How to Host a Successful Virtual Meeting
These days, virtual meetings are the norm. Due to the rise of remote work and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, many professionals now operate out of home offices. While some of these professionals will eventually return to their previous, in-office working arrangements, many won’t. Because of this, it’s essential you learn how to host a successful virtual meeting.
Don’t worry, I’m here to help! Keep reading to learn a simple, five-step process you can use to ensure your virtual meetings are every bit as effective as in-person ones.
What is a Virtual Meeting?
A virtual meeting is an online gathering, conducted via video conferencing software, that allows attendees in separate locations around the world to hear, see, and engage with one another in a much more personal way than, say, a standard email chain.
While professionals have been hosting virtual meetings for years, they became the go-to communication channel in 2020 because of the coronavirus.
Host a Successful Virtual Meeting in 5 Steps
Virtual meetings aim to recreate the feel of in-person gatherings by using video software to allow attendees to meet face-to-face — even if they’re thousands of miles away from each other. But here’s the thing: virtual meetings are different.
These differences can make it difficult for inexperienced professionals to host successful virtual meetings. To make things easier on yourself, follow these five steps:
1. Choose Your Software
To host a virtual meeting, you need to invest in some kind of video conferencing software. There are plenty of options. Some are free to use, while others cost a significant sum per month. The software you choose will depend on your goals.
For basic video conferences, tools like Zoom and Skype can work well. While these free solutions lack advanced features, they’re easy to use. Choose this option if you plan to host infrequent meetings and simply need a more personal way to stay in touch with colleagues.
Dedicated virtual meeting software will give you access to all the basic features of Zoom and Skype. But you’ll also enjoy collaboration tools like screen sharing, a digital whiteboard, and advanced security. GoToMeeting is a solid example of this kind of tool.
If you’re looking to host professional meetings on a regular basis, you can’t go wrong with ClickMeeting. This software allows for screen sharing, digital whiteboards, private chats, user blocking, multiple views, top-grade security — everything you need to host stellar meetings.
We should also mention that ClickMeeting can be used for free for the first 30 days. After that, plans start at just $25 a month so there’s a lot of value with this tool.
2. Create an Agenda
The best virtual meeting agendas include:
- The main points you want to discuss
- The amount of time you plan to discuss each point
- Relevant documents and research related to the talking points
Agendas should be sent to all attendees before the meeting takes place. That way everyone has a chance to prepare and will be equipped to contribute. If you’re using a meeting software that requires access codes, call-in numbers, etc. make sure your agenda includes them, too.
3. Establish Ground Rules
One of the keys to effective virtual meetings is ground rules. How do you want people to act during your video conference? If you expect attendees to exhibit certain behaviors, make sure you clarify them before your meeting actually starts. Here are a few common ones:
- Arrive Early: If attendees arrive 5-10 minutes early, they’ll be able to engage in a virtual watercooler session. They’ll also be able to test their equipment to make sure it works before go-time. Technical issues derail meetings.
- Use the Mute Button: When not speaking, ask attendees to mute their microphones. This will help eliminate distracting noises during your online get-togethers. Speaking of distractions, ask attendees to login from private locations, too, if possible.
- Be Respectful of Others: Let your attendees know that disrespect won’t be tolerated. This includes talking over other team members and using phones while others are presenting, as well as making openly disrespectful comments.
You shouldn’t have to cover ground rules every time unless you’re constantly meeting with new team members. I do suggest reminding people of them on occasion, though.
4. Engage Your Audience
Virtual meetings are beneficial because people can attend from anywhere. But this also has its drawbacks. For example, it’s much more tempting to check email while a team member is presenting because you’re not physically present in the same room with them.
Furthermore, many people feel strange chiming in and contributing during a virtual meeting. It just doesn’t seem as natural as a true face to face interaction.
You can, of course, set ground rules that prohibit attendees from working on other projects during your meetings. But if you really want to engage them, you’ll probably need to go beyond this. One of the best ways is to use the Round Robin technique.
Basically, you go around “the room” and ask each attendee their opinion on a specific subject. This makes it easy for everyone to give input on all topics discussed.
Another way to increase engagement during a virtual meeting is to give every attendee a job. For instance, one person could be in charge of cataloging ideas during a brainstorming session. Another might be asked to monitor the clock so your meeting doesn’t run long. Still others could be asked to try their hands at data storytelling in front of the group.
When attendees have a specific job to complete, they’ll be much more engaged in the meeting, which will ensure your online gatherings are as productive as possible.
5. Follow Up Post-Meeting
Finally, I always suggest following up with attendees after your virtual meeting has concluded.
Your follow-up doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to summarize the major talking points, clarify next-steps for each attendees, list due dates for all action items, and state when the next meeting and/or check-in time will be.
To really improve your virtual meeting skills, ask attendees about your hosting performance. What do they think you did well? What could you improve on? Like anything else — blogging, video marketing, podcasting — qualified feedback like this will help you get better faster.
3 Tips For Better Virtual Meeting
If you follow the five-step process above, you’ll be able to host successful virtual meetings. But if you really want to up your game, keep these pro tips in mind as well:
1. Identify Your Meeting’s Goal
Why do you want to host a virtual meeting? Way too many organizations meet just because. This is a colossal waste of time — don’t do it! Make sure each of your virtual meetings have a specific purpose. Then keep this goal in mind when you set your agenda.
In a similar vein, not every person on your team needs to attend every meeting. Do your colleagues a favor and only invite them if you have a legitimate reason.
2. Account For Conflicting Schedules
Conflicting schedules and multiple time zones can make it difficult to plan virtual meetings — difficult, but not impossible. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Plan Your Meetings Far In Advance: If possible, get your meetings on the books as early as possible. Advanced notice will allow each attendee to block out time on their calendar before it gets filled up with our work activities.
- Look For Common Time Frames: Do you need to meet with colleagues in multiple time zones? Try to schedule your virtual meetings for common time frames. For example, workers in San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; and London, England should all be able to make a 9am PST meeting (12pm in Boston and 4pm in London).
- Record Your Virtual Meetings: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a key team member won’t be able to make it to your online gathering. Fortunately, software platforms like ClickMeeting make it easy to record meetings. That way those who weren’t able to attend can catch up on the ideas and plans shared.
3. Make Time For a Virtual Watercooler
Studies show that having a best friend at work can boost employee engagement, productivity, and overall performance. It’s hard to have a best friend at work if you never have a chance to hang out and shoot the breeze. That’s why I recommend virtual watercoolers.
A virtual watercooler is any kind of online meetup that allows attendees to get to know each other in a fun, informal way. They give team members the chance to interact so that they’re more comfortable sharing ideas during virtual meetings.
Since you’ll all be gathering anyway I suggest making time for virtual watercoolers before your official meeting starts. Trust me, you’ll be much more productive this way!
Virtual meetings are incredibly beneficial because they allow professionals to engage with each other in a face to face manner — even if they’re located on opposite sides of the globe. But hosting a virtual meeting is different than hosting an in-person one.
Fortunately, the five steps I outlined in this article will help you host successful virtual meetings in no time. Best of luck!
Jakub Zieliński – Content marketer with 12 years of experience in media & marketing. Managing content and copywriting for SaaS / IT industry.
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