A well run virtual meeting can have limitless benefits, everything from increased productivity to bringing remote workers closer together as a team.
On the flip side, meetings can go terribly wrong and provide inspiration for countless Internet memes.
The only difference between a good meeting and a bad one is how you go about it. To make sure you’re making the most of your virtual meetings, we turned to six experts to get their top tips.
Level the Playing Field
Nothing kills a video call like freezing screens or distracting background noise. That’s why you should ensure all employees have the collaboration tools they need.
“Everyone’s had a conference call where at least one attendee has awful audio quality; nothing kills a discussion faster. Make sure everyone on your team has the best communication tools,” says John Wulff, SVP of Software Development for CUSO Financial Services. “High-end wireless noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones (we like Sennheiser PXC 550) are expensive but a whole lot cheaper than office space.”
“Stack Overflow supplies a high-quality webcam and headset to all remote workers—as well as office workers—so that all meetings are held on video calls. This puts remote workers on even footing—they can join any conversation at any time, even those happening in the office,” says David Haney, Engineering Manager at Stack Overflow.
Andrew Berkowitz, founder and Chief Creative Officer at Team Snap, takes it even further.
“First of all, if one person is remote, everybody should be remote. There’s absolutely nothing worse than having some of the people in a conference room and some of the people on video,” he says. “The people on video inevitably get left out of the conversation. So even though it can feel weird, if there are a couple of people in one location, they should still get on to their individual computers for a video chat.”
Make it the Go-To Option
If you’re using video conferencing here and there, then you’re doing it wrong. Video should be an essential part of every virtual meeting.
“Model the behavior and set expectations that everyone will use video,” says Rick Lepsinger managing partner at OnPoint. “Many people are uncomfortable using video because they don’t like how they look and/or they can’t multi-task—but make it the norm.”
Wulff concurs, adding: “Just do it—always! So much is communicated by facial expressions, especially during collaboration. The ideas flow and the relationships grow a lot faster when faces are involved.”
Be a Vigilant Leader
Nothing is worse than sitting in silence staring at a screen. If you’re the meeting leader, then you have to keep track of who’s piping in, and who’s not.
“Recognize that due to the latency in video chats, it’s inevitable that there are going to be some interruptions and dead spaces. Different people handle this differently, so as a meeting facilitator it’s important to look out for people who are uncomfortable butting in, and specifically solicit their opinions,” says Berkowitz.
Have an Agenda—and Stick to It
Losing track of time and letting some members wander off topic can derail meetings quicker than anything. Plan ahead and make sure all members stick to that agenda.
“Have a goal, have an agenda, have a leader. Everyone can get a voice, but it should be clear who owns the meeting and is steering the ship,” says Greg Abel, owner of Tailfin Marketing Communications.
Dana Fox, Director of Global Customer Success for Athena Software, agrees. “Agenda sets the content. You need to clock the conversation and anticipate the transition for the next topic to make the shift easy and natural and not cut off,” he says. “Include others on the line but muted. I set a mental map of the areas we need to cover and let the client set the speed and priority of what gets discussed for how long.”