Since last year, virtual meetings have become more important than ever. Moreover, they are expected to continue to play a significant role in our daily work lives in the future, as a lot of employers are considering to adapt their work from office/home policy or have adapted it already.
Poor preparation or facilitation can make virtual meetings ineffective or even quite a hassle. We have probably all already experienced a meeting where you look back afterwards and realize that some things didn’t go well or missed the desired outcome. Let’s therefore walk through some tips and tricks that could help you increase the effectiveness of your next virtual meeting.
Before the meeting
Let’s start with the preparation of a meeting. First, think about the desired outcome of the meeting. This will make clear if a meeting is needed in the first place – perhaps you can obtain the desired outcome by simply having a one-on-one conversation with someone, for example.
The desired outcome or objective of the meeting will also help you determine who needs to be invited. Who from the project team needs to be invited? Would a subject-matter expert be required? Any other stakeholders?
Once you have defined the desired outcome of the meeting, you can set up the agenda of the meeting based on this and on the action items from the last meeting. The agenda will be your plan for the meeting. It is where you list the items you would like to discuss in order to meet the meeting’s objective.
You can provide more structure to the meeting by setting time slots per agenda point. If you set these time slots to the exact time, for example “10:00 – 10:15”, it can be easier to keep track of them compared to when you only indicate a duration, for example “15 minutes”. After all, all you’ll need to do is just keep an eye on the clock.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with Agile meeting tools like Lean Coffee Table…
When you release the meeting invite, always share the desired outcome together with the agenda of the meeting. This way, the participants can better prepare themselves for the meeting, and it will also be easier to maintain the focus during the meeting.
Lastly, it can also happen that a meeting needs to be organized last-minute and you don’t have the time to prepare the meeting as outlined above. In such a situation, you can define the objective of the meeting when you start the meeting. However, try not to kick off too quickly, so all the participants have the time to think and get their focus right.
During the meeting
As the meeting organizer, don’t hesitate to open the meeting earlier than scheduled. It’s of course better to welcome the participants to the meeting as the host, instead of the other way around. Opening the meeting early also gives you an opportunity for small talk (hopefully not only about the weather!). Some small talk always helps to get to know each other a bit better. It eases the mind and reduces stress levels before the actual meeting commences.
Also, don’t be afraid to turn on your webcam and ask everyone to do the same. Using the webcam during meetings will improve communication, as you’ll be able to see each other’s body language and catch expressions and emotions you wouldn’t notice otherwise. Actually seeing each other in a meeting will not only improve communication, but it will also increase the engagement and participation of the participants. Remember to place your camera at eye level, so your head and chest are well visible. Nobody wants to stare at the bottom of your nose and chin, right?
Make sure to have all the required information and documentation ready when you start a meeting. This way you avoid that participants will have to wait for you during the meeting, so that you can keep the flow of the meeting going.
As mentioned earlier, an agenda will give structure to a meeting. You should therefore make sure to display and use the agenda during the meeting as much as possible. This way, everyone can follow what is being discussed and what is still planned to be discussed.
Unrelated topics that are brought up, which may also be important, can be further discussed offline. Alternatively, you can just “park” them for now, and pick them up again if there is time left at the end of the meeting. Or you can include those topics in the agenda of the next meeting. This will make sure that participants will be less reluctant to let go of such a topic, so that you can keep deviations from the agenda to a minimum.
Another important thing is entirely your personal responsibility: try not to get distracted, and avoid multitasking. Multitasking could for example be checking your emails during a meeting or quickly getting some work done. To avoid getting distracted, you could for example turn off or ignore your incoming notifications or put your phone out of arm’s reach.
With regards to the communication during a meeting, try to consider the following tips for effective communication:
- Focus on the right tone of voice
- Avoid sounding monotone
- Pause occasionally to allow participation and engagement
- Give everyone the opportunity to contribute by asking direct questions or doing a round robin
- Use body language when speaking
- When talking, look into your camera to create an “eye contact” effect
Something that can also happen is that you meet with some people in person, while others are joining virtually. In that case, make sure you first give the virtual participants a chance to give input. This way you avoid that only the participants who are with you in the meeting room contribute. Also make sure that everyone in the room speaks up and that only one person speaks at a time. Otherwise, it could be difficult for the others to clearly understand what is being discussed.
Lastly, always end a meeting by summarizing the action items defined in the meeting. This way, you ensure that the participants fully understand what will be expected from them until the next meeting.
After the meeting
As soon as possible after the meeting, share the meeting minutes together with the new action items with the participants. For the action items, don’t forget to list what/who/when. These action items could then also serve as the basis for the agenda of the next meeting, together with its desired outcome.