Virtual meetings require a much different approach than in-person gatherings. As the need for remote meetings increases, project managers and business owners will need to adapt to meetings that happen in a virtual space. This will require some extra planning in advance, as well as different in-meeting methods to ensure a successful and productive experience for all parties.
So, let’s take a look at 6 essential tips to run an effective virtual meeting:
Design a Virtual Meeting Itinerary
Some people like to run casual meetings with free-form, open discussions, while others like to keep things organized during a video call. Though there’s nothing wrong with conducting a meeting without a set plan, a virtual meeting itinerary can help you stay on topic, prevent the meeting from going over your time limit, and ensure greater productivity.
Thankfully, a virtual meeting itinerary does not need to differ from a traditional, in-person meeting itinerary. Here is an example of an itinerary for an 90-minute virtual meeting:
7:00 - 7:10. Greetings; wait for all attendees to connect
7:10 - 7:20. Introduce the key points to be discussed (ex. - budget cuts and quarterly earnings report); ask if anyone has any questions or concerns before getting started
7:20 - 8:00. Discuss budget cuts
8:00 - 8:20. Discuss quarterly earnings report
8:20 - 8:30. Additional time for questions and relevant discussions
Though this is a very basic virtual meeting itinerary, it should give you an idea of how to format your own meeting plan. You should always expect late-comers, especially in remote meetings. Technical issues often cause people to arrive late for online meetings, even if they try to join the meeting on time.
Additionally, you should always leave at least 5-10 minutes of “extra” time at the end of the meeting. This helps prevent meetings from going over the intended time limit. For example, you may have a topic that requires in-depth discussion, leaving less time for other topics. By giving yourself some extra time, you reduce the risk of eating into everyone’s schedule. Even if you finish much earlier than expected, this extra time gives attendees a chance to ask questions or chat until you’re ready to finish the meeting.
How to Create a Virtual Meeting Itinerary?
Every meeting has a purpose. Whether you want to have a one-on-one discussion with a coworker or a large group meeting with an entire department, you shouldn’t have a meeting without some kind of end goal. To create an itinerary, you need to figure out your goal or goals. What do you want to accomplish with the meeting? What are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed?
Answering these questions will allow you to develop topics for discussion. Then, you can prioritize different topics by moving them toward the beginning of the meeting and/or allotting more time to talk about them. You might find that you have too many things to discuss for just one video chat. If this happens, you’d be better served to conduct more than one meeting so that you can address all of the most important issues adequately.
Share the Itinerary with Meeting Attendees
Most people don’t like to go into a meeting blind. Generally, people want to know what you want to talk about before they enter the virtual meeting room. This way, they have time to prepare questions or do any necessary research on the discussion topics. So, once you’ve finalized your itinerary, share it with attendees so that everyone is on the same page from the start.
Set Reminders About the Virtual Meeting
When it comes to remote work, both employers and remote teams have a lot of virtual information to manage. Between emails, chats, social media messages, invites, and project management or collaboration tool notifications, there’s a lot of information being shared through various platforms. As a result, it’s easy for meeting invites to get lost in the shuffle.
To avoid team members or attendees losing track of meetings, it’s important to set automatic meeting reminders in advance. If you schedule a meeting at the last minute, this won’t really work. You’ll just have to deal with the fact that some invitees may not show up on time. However, if you schedule your virtual meeting in advance, you should set multiple reminders for your invitees, greatly decreasing the rate of absenteeism.
Some of the easiest ways to set meeting reminders are by using Google Meet, Google Hangouts, or creating an online event in Google Calendar. Naturally, you will have to ensure that the people you’re inviting also use these applications. In any case, you can easily send invites via email, giving invitees the option to say that they will attend, they won’t attend, or they might attend.
Additionally, you can set multiple reminders in advance of the meeting. For example, you can set an automatic invite reminder at scheduled intervals, like one week, one day, or even one hour before the meeting is set to begin. While you don’t want to clog everyone’s email with invite reminders, you also don’t want people to miss out on important virtual meetings due to a lack of communication.
Engage With Your Audience During Online Meetings
When you run an online meeting, it is up to you to be the meeting’s leader and steer the conversation as you see fit. However, you may find that your meeting or virtual conference attendees lose focus. For example, remote meetings might have attendees in vastly different time zones. So, someone who has to attend an important meeting at 4 AM (their time) might not be as attentive as someone who is attending the same meeting at 4 PM. It goes without saying that you should try to schedule your meeting so that all or most of your audience will attend during normal business hours, regardless of their location.
Time zones aren’t the only reason people lose focus during virtual meetings. If someone is connecting from home, they might have distractions drawing their attention away from the meeting. The same is true of people connecting to the virtual meeting room from a cafe or library. So, what can you do to ensure that people stay focused?
