Virtual is the New Reality: 20 Keys to Managing and Attending Virtual Meetings
Meetings aren’t what they used to be. Not even close. The days of physically going to a particular place at a specific time are gone. In today’s fluid business world, more and more meetings are held virtually. As technology has progressed, so has the incidence of virtual meetings that may have participants from across town, across the country, or even across the ocean.
Managing these meetings is both an art and a science. There are steps and practices you can follow to make these meetings as smooth and productive as an old-fashioned “boardroom” meeting. Use these habits and you’ll find that your meetings will be more engaging, productive and professional; and you also might be able to finish them sooner than you thought!
Keys to Administering a Virtual Meeting
Before the meeting:
- Avoid scheduling on Mondays and Fridays
There’s an old adage that says one should never buy a car that was built on a Monday or a Friday. I’ll bet you can guess why: people aren’t at their best when they’re recovering from a big weekend or when they’re anticipating the one coming up. Makes sense. Are you at your best at either of those times? Keep the meetings in the middle of the week.
- Pay attention to Time Zones
If you are inviting people who live in different parts of the world, try to figure out a time that will work for everyone’s schedule. If you’re in New York and set up a meeting time for 4pm, your co-worker in Moscow isn’t going to be pleased, is he? If it turns out that the best time for the meeting is during your off-hours, do it then anyway. Strong leaders will do whatever makes the most sense for their team. Finding the best time for your meeting will show the attendees that you are considerate of their time and they’ll arrive in a positive frame of mind, fresh and ready to go.
- Invite guests at least a week before the meeting
This will give your guests enough time to arrange their timetables and make their preparations. If you must reschedule do so as early as possible. Last-minute cancellations are like school on a Saturday – no class! It’s also a good idea to research each attendee’s role and who they work for and with.
- Include an agenda in the invitation
If you cannot, be sure to send one out at least 24 hours before the meeting so that the invitees know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. If your meeting doesn’t get accepted by the invitee, send an email and include the agenda as a reminder. Say something gentle like “here is the agenda for the meeting”. Avoid confrontational phrases like “Why haven’t you accepted the meeting?” Remember, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
- Know how to use all the Virtual Meeting tools
Most, if not all virtual meetings incorporate web-based tools to aid in communication. You need to be able to use these with a high degree of confidence. At Virtira we use Cisco Webex as our core meeting platform, although our clients use Zoom and MS Office. With Webex, it’s easy to record the meeting, use Whiteboard to share ideas and use Pointer to help identify specific information. We can share web browsers, Acrobat and Word files. We can even share our entire desktop with a simple click of a button.
Running a meeting:
6. Login at least 5 minutes before the meeting start time to allow yourself time to work out any technical glitches. Don’t be late for your own meeting!
7. It is best not to share your desktop if you can avoid it. But if you absolutely need to share it, make sure to turn off any instant messaging programs and notifications. Best to keep your private life private, right?
8. Wait until 5 minutes after the official start time to start your meeting. This will give people a chance to casually chat with each other while others are sorting out their own technical issues. Be patient with those people struggling with the technology, it happens to all of us at one time or another.
9. Always announce that you are recording the meeting and do not begin recording until you start the meeting officially. People will behave more professionally if they know they are being recorded.
10. If it is the first couple of meetings, go “around the room”, encouraging everyone to introduce themselves, say where they’re located and say a few words about what they hope to achieve through the meeting. This will foster a sense of teamwork and let everyone feel more comfortable.
11. Be assertive and “own” the meeting. As a meeting chair, you are responsible for implementing the agenda and keeping everybody focused and on time. If there’s a lot to work through, it’s often a good practice to break up the meeting into smaller, shorter “chunks” that can be crossed off the list as the meeting progresses. This will give a feeling of momentum to a longer meeting.
12. Assign alternate hosts to your meeting. They’ll be sure to remember things left unsaid, record action items and help guide the meeting by engaging those people who are not contributing much.
13. Announce when there is 5 minutes left in the meeting and avoid going overtime. “Going long” is a sign of disrespect for people’s time and will result in negative feelings.
14. Assign someone the task of tracking the action items, decision and risks. This helps everyone pay attention to the meeting, not scrambling to take notes. Ask whoever took the notes to read back the action items and decisions at the end of the meeting and make sure everyone has clarification and a strong understanding of how to accomplish each action item. Meeting Notes and Action items are the bread and butter of any project. They are what drives the project and what will make it succeed or fail.
15. If a meeting is finished a bit early, call it a day! No need to stretch out the meeting to fit the time, all present will appreciate the extra few minutes you’ve just gifted them. Be sure to thank your invitees for attending the meeting and if possible, try to agree on a tentative time for the next meeting.
These tips will help you to run a professional and, we hope, enjoyable meeting. But there are other people there who need to also know how to be “on their game”.
Here’s how to knock ‘em dead next time you are asked to participate in a virtual meeting:
Keys to Attending a Virtual Meeting
- Present yourself professionally
Just because it’s a virtual meeting doesn’t mean you can look like a slob! Put on a clean shirt and brush that unruly hair. Set up your camera in a place with strong lighting so people can see you properly and make sure the camera places you in the center of the screen. Make sure not to show an unmade bed or dirty dishes in the background. The most famous case of unwanted background items in a Virtual Meeting happened last year and instantly went viral. It was hilarious, but that man is never going to hear the end of it from his colleagues.
- Sound is important
Unwanted background noise can kill a meeting. Wear headphones with a mike that you can mute. Do not wear jingly, jangly jewelry. Do speak loudly, clearly and not too fast. Some people get nervous and try to blurt out everything as quickly as possible. Slow it down.
Don’t set up your virtual office in a coffee shop or a busy public space. Make sure it’s a quiet place where there will be no interruptions, this will let the meeting flow much better.
- Stay present
There are lots of ways to be distracted in a virtual meeting, but by disengaging from your phone, messaging programs and email, it will better allow you to be engaged and productive during the meeting. You won’t make a good impression if you appear to be unaware of the direction the meeting is going. Stay focused and you will shine!
- A meeting is not snack-time
Nobody is going to appreciate hearing you chew, slurp and swallow that microwave burrito! Keep water or juice handy for if you get thirsty but keep food out of reach until the conclusion of the meeting.
- Thank the meeting administrator. They went through this process to communicate with you and the other attendees. Show your appreciation and support.
Virtual meetings are here to stay, and you’ve got to know how to both manage and attend them the right way. If you want to learn more about how to create engaging, effective meetings, we at Virtira would love to talk to you about it. Contact us email@example.com!