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Our definitive guide to virtual meetings

Feb 23, 2021

Whether you’ve been hosting virtual meetings for years, or you just learned how to log on within the last few months, there’s no denying this form of communication is here to stay. Online meetings open up countless opportunities for connection and collaboration, which is why they’re such a great platform for conducting business or simply keeping in touch.

When we gather in a virtual space, we can exchange ideas and share insights in real-time — which definitely beats the back and forth of email threads or phone messages. And not only are online meetings incredibly efficient and cost effective, they can also boost productivity and encourage camaraderie among remote teams in different locations.

With that said, not all meetings are created equal. To guarantee you’re getting the most out of your time together, we’ve made a quick guide to the best practices for hosting an online meeting. 

 

Online meeting best practices to enhance productivity

Sure, online meetings are an amazing resource. But if there’s not a clear agenda or no one’s keeping an eye on the clock, your meeting is destined to become a time-waster. Luckily, we’ve had plenty of first-hand experience in the good, the bad, and the ugly of virtual meetings, which has allowed us to fine-tune what it takes to make a meeting great

Using these online meeting best practices, your team will be on track to accomplish everything it sets out to do — and maybe even wrap up a little early!

Establish your meeting norms

Meeting norms are the standards of responsibility and respect you’d like your team to uphold. These guidelines can apply to how participants prepare for the meeting, as well as how communication will flow once everyone has signed in. Your preferred norms can be entirely unique, but they should always be clear, concise, and in the interest of the whole group.

Common meeting norms might include:

  • Testing technical components in advance.
  • Avoiding multitasking while the meeting is in session.
  • Using the mute button to reduce background noise. 
  • Finding a neutral, non-distracting backdrop.
  • Making sure your body language indicates you’re listening.
  • Ensuring everyone can respond in an organized manner. 

Your norms should be shared via email or meeting agenda a day or so before things kick off, so everyone has a chance to get on the same page. With these norms in place, you can improve your workflow and refrain from having to address these issues while the meeting’s going on.

Select the right tech

You’re going to need more than a solid internet connection to run your meeting. Fortunately, there’s tons of tech available that promises to make your video conference run smoother and simpler — but the trick is in knowing which is right for your team. Wading through your options will require you to consider your meeting needs, and whether these tools are accessible for everyone participating on the call. 

Would you like the meeting to be recorded, or would you benefit from a transcription feature? Will you need screen sharing abilities, or a way to share meeting notes with the group? The answers to these questions can help determine the functionality you’ll want, and will largely impact the meeting’s outcomes (and what happens next).

You’re smart to look for a conferencing software that’s a one-stop-shop for hosting, recording, transcribing, and sharing each of your virtual meetings. With this kind of collaboration tool, you can complete all of your objectives without toggling between multiple platforms or services. 

Develop a meeting agenda

If you’re the facilitator for the meeting, you’ll likely be in charge of developing an agenda. Without a solid foundation in place, your meeting will be at risk of falling apart. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate your goals, materials, and design prior to your scheduled meeting time.

A thoughtfully-prepared agenda can be an immense help to your meeting participants, by allowing them to collect their thoughts or formulate the questions they’d like to bring to the table. What’s more, a good agenda will provide a timeline for your various meeting activities — key presentation, brainstorming sessions, coffee breaks, and so on. 

With this agenda in effect, your team can keep an eye on the clock and stay on task much easier than they would just trying to wing it. And as an added bonus, any introverts in the group will breathe a sigh of relief knowing what to expect or anticipate during your video conference.

 

Share the agenda with your co-workers

It might be an obvious point to make, but your meeting agenda really needs to be shared with your co-workers. Even if you’ve spent ample time preparing and perfecting your plans, the agenda won’t be impactful unless you distribute it ahead of your meeting.

Ideally, the agenda would be shared at least a day in advance, so participants can review what’s coming up and complete (or consider) what they’ll be contributing. The meeting agenda should include key takeaways or talking points, as well as the goals for your allotted time.

As the meeting facilitator, make sure to also send out virtual invitations, forward any necessary visuals, and provide relevant links or login information, too.

Break the ice from the start

Let’s be honest: webinars and virtual events can get awkward, right? While building rapport can be somewhat challenging when you’re not hosting an in-person meeting, by no means does that make it impossible. If you’re proactive about breaking the ice among your group, the mood is sure to feel a lot more comfortable for everyone.

