Whether they’re called conference calls, Skype calls, webinars or con-calls, businesses are relying on virtual meetings more and more.
Virtual meetings are convenient, reduce expensive travel costs, and fit more readily into Virtual meetings are convenient and reduce expensive travel costs. But just because you are participating in the meeting from your own desk instead of a conference or meeting room, that doesn't mean that they aren't important. Just like in-person meetings, you should prepare thoughtfully for virtual meetings so that they are an effective use of everyone's time.
- Think about the number of participants in your virtual meetings. Regardless of its convenience, ask yourself: do these individuals need to be here?
- Plan for time zone differences and try to accommodate as many people as possible. Be sure to state clearly on your meeting notice what time zone the meeting time is set for. (ie: 10a Pacific.) Be considerate and consider even acknowledging those who may be getting up early or staying late to attend. (ie: And a special shout out to our West Coast salespeople who are getting up extra early to join our breakfast call today!)
- Include an Agenda, just as you would for an in-person meeting. Include the topics you will cover. Some agendas include the intended outcome for each discussion point and the time allotted for each topic.
- Avoid last minute add-ons. Be sure to send attachments and handouts in advance with enough time so that people can print if need be.
- Do a Tech Check prior to your meeting. Make sure you understand how to use the technology before the meeting.
- Choose your presenters carefully. Be cautious about using virtual meetings for long, single speaker presentations. Multi-tasking becomes a risk! Conversely, think strategically about the number of “voices” you want presenting during a single conference call where it can be difficult to discern who is speaking.
- Try to keep everyone on an equal playing field. If some of your participants are remote, consider having everyone dial into a conference call or video call, rather than having a “blended” environment of some in-person/some remote. Invariably, the in-person group starts having side conversations (which can be incredibly distracting) and the remote employees lose out on the in-room body language and facial expressions.
- Make sure your participants prepared to participate. Are they familiar with the meeting technology? If not, consider having a quick orientation just prior to the meeting and/or a helpful one page ‘how to’ guide that participants can have available to ensure everyone knows how to engage, such as how to ask questions or to mute their line.
- Consider your setting. Try to take your call in a quiet location to avoid distractions, interruptions and external noise. If you’re in a cubicle environment, avoid taking your calls on speakerphone. Use a headset if you want to be “hands-free.”
- Follow participation etiquette. Unless the meeting is small or people know each other well, state your name prior to speaking, such as “This is Chris. I liked the comment Thom made about …” Take a beat after someone finishes a statement before you start speaking in order to avoid speaking over other people while they are talking.
- Check out your on-camera presence. Check your lighting and camera placement prior to hopping on a video call. Make an extra effort to speak loudly and clearly into the microphone.
- Don’t forget about bandwidth issues. While it’s true that high-speed bandwidth is better than ever, keep in mind that some of your remote team might not have sufficient bandwidth for both audio and video. A suggestion might be to allow everyone to be on camera for a moment at the beginning of the call to “say hi” and put names and faces together, but then to drop off camera and predominantly use audio for your meeting. A video you use in an in-person meeting to illustrate a point may not perform well over a web-based meeting platform – so send a link to your participants to watch in advance as part of their prep work.
Virtual meetings or conference calls can be incredibly convenient time savers and cost-effective solutions for distributed teams that still need to meet. However, don’t confuse convenience with “not needing planning.” If you’re not already having virtual meetings on a regular basis, help your team to get familiar with the technology platform you’ll be using, and take the time to establish a culture for your virtual meetings so that they can be just as productive in the virtual environment as they are in the “real” world.
Check out our books and courses to learn more about how to run effective meetings.