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Top tips for running an effective virtual or online meeting
April 28, 2020

As well as growing demand for our online media training courses, we’re getting a lot more requests from people looking for advice and training on how to run a virtual meeting.

This is hardly surprising. The number of daily active users on Microsoft Teams soared by 12million to more than 44million last week. The company’s daily active user count was up 378 per cent from a year earlier as of the 22nd of March. The following day Zoom recorded a remarkable 2.3 million downloads of its teleconferencing app.

Even before the coronavirus struck, more and more of us have found ourselves taking part in virtual and online meetings. As a media training company with copywriters among our trainers we have clients around the world that we regularly keep on in touch with via zoom, Skype, Google hangouts and other apps.

Here, then, are our top tips for running an effective virtual or online meeting.

1. Circulate an agenda beforehand.

As well as outlining the areas for discussion, the agenda should be clear on the outcomes and the benefits to the participants of attending. This, in effect, is your opportunity to “sell” your meeting so that people logon with a positive, enthusiastic mindset. They’re also primed on what they need to do so that you can hit the ground running.

2. Video is always better than audio.

Participants feel more engaged when they can see the other people that they are talking to. The visual element improves communication because you body language and facial expressions back up the spoken word. It’s also more difficult for participants to do other things instead of paying attention to the meeting if they can be seen.

3. Test the technology ahead of time.

Get a colleague to log on so that you can check that your presentation can clearly be see, the video and sound is good and that the polling facility as well as other aspects of the app you’re using work.

4. Make it short and concise.

Online meetings should be shorter than the face to face variety. Circulate agenda beforehand and make clear the outcome of the meeting – what do you intend to achieve at the end of it. Phrases such as “I’m just conscious of time,” and “I don’t want to take up too much of your morning,” will help here. Be ready to defer conversations and to take them offline. If you’re presenting, as we say in our advice on online presentations you should keep that brief and focussed too.

5. When it comes to the number of participants less is more with virtual meetings, to an even greater extent than with the face to face variety.

Only invite those whose presence is essential. Explain that minutes will be circulated afterwards, and actions will be assigned by those attending. Research by the Harvard Business School shows that people are four times more likely to feel that they’ve been invited to a meeting that was irrelevant than being excluded from one that they should haven attended.

6. Clearly outline the next steps and assign them specifically to participants, after each section and at the end of the meeting.

Don’t forget to include timelines. This will also ensure that your colleagues pay attention.

7. Make it clear how and when people will be allowed to ask questions and contribute.

This prevents the kind of frustration and disengagement that occurs when people feel that they are being ignored. Also, on the positive side, it means that they are more likely to pay attention because they realise that they will be put on the spot shortly. With some online meetings software, you can raise a hand virtually.

8. Dress for business.

Just because you are conducting a meeting in your bedroom or kitchen doesn’t mean that you can dress as if you’ve just got up or enjoying a relaxed family supper. Smart casual works best for online meetings. As we advise during our media training courses block colours and pastels shades look good on camera. Avoid stark black and white. Black drains you and white can be glaring. Stay clear, as well, of anything distracting such as chunky, prominent jewellery or elaborate logos.

9. Think about the background.

We have one colleague who was taking part in a virtual meeting with her boss who had obviously just sat down in his kitchen. Behind him was a pile of laundry. “I could see a pair of old underpants just above his head – as could everyone else,” she told us afterwards. “It didn’t do much for his authority.”

Again, the backdrop, like your clothing, should not be distracting. It should complement and enhance your message and the mood that you want to convey. A neutral background perhaps with some fresh flowers, a simple print or picture and a couple of books works best. Similarly, keep your desk free of clutter so that you’re not searching for pens and documents during the meeting.

10. Around two thirds of us do something else while we’re on a conference call – especially if we feel that it’s dragging on.

You can reduce the chances of your colleagues succumbing to the temptation to multitask or switch off mentally if not physically by being clear on finish times. As we’ve said above, if a particular conversation seems to be dragging on then suggest that it takes place at a later date. You can then schedule a further meeting, if necessary. Give your colleagues regular time checks as the meeting progresses.

In many ways, everything that you should do for an effective, productive meeting face-to-face also applies to virtual and online conferences – only more so. Meeting colleagues via Zoom, Skype or any apps just means that you have to be even more prepared, focused, disciplined and results orientated.

Chat to Communicate Media

If you or your company require professional advice or media training, get in touch by giving us a call on 0800 1777080 or emailing us or to find out more about our media training, crisis communications and presentation courses.

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