How to Take Charge of Your Virtual Meetings
Hold Virtual Meetings That Get Results and Build Relationships
Tired of shadowy silhouettes, screechy feedback, and multitasking participants? It doesn’t have to be that way. Virtual meetings are a daily fact of life for most leaders. When you lead them well, they can build relationships, and leverage your team’s expertise from anywhere on earth.
Like in-person meetings, however, good virtual meetings don’t happen by accident. It takes intention and clear expectations to give everyone a productive experience that helps your team move forward. Here are fourteen ways you can take control of your virtual meetings and make them a productive experience for everyone.
Lights, Cameras, Action
1. Use the Camera
Seeing one another’s faces is a fundamentally better experience than voice alone. Even with the latency and delays that sometimes come with video, we are built to see faces, interpret emotion, and connect with other human beings. Visual communication is higher bandwidth communication. You will get better results and relationships when your team can see one another. If at all possible, make video the default expectation for your virtual meetings.
2. Use Lights
Now that you’ve got your camera on, make sure your team can see you. The number one problem with lighting is that people sit in front of a window or bright light and point their camera toward the window. The light washes out your face and all we see is a dark silhouette. If you lead many meetings, it’s worth setting up a regular space where you will have good lighting. Sit facing the window. Get a lamp. Use what you have and ask others to do the same. Even if every member can’t get good lighting, they can avoid sitting in front of a bright light that washes out their face.
3. Use a Microphone or Headset
While video requires a good internet connection, quality audio is easy and affordable. If you don’t have a remote-meeting-equipped conference room, an inexpensive USB headset will help you and your team to hear one another with minimal feedback and background noise. It’s very difficult to have a conversation with the group if you can’t hear one another or you’re fighting feedback. Headset microphones eliminate these problems.
4. Look at the Green Dot
Have you ever had a video conference with someone’s left ear? If so, it’s because they have their camera on a different monitor than the monitor they’re watching. When you speak, practice looking at your camera. This maximizes your perceived eye contact with everyone else. On the laptop I use for remote meetings there is a little green light next to the camera lens. I’ve trained myself to look at that dot as if it were the eyes of the person I’m speaking to. Several times I’ve had meeting participants remark on how connected I was and how intently I was listening. That’s why. I was looking at the dot–but they see me looking at them. This takes practice to get used to, but it’s much better than people talking to your ear.
5. Limit Background Noise
Even with a noise-canceling microphone, background noise disrupts your team’s ability to have a meaningful conversation.
How to Facilitate Virtual Meetings
6. Prime with Early Interaction
Many people experience virtual remote meetings as a passive event where they listen to one or two people talk while they do other work, chime in with “sounds good,” and move on. To create different energy and break up those habits, start your meeting with interaction. Even before the meeting starts, ask questions, have a starter that engages people. It can relate to the topic or simulate pre-meeting table talk. Or you can have fun and humanize everyone–the opportunities are limitless. What if you started with a quick “waterfall” chat where everyone shares their answer to questions like:
- The best thing that happened to them at work this week?
- What made them most proud of their team?
- The contribution they’re most proud of?
- What they hope to get out of or achieve on the project you’re discussing?
Give everyone a moment to read through and appreciate the answers. You can also use this technique to pause and gather responses throughout the meeting.
7. Set Expectations
What time does your meeting start? If you said “9:00 am” – what does that mean? Does it mean people should arrive at 9? At 8:55? What should everyone have read or done to prepare for the meeting? In one organization, a scheduled 9:00 am meeting could start as early as 7:30 if an executive’s plane arrived early. Don’t leave your meetings to chance. Great teams have mutually understood, shared expectations about how they work together and that includes meetings – remote or in person. Unless you’re meeting with the same group and have a track record of good remote meetings, take time to explain the technology and processes you use. If you will use polls, breakout rooms, text chats, whiteboards, or other elements, describe how they work and give people a chance to do it before you use it for the actual conversation. It’s also a good practice to review behavioral expectations regarding lighting, microphones, video, background noise, and engagement just as you would for an in-person meeting. Eg “To avoid talking over one another, please use the ‘raise hand’ feature and I’ll call on you. Let’s try it out–everyone raise your hand now.”
8. Keep Track of Participation
How long has it been since you’ve heard input from Doug? Should you invite Cheryl into the conversation? When you lead a virtual meeting, it is helpful to keep track of who is taking part. I will often keep a list of attendees and use hash marks to make sure we balance input and that the technology doesn’t prevent contribution (or allow someone to hide who we need to hear.)
9. Intentionally Engage
When people are new to the technology, it helps to be directive in how you engage the team. Use everyone’s name frequently. Invite them to share their perspective (this is even more important when you have a hybrid meeting with some attendees in-person and some remotely). Vary the interactions. Use waterfalls, polls, and text chats to provide group feedback and engage whoever isn’t speaking at the moment. One engagement tool that leaders often under-use is a good strategic story. In 2-4 minutes can you share a brief story about a customer or employee that relates to the meeting’s purpose–something that puts the computerized meeting in a human context.
Every Meeting Every Time
Whether you’re meeting in person, remotely, or both, never forget these five fundamentals of effective meetings.
10. Have a Clear Purpose for Your Virtual Meeting
Before anyone arrives to a virtual meeting, they need to know the purpose of the meeting. Is this a meeting to choose where you are going or how you will get there? Clarify the purpose and stick to it.
11. Invite the Right People to Make the Best Decision
You want your meeting to be the most productive use of time for everyone who attends. Generally, invite the least number of people that will allow the group to make the best decision. Then add in people who can attend developmentally.
12. Clarify Who Owns the Decision
At the beginning of the meeting, clarify how the decision will be made. There are three ways to make business decisions: a single person decides; the team votes; or the team chooses by consensus. Those are your options. Be clear who owns the decisions so everyone knows how to share and how to think about what they hear.
13. Stay Focused
While you lead the meeting and participate in the discussion, stay focused on the original purpose. When you drift into other topics, make a decision: are you going to change the purpose of the meeting to discuss the new topic (rarely a good idea, but sometimes warranted) or call everyone back to the topic at hand? Use a parking lot and assign “parked” ideas an owner for follow up.
14. End with the Magic Meeting Formula for Results
To turn your meeting into action, wrap up with a focused check-for-understanding: Who is Doing What by When and How Will We Know? Finish strong and ensure everyone clearly knows who is accountable for what activity.