How to make your virtual meetings even more successful

This article is based on the webinar delivered by David Smith, a global director at Virtual Learning Solutions and Virtual Gurus. It can be viewed here.

Step into the environment of a virtual meeting room for the first time and you might feel like you’re navigating unchartered waters.

David Smith, an experienced trainer and speaker on new communication and collaboration technologies, has been part of a remote team for the past nine years. For his business, virtual meetings are commonplace, and compared to face-to-face meetings, “when we think about meeting virtually, it’s an entirely new game,” he says.

The play on words is intended. Smith regards inviting a new audience into a virtual meeting as like asking friends to come golfing, when they’ve never played before. “It’s a completely different environment,” he argues. “There’s a set of tools and techniques that can be deployed that they won’t be familiar with.”

Sometimes these differences can be problematic. “In a face-to-face meeting, we can see what people are doing. They’re captive,” says Smith. “Virtually, they’re not.” This offers opportunities for them to multitask, check emails or even step away unnoticed. In addition, he says, “there’s the added layer of handling technology. They have to make sure they have the right plug-in or download, or they’ve got the URL right.”

Acknowledging these challenges, what should we be doing to ensure our virtual meetings are productive and achieve their aim? With a view to making your virtual meeting more successful, Smith highlights 10 of his most effective strategies…

1. State the purpose of the meeting beforehand

This may seem obvious as a fundamental of good meeting practice, but it’s easy to send out virtual invites with time and place specified, but no explanation of the meeting’s purpose.

Answers to questions such as, ‘why are we meeting?’ and ‘what are we looking to achieve?’ should be given as information on the meeting invite. This allows attendees to come prepared and ready to contribute, not fearing they will be wasting precious work hours.

An infographic by Atlassian on time wasting at work (see end of post) shows that employees feel half the time they spend in meetings is unnecessary. On average, this accounts for a staggering 31 unproductive hours a month. Meetings going off topic and not being relevant to the attendee can be seen as the biggest time wasters in virtual meetings. This can be avoided if both the meeting manager and those attending have a meeting purpose clearly in mind.

2. ‘Flip’ the meeting

When we ‘flip’ a meeting, we aim to keep presentation time to a minimum, and dialogue to a maximum.

People complain that meetings are a place where ideas go to die, shares David. The idea that meetings have become unproductive isn’t new. When we ‘flip’ a meeting, we change the format of the meeting to make it more engaging and productive. We choose to make attendees more involved and reduce the amount of meeting time overall.

Send out links to relevant documentation, references and presentations ahead of the meeting, suggests Smith. Then attendees can join the meeting feeling well informed. They won’t have to sit through presentations and can use valuable meeting time to discuss, problem-solve and make decisions having had time to digest information adequately.

3. Manage introductions via the ‘chat’ feature

In face-to-face meetings, we have little option but to introduce ourselves in a round robin way.  Virtually, this can be dull. It can eat up vital minutes, too.“The traditional way of introducing doesn’t work best in a virtual environment,” warns Smith. “The tools can support you to do it in a different way.”

His suggestion is to get everyone to introduce themselves at once on chat. It might take two minutes at the most and people can read the introductions and have a list to refer back to. Smith also encourages skipping introductions if you have regular meetings with the same people.

4. Outline meeting guidelines

“When you’re bringing people into a virtual meeting scenario, be explicit about what you expect from them,” says Smith. “What are the things we’re going to do, as a collective, that are going to mean we’re going to be successful?” Part of what we do to be more successful, he says, is to communicate these expectations more strongly.

Good guidelines include:

  • Ask attendees to mute audio if their background is noisy
  • When using webcam, ask that ‘hands are raised’ if someone wishes to speak
  • Allow questions to be typed in chat, but advise people to be patient
  • Ask attendees to be present, and state that you discourage multi-tasking
  • Ask that attendees stepping away from the meeting make it known, e.g. through chat
  • Consider inviting people to attend 10 minutes early to troubleshoot through any technical issues or give time on the floor to connect socially

5. Be interactive and engaging

Just as there’s the opportunity for ‘death by PowerPoint’, says Smith, there’s also the opportunity for ‘death by virtual meeting’. It’s not the actual presentation or meeting that bores you to death, but the misuse of tools, he argues.

John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, talks about the importance of understanding the way our attention works. “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it,” he writes. When virtual meetings aren’t interactive and engaging, you’re going to lose the attention of your attendees. “You can be a talking head that is just pushing your PowerPoint slides along,” says Smith. “Your presentation is a crutch for you, holding up your entire narrative.”

Instead, he advises deliberately planning moments where you can engage your attendees by asking questions, taking questions, running opinion polls, allowing brainstorming using annotation tools, giving attendees control of the keyboard and mouse or opening up the floor.

6. Make best use of the toolset available

For virtual meeting platforms like GoToMeeting that have high functionality, it’s vital to make the most of your toolset without defaulting to using the same tools over and over again.

If you’re holding virtual meetings, you have a responsibility to identify and understand how valuable tools work, advises Smith. Become very intimate with how they work because these tools are designed to help you interact and engage with an audience.

7. Humanise the experience

While we bring people together in virtual meetings, there’s still a huge need to humanise the experience, Smith points out. Webcams can “truly transform your meetings,” he says. Many attendees agree being able to see faces helps us connect to, rather than distract from, a meeting and its subject.

If you decide to use webcams, think ‘DABL’, says Smith.

  • Distance – you don’t want an image that’s too far or too close.
  • Angle – how does the angle of webcam show you on the screen?
  • Background – is there anything in your background that might distract viewers?
  • Lighting – how well is your face lit? Is it too bright, too dark?

8. Have frequent check-ins with your audience

Gaining consensus is another important element for engaging attendees. From time to time, check in with them. Don’t interpret silences to mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’.When using webcams, you might ask attendees to ‘raise their hand’ if they agree. Or use chat to ask: “Do you agree with this motion before we move forward? Yes,or no?”

9. Provide technical support to attendees

As a meeting leader, we have to provide technical support for a new audience in their unfamiliar virtual meeting environment, says Smith, adding that “no-one will be successful with it until someone shows them how to use it.”

He recommends the following:

  • Provide a start guide for a new audience and offer technical support in advance. This will avoid the need for live troubleshooting. If you’re using something like GoToMeeting, you can download the attendee guide.
  • Create your own troubleshooting guide. If you have issues that could arise due to your own employee’s hardware, e.g. headsets, help your attendees to be prepared for them.
  • Record your virtual meeting so that if anyone experiences technical problems, they can review the meeting afterwards.

 10. Capture minutes and actions effectively

Traditionally, the person leading the meeting had the responsibility to keep note of minutes, but Smith recommends asking someone else to take minutes so the leader can concentrate on hosting the meeting. Noting down minutes during the meeting itself, and sharing with attendees via screen share functionality at the end, can be an efficient way to manage this.

If you’re already familiar with running virtual meetings, Smith doesn’t suggest making too many changes at once. But by approaching these changes step-by-step, he guarantees you’ll see your virtual meetings reach a new level of success.

Time wasting infographic

Time wasting infographic was originally posted at

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