Icebreakers are intentional questions or activities meant to help participants relax and ease into the topics at hand. In addition to cultivating a positive atmosphere, icebreakers encourage casual conversation and let people get to know (and trust) one another. And the best part is, nearly any icebreaker you do in a face-to-face meeting can be done virtually.

A few ideas that are super easy to implement include:

  • Let participants introduce themselves and their role on the team.
  • Play a few rounds of virtual ‘rock, paper, scissors.’
  • Try out some (work appropriate) ‘Would you rather…?’ questions.
  • Ask members to share what the weather’s like in their time zone.
  • Play ‘two truths and a lie’ with quirky facts about each person.
  • Have everyone post an emoji that describes how they’re feeling.

With a few minutes of friendly, light-hearted interaction at the start of your video conference, you can strengthen team culture and boost morale for the whole call.

Prepare for interruptions

The truth is, hang ups with meeting technology are bound to happen on occasion. And yet, if you’re able to prepare for these interruptions, they shouldn’t alter the flow of your meeting; one person’s technical trouble is no reason for things to go off the rails or detract from the message being presented.

If possible, ask everyone to troubleshoot their technical issues before your meeting starts, and offer resources or contacts as needed. Then, devise a Plan B in case your meeting does go off course. For example, having hard copies of digital materials will make it much easier to continue on if someone’s webcam or screen sharing isn’t working. 

In general, whoever’s facilitating the call should know where to turn for tech support, and be ready to adapt your agenda to accommodate any problems with meeting software.

 

Keep things moving

You’ve probably heard it said that time is of the essence, and your virtual meetings are no exception. In order for your meeting to go well, you’ll have to be mindful of the time and keep things moving at an agreeable pace. Encountering lulls or belaboring the same point won’t be terribly productive for anyone on your conference call.

Additionally, it’s important for your call to begin and end as scheduled. Even if you have a handful of latecomers to the virtual meeting room, you still need to start at the designated time; when a morning meeting is delayed, it can actually disrupt the rest of your workday. (And that same sentiment goes for running over time, as well.)

It’s also a good idea to get a read on how people are feeling every ten to fifteen minutes, since their attention is likely to wane past that point. If your agenda hasn’t arranged for breaks, look for a natural pause in the conversation to allow everyone to grab a glass of water or use the restroom. These little moments can really refresh a remote meeting and make team members more productive in the long run.

 

Encourage group participation 

Like it or not, most of us have been in a meeting where we had zero idea what we were doing there. When attendees don’t understand their purpose within the actual meeting, it can be a source of frustration or an excuse to slack off, and could become a roadblock to team engagement. For this reason, encouraging group participation is a huge help in running a successful virtual meeting.

Before you start, make sure each meeting member has their own job to do. One person might be asked to jot down the questions from your brainstorm, another could manage the slide progression during the PowerPoint, and someone else might act as timekeeper. The ideal jobs are interactive, but not overly complicated — a job that’s too complex could hinder what they gain from the meeting.

Providing everyone with these tasks gives them an active (rather than passive) role in your virtual meeting. And when people feel like stakeholders in what’s happening, it’ll translate to better focus and improved participation overall.

 

Don’t forget to follow up

The follow up to your meeting should remind the team of their responsibilities and inspire them to tackle their to-do list. A brief email that summarizes who’s working on what will typically be enough information to refer to; anything longer than that, and they’ll probably opt out of reading through everything. Be sure to provide the action items that were discussed, define timelines for completion, and share the date for your next meeting (if applicable).

Lastly, if you were the meeting facilitator, don’t forget to prioritize feedback to help you evaluate how things went and reveal where you have room to improve. Whether you gather feedback in a one-on-one chat or in an anonymous survey, hearing from your team members is an excellent way to create more engaging and effective virtual meetings in the future.

 

Host better virtual meetings with Vowel

Virtual meetings are quickly becoming a standard across all industries, which means you’ll want to know how to run one that everyone enjoys. By following this guide to online meeting best practices, you’ll be equipped to host a meeting that’s both inclusive and informative.

But remember, you’ll still need the right video conferencing software to make it happen. Vowel’s online meeting tools allow you to host, record, transcribe, and share your meetings with ease. Join Vowel’s waitlist today, and start taking advantage of our user-friendly features and superior functionality for yourself.

, Head of Marketing

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