Virtual meetings are a key collaborative tool for teams working from home during the global pandemic. What's the best way to run a virtual meeting?
"Just 'winging it' could be disastrous," says Peter Montoya, an expert on training solutions for teams. The virtual meeting "can be a make-or-break aspect of your remote workforce, with everything from productivity to job satisfaction hanging in the balance," he says. "It also represents a significant investment in both time and money, so how can we better utilize it?"
"We must reframe virtual meetings as moments of connectivity where team members gather to create value that could not be accomplished individually," says Wade Shows, an executive coach, organizational consultant, and founder of Crucible Coaching & Consulting.
Montoya and Shows suggest focusing preparation — a piece of the proverbial puzzle that is often overlooked. Here are seven keys to successful virtual meeting preparation.
Define the purpose of the meeting. What is it, precisely, that you want to accomplish? Far too many meetings are held without a clear answer to that question — which is almost certainly a waste of time, money, and resources.
Confirm the need for the meeting. Will this be a good use of everyone's time? The purpose of a virtual meeting should be to leverage and harness group energy. If you're only planning to deliver information, could that be accomplished via email instead?
Determine the topic(s) of the meeting. Perhaps the most ubiquitous saboteur of any meeting, online or otherwise, is having too many topics. In order to keep a meeting productive and focused, especially in a virtual framework, don't attempt to cover too many bases. Stick with one or two key topics, and no more than two or three lighter points.
Create an outline. Decide in advance what you want to cover, in what order, and what process you will use to achieve each objective. This will not only help you to stay focused and on-topic, it will also ensure the flow of information and participation is productive and meaningful.
Determine the length of the meeting. Be realistic about your time. If people are genuinely engaged, a meeting will almost always take longer than you think. Factor in at least 5 minutes of initial transition time at the top of the meeting, and don't count on those minutes to be productive. Likewise, be sure to leave room for 10-to-15 minutes of questions, comments, and clarification time at the end of the meeting.
Prime the meeting. The meeting leader can work to ensure attendee engagement before the meeting begins. Priming is the key. Reach out to each attendee prior to the meeting, let them know why you want them in that virtual conference room, what you'd like them to contribute, and what it is you hope to accomplish. Assign everyone a role, in advance.
Select and learn to effectively leverage your technology. There's nothing worse than a delay, derailment, or even cancellation of a meeting resulting from confusion surrounding a technology or platform — especially when you multiply that wasted time by your number of attendees. Whatever software you choose, assign someone to manage it, make sure that you have a thorough understanding of how it works, and ask all attendees to test their access to it in advance.
"The bottom line is that you must take responsibility — as a leader — not only for the outcomes of your virtual meetings, but also for their successful planning and execution," Montoya says. "Far too many would-be leaders fail at this fundamental skill."
"Remember, too, that how you show up — be that facilitative and inclusive, or directive and autocratic — determines how attendees show up. Developing your mastery of planning and leading virtual meetings will not only improve team productivity and satisfaction, but set you apart as a leader," Shows says.