around and make you sound far-away, echoed, too quite or too loud. An external mic (especially a headset) also helps minimize noise from any typing you may be doing on your keyboard during the meeting. A decent microphone (I prefer lavalier mics you can clip to your clothes) can make a HUGE difference.

I often think of a quote attributed to Shakespeare that reads, “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” For a meeting to be successful everyone needs to pull his or her own weight. Regardless of whether you play a small or large role, do your best, and I am sure you will succeed.

What tips do you have on effective meetings? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Be sure to also check out my Seven Work from Home Tips to Ensure Success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.