Face-to-face meetings have plenty of pitfalls, and virtual meetings share most of them—plus they come with their own unique set of challenges. What does it take to create an exceptional meeting environment for your team when its members span multiple cities, states, or even continents?
Here are the five of the most common problems with virtual meetings, and five solutions so you can prevent those ineffective meetings fraught with misunderstandings and time-wasters.
Problem: Too many meetings!
Yes, it’s true: Almost everyone agrees they spend too much time in meetings, even when they’re virtual. This is an especially pressing problem for people working in fields that thrive on high energy, motivation, and team commitment, such as sales teams and tech start-ups. The sustained bonding and excitement these teams need are tough to generate and sustain virtually.
Solution: Use virtual meetings judiciously
Take care of housekeeping matters before the virtual meeting; don’t burn group time on dull details. Create supercharged agendas, circulate them before the meeting, and stick to them. Create a visual companion to the agenda, and use document sharing so everyone can see it and follow along. Take breaks when needed, but charge through point by point with only agenda items that demand all participants.
Problem: No body language means less emotion for memory building
When we speak and meet people face-to-face, we get most of our information about what they’re thinking or how they’re reacting from body language and facial expressions.
But body language also helps the brain remember these interactions by attaching emotion to them. In a virtual setting, we get far less information, and we, therefore, generate a lot less emotion we can use to decode the intent of others and solidify memories. The end result is that we don’t remember as much from virtual meetings.
Solution: Put a face on it
Use HD video to forge connections between your team members. Encourage small talk at appropriate times; research indicates that small talk creates lasting business connections and even makes us smarter.
Problem: Without social cues, we risk misunderstandings and can’t tell how we’re doing
At a virtual meeting, it’s harder to know if your audience is bored to tears, lost, or totally engaged. Even a highly adept moderator can only do so much virtually, right?
Solution: Check in, react, and express emotion
Set the tone for your virtual meetings by ensuring that participants know they’re expected to react and be present — not mute you and Instagram their lunch.
Use GoToMeeting’s reaction icons so participants can react even when they don’t have verbal feedback. Express your feelings and reactions verbally, address participants by name, request their feedback, and ask even silent participants specific questions so you know everyone is engaged and focused.
Problem: Background noise from multiple participants
Too many virtual meetings are derailed by the background noise from each participant. We’ve all been the victim of someone’s crunchy lunch, inappropriate ringtone, or the telecommuter’s overly excitable dog.
Solution: Etiquette and technical tools
Make sure everyone knows to mute their lines if there is distracting noise in the background, but to continue to participate with text and reaction icons, and to keep their video feed on.
Problem: Unclear expectations and points
There are four primary types of learners:
- Auditory – those who need to hear information
- Kinesthetic – hands-on learners
- Reading/writing – absorb information by reading and writing it
- Visual – those who need to see information
In a face-to-face meeting, you have a better shot at getting your point across to more learners. But in the average virtual meeting, you may end up missing the mark for everyone but auditory learners.
Solution: Visual aids and interaction
Use document sharing tools to make visual aids part of the meeting to capture visual learners. Create bullet point notes for reading and writing learners and share them in the same way. Help auditory learners more by asking them to comment on points so they can recite what they’re hearing. And if you have some kinesthetic learners in your midst, consider “how to” segments when they fit the bill.
The bottom line
For modern businesses, virtual meetings are essential to the bottom line—and to building the most talented, creative teams. However, just because virtual meetings are now key to the way we do business doesn’t mean we should accept their problematic points. Avoid these five problems with virtual meetings by implementing smart solutions so you can lead more meaningful and productive virtual meetings for your teams.