The first step is to make your meeting as accessible and user-friendly as possible. Some people don’t absorb information well when it’s just one person speaking. Alternatively, if too many people try to speak at once, it may be hard for almost anyone to follow.
This is where real-time transcriptions can help everyone follow along with the discussion and even review topics that were discussed earlier in the meeting. With Otter Live Notes, you can generate a call summary or full transcript to send to attendees afterward. If some people weren’t able to attend the meeting, you can also use these tools to keep them in the loop.
Next, you need to actively engage with your audience. Fortunately, you can do this whether you’re conducting one-on-one meetings or virtual conference calls with dozens of meeting participants. The key is to engage with as many of your audience members as possible. If it’s a large group, you may not be able to engage with everyone, but even speaking directly to a few people will encourage everyone to pay attention.
So, what does it mean to engage with your audience? It really just means addressing your audience members directly. It’s easy to do this as people join the meeting; you can greet them and ask how they are doing. However, this won’t keep people’s attention for the entirety of the virtual meeting. So, try to ask individuals questions directly and loop people into the conversation. When people feel like they’re just attending a meeting to listen, they’re more inclined to lose focus. However, if they know (or expect) to actively participate, they are more engaged and the meeting will likely be more productive.
Stick to Your Itinerary, But Be Prepared For Variations
There’s no reason to make an itinerary if you don’t plan to use it. As previously mentioned, itinerary’s help you (as the leader of the meeting) stay on topic, stick to a set schedule, and let your attendees know what to expect. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect deviations from your original plan.
Generally, if you take your itinerary point-by-point and lead the conversation, you won’t have any issues. However, you’ll also want to engage your audience, which may require you to open the meeting up to discussion. This, in turn, might cause the meeting to veer off topic.
This is yet another reason to take advantage of real-time transcriptions with Otter Live Notes. Being able to review notes during the meeting will allow you to quickly see which topics you have and have not covered. If you use the transcription in conjunction with your itinerary, you’re unlikely to lose too much time due to unrelated discussions.
That said, you don’t want your audience to feel that they can’t bring up related topics. For example, there may be an important issue that someone wants to address during the meeting. It’s not on your itinerary, but it is tangentially related to one of your topics. Rather than rejecting it outright, allow them to bring it up in the virtual meeting. If you feel that the discussion is taking too much time, simply let them know that you’d like to move on to other topics, but you plan to discuss their concerns further at a later date.
Practice Virtual Meeting Etiquette
Virtual meetings present plenty of new challenges for people who are not accustomed to using video conferencing software. However, you still need to practice many of the same rules that you would at an in-person meeting. So, let’s look at a few of the best practices to help you run effective meetings:
- Pacing - Typically, virtual meetings need to be a little bit slower than face-to-face meetings. If someone has a slow connection or if there’s an issue with the virtual meeting software, you may have delayed speech or garbled audio. So, be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Additionally, make sure to pause before responding to someone and give others ample time to respond to you.
- Environment - If you’re conducting a meeting, you need to create a professional environment. This means dressing the part (standard business attire) and ensuring that your environment is quiet and free of visual distractions. Make sure that you’re in a well-lit space with a professional-looking background. If you can’t ensure that your background will look clean and professional in your physical location, Zoom offers virtual backgrounds to help you out.
- Language - When it comes to language, you must treat a remote meeting or virtual conference like any other kind of professional event.
Stick to Your Predetermined Schedule
When you send out invites for a virtual meeting, you need to make sure that the timeframe is clear. If you’re unsure how long the meeting will take, err on the side of caution. For example, if you have a lot of topics to cover, consider scheduling a two-hour meeting. You may only need an hour or an hour and a half, but it’s better to ensure that people set aside enough time to attend the virtual meeting from start to finish.
When scheduling a virtual meeting, it’s also important to take note of people who will not be able to attend the entire meeting. Knowing this in advance will help you organize your itinerary. This way, you can prioritize the topics that are most relevant to the people who need to leave early. If all of the topics are vital for every attendee, you may need to reschedule the meeting to a time when everyone is available.
Once your virtual meeting has begun, you need to keep a steady pace. Try to stick to the time limits that you’ve set for each topic or issue. Remember, if there are any topics that are not time-sensitive, you can always leave them for another day.
Conducting an effective virtual meeting doesn’t have to be a chore. While you may run into technical issues or topics that deviate from your itinerary, you’re far less likely to encounter problems when you plan ahead. By following the 6 tips above, you’ll be able to conduct a productive and successful virtual meeting.
Do you want to learn more about the benefits of Otter.ai for effective virtual meetings? Contact Otter.ai today for more information!