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Making Those Virtual Meetings Work

In today’s digital age, we all conduct meetings on the telephone and via Skype.  As much as these may save time and money, they also come with their own set of challenges, especially when it comes to keeping participants engaged and on track. Luckily, there are many ways you can ensure that your virtual meetings are just as productive as your in-person meetings. Here are 12 of our favorite tips:

  1. Pre-work—Ask participants to prepare for the meeting.  Let them know beforehand what you want them to accomplish and that they should be ready to participate.  Giving them an assignment of some sort will make this even easier.
  2. Do a quick warm-up—Unless the group is too large, give each person a chance to speak for 15-30 seconds before you begin.  Ask a question like:  “How was your weekend?”  Or, “What does January look like?”  Or, “I would like each of you to ask me a question about something relevant.”  The five or six minutes upfront always help when participants can’t see each other.
  3. Establish ground rules—Be very clear about the meeting’s guidelines right from the start, as this can decide how productive the meeting will be. The specifics are up to you, but no multi-tasking, no checking emails, no eating noisy food, no participating while driving are all great ideas for your rule book.
  4. Review the agenda—An important part of getting the meeting off to a strong start is reminding everyone why they are there. Let everyone know exactly what you want to accomplish twice: once a day or two before the meeting, and again at the beginning of the meeting.
  5. Assign a scribe—If one member of the team captures the thoughts on paper or electronically in every virtual meeting, you will have a “group memory” and will have preserved all of the ideas, thoughts, perceptions, issues, recommendations, conclusions and next steps that were presented.  Different team members can play this role in different meetings, or even during parts of the same meeting.
  6. Establish a time contract—Remind everyone how much time you have and honor it.  If you allocated an hour, the meeting should end in an hour.  Respect for others’ time is essential.
  7. Have people identify themselves before speaking—It takes two seconds for someone to say “This is Sebastian” before making his contribution.  Too often someone is speaking and we’re not sure who they are.  That can confuse the message.
  8. Don’t be afraid to call on people—It is okay to call on people if they are not participating.  You don’t want to come on too strong, but to say something like “Jonathan, I would love to hear your opinion on this,” or, “Molly, you are being awfully quiet today…”  You know your people: keep them involved
  9. Facilitate—The group needs to be kept on track, focused, fully involved, on time etc..  These are all process issues, best handled by a facilitator.  You can either facilitate the meeting yourself or assign  someone else.  But make sure that process gets the attention it deserves.
  10. When appropriate, encourage humor—Virtual meetings can use some color, so use humor when appropriate.  Lighten things up.  Don’t turn the meeting into a “yuck session,” but don’t overlook the value of having some fun.
  11. Nail the action plan—Remember those “4 W’s.”  End every meeting with an action plan: “Who will do what, by when, with help from whom?”  Get those steps, be specific and make sure you get the buy-in.
  12. End on a positive note—Before signing off, don’t forget to thank the team.  Credit those who made significant contributions.  Let them know you appreciated their doing the pre-work.  Encourage them to use what was discussed.  Any of these can help the meeting end positively, which is exactly what you want the participants to remember.

Applying some of these guidelines to any meeting that is not face-to-face, will make them much more effective.  And since we spend so much time in meetings anyway, we believe the results are worth every second of your time and effort.

Do you have any other tips and tricks that make your virtual meetings more productive? Share your secrets in a comment!