A guide to effective online meetings

As more employees work from home or remotely, it is inevitable that meetings are increasingly conducted online. These virtual meetings might well involve colleagues, customers or supply chain partners who could be anywhere in the world, so getting them right has never been more essential.

A guide to effective online meetings

As more employees work from home or remotely, it is inevitable that meetings are increasingly conducted online. These virtual meetings might well involve colleagues, customers or supply chain partners who could be anywhere in the world, so getting them right has never been more essential.

It’s important to ensure that virtual meetings are as productive and effective as possible. If the virtual meetings you host are run professionally, without any unwanted technical issues or other distractions, then your own reputation and the brand of your company will undoubtedly benefit. Here are some of the key points to consider in order to get the most out of these meetings. So here’s a quick overview of some of the key factors in making such meetings successful.

Pre-meeting

Create a meeting agenda

A good agenda provides clarity on what the actual goals and objectives are. It also sets out the structure of the meeting – when will it start, what will be discussed or presented and how long each specific segment of the meeting should take. Don’t forget to leave room for questions and comments.

The agenda should also set expectations for attendees, including who will be in attendance, what if anything they are responsible for bringing to the meeting and any specific roles they may have.

Choose an appropriate meeting time

You’ll need to give attendees a definitive start and end time, so they can fit your meeting into their schedule. If possible, it’s always best to schedule meetings well in advance - the more notice everyone has, the less likely they are to have scheduling conflicts.

Where global or distributed teams and clients are involved then, of course, it’s important to take account of any time zones issues.

Preparing for the meeting

It is useful to give attendees some advance notice of factors to consider when preparing for the meeting. For example, you might ask them to read the agenda thoroughly before the meeting begins and ensure that they are aware of any information or facts they should be in possession of to address specific points during the meeting.

Check your technology set-up

In much the same way as you set up a physical meeting room before attendees arrive, you should ensure that everything is in place and working prior to the earliest attendee arriving.

While you can't completely avoid technical issues from occurring, you can reduce the likelihood of technical surprises by, for example, checking your microphone and speakers and verifying your meeting and attendee settings. You might therefore request that everyone logs-in five minutes earlier and tests their equipment.

During the meeting

Follow proper virtual meeting etiquette

Following standard virtual meeting etiquette can help to ensure that the virtual meeting goes smoother and stays on schedule. For example, you might request that all attendees should mute their microphones when they are not speaking to minimise any background noises that may be distracting to other attendees. It’s also a good idea to ask them to turn off notifications on their laptops, tablets or phones.

You should also discourage multi-tasking by asking attendees not to respond to emails or browse through their social media feeds whilst in a virtual meeting and focus on what is being said as if they were there in person.

Another commonly used piece of etiquette is to ask attendees to raise their hand if they wish to speak (which can be done visually or in some cases via the conferencing software) in order to avoid interrupting or speaking over others. As part of this they should wait until the meeting chairman or host acknowledges their request and invites them to speak.

Keep it professional

Bear in mind that you should act in a professional manner during a virtual meeting, in just the same way as you would in a face-to-face meeting.

This means dressing appropriately for the occasion. It is also good practice and common courtesy to pay attention to the person talking and not look around the room you are in or talk with others who may be physically in the room with you.

Encourage interaction and engagement

At the outset of the meeting, it can be helpful to make time for a few minutes of off-topic interaction before getting down to its main purpose of the meeting, as this can help the attendees to get to know each other a bit better and generate a rapport.

You might also consider formally introducing the attendees if they don’t know each other too well, or indeed have them introduce themselves. And if the meeting requires everyone’s participation, plan it so all attendees get a chance to speak and ask them for their thoughts, suggestions or ideas.

Post-meeting

Summarise the results

A successful virtual meeting requires an actionable follow-up plan. The first step is to record minutes of the meeting, either manually by hand, or with a dictation device and subsequently using speech-to-text software, that will automatically record and transcribe the discussions, thereby reducing the administrative effort required. This will enable you to create a quick summary for subsequent circulation to attendees and other interested parties, highlighting what was discussed during the meeting, what goals and objectives were achieved and, crucially, what still needs to be done.

Be specific about next steps and responsibilities

The summary should clearly spell out any actions and associated deliverables that were agreed at the meeting, the activities required to achieve these together with the associated timescales.

It should also make clear who is responsible for each activity, so that individuals understand the actions they need to take and the deadlines they are working to.

Obtain feedback

Finally, it can be helpful to collect feedback from participants after the meeting via one-on-one conversations or short surveys. This will help you better understand whether the meeting was useful and met their expectations and what can be done to improve future meetings in order to make the overall experience more rewarding and productive.

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