The world is not new to online meetings. Video conferences are typical between outsourcing partners and their clients, and overseas stakeholders often take part in virtual discussions.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, unexpectedly made online meetings the norm among businesses across all industries. We should not expect this to change anytime soon, especially since hybrid work models seem poised to stay — at least for the years to come.
Challenges of online meetings
As participants can join from any convenient location, online meetings are arguably more relaxed than their face-to-face counterparts. While rather convenient, virtual meetings have their own challenges. Consider the following:
- Stress from coping with a remote work setup can get in the way. Some workers are at their best when doing their job from the office. Transitioning to a remote working environment can be very stressful for them and will decrease their productivity, keeping them unfocused during online meetings.
- There are plenty of distractions when participating from home. Small things like pets, household noise, or a semblance of disarray can be enough to take the attention of the participant away from an online meeting.
- Many view online meetings as unproductive. For them, they see it as an ordeal that they have to sit through for quite a while, taking from them time that they’d rather use to accomplish their respective tasks.
Making virtual meetings productive
Fortunately, these challenges can’t keep virtual meetings from becoming a success. Here are 14 best practices that could help you make the most of online meetings and ensure a productive session.
1. Ensure that only the right people are in the meeting.
Online meetings should only involve people who are relevant to the discussion. Invite only people who are integral to the agenda and not those from irrelevant departments. This makes sure that the rest of your team gets to carry on with their respective tasks and thus remain productive. If you are looking to talk to third parties like investors and potential buyers, you will want to be sure that you are inviting the right person. You may use a contact search tool to find the right emails to send your invites to.
2. Make sure that all is set and ready to go.
Encourage participants to test the meeting software or videoconferencing platform you will use beforehand. See to it that your setup is working fine as well. Make use of the first few minutes to make sure that everyone is on and can hear, speak, and view other participants without a hitch. Do the same with all the other tools that will be used during the meet. Obviously, this is to make sure that the technical side of things has been ironed out and that the meeting proceeds smoothly as it should.
3. Have people work on certain roles.
Online meetings can be quite fluid, and multitasking can only take away from your productivity. Assign different people to work on the slides, take notes, or check the chat for comments and questions. Having different people working on different tasks helps you make sure that the meeting flows in a smooth manner.
4. Record the meeting.
It is essential to keep a recording of your meeting, and not just for recordkeeping purposes. Here are a few good reasons why you should keep a record of your virtual meet:
- It keeps everyone in the loop. This includes absentees and participants who might not be able to make it due to time zone differences.
- You and your participants have material to review in case you need to reference the meeting in a future discussion
- Latecomers or attendees who may have missed anything can review the recording to fill in the information gap.
It is also important that you inform your attendees that the meeting is being recorded. It is your way to get their consent, and it helps that many virtual meeting platforms can do this job for you.
5. Keep everyone on mute unless it's their turn to speak.
It is respectful for the speaker if only their microphone is active throughout the meeting. You do not want even just a few people talking in the background at the same time as it can be very distracting and will make it hard for other participants to hear the actual speaker. All that noise can easily turn the meeting into a rather arduous and stressful affair, so it is essential that the facilitator encourage everyone else to remain on mute — or have the ability to enforce the rule if necessary.
6. Be clear about your meeting's objectives.
Understand what your meeting is going to accomplish, and make sure that your participants are on the same page in this regard. With this knowledge on hand, you will be able to carefully plan out the meeting and map out an effective flow of the information.
7. Make sure that you are on the same page as your participants beforehand.
It helps that you have an outline of your meeting's agenda and that all of your participants have a copy of it. This should eliminate some confusion as to what the meeting is all about and reduce the number of potential questions in the process. Furthermore, it opens opportunities for discussions.
8. Be at the meeting earlier than the rest.
Log in a few minutes earlier than scheduled so you can welcome every single participant. This is also an opportunity for you to make sure that everything is working well from your end.
9. Start on schedule.
As in real-world conference room meetings, starting out late and ending at a time past the agreed schedule is a big no-no. You have to respect the fact that your participants have to take the time out of their regular activities to take part in the meeting. They would rather want you to start on time, so they feel that their time is valued and that the whole thing ends as scheduled.
10. Be informative.
The point of every meeting is to present information and create a discussion. It helps that you go straight to the point with the information you would like to present and avoid fluff. This takes advantage of your participants' limited attention spans and makes sure that you have hammered in the necessary information before everyone's minds start wandering off.
11. Stick to the topic.
Avoid segueing to irrelevant topics so as to keep your participants' focus on the important matters. Stick to the agenda, but be sure to foster discussion by encouraging and promptly answering questions from your team. Sometimes, the talks may be rather lively and participants end up derailing or overextending the discussion. Regardless if this is intentional or otherwise, it is your responsibility to get them back on the right track to maintain focus and make sure that the meeting finishes as scheduled.
12. Do not end later than scheduled.
Do not extend the meeting unnecessarily either, as that would make your participants less productive when they have to stay at the conference a bit longer. They would rather move on and internalize what has been discussed or get back to the tasks that they need to accomplish for the day. If you feel like further discussion is needed to cover the entire topic, be courteous enough to just schedule a follow-up meeting instead.
13. Clearly set assignments and follow-up tasks.
Sometimes, productive meetings go beyond putting everyone in the loop with the latest company agenda or promotion. Some meetings need to be followed with action on the part of the participants. In these cases, you will need to be clear with the assignments and tasks that need to be accomplished after you have adjourned. Be specific with the responsibilities and the scope of the tasks.
14. Recap the meeting and distribute it to the attendees.
Summarize the major details of the meeting and include the takeaways, the notes taken, and the assignments given to the participants. Send this via email or drop it in a shared cloud folder along with the recording, and be sure to thank everyone who has taken part in the meeting. Do this for the absentees as well so they can catch up.
These are just a few ways to ensure that the participants in an online meeting are involved and well engaged. Follow these tips so you can be sure that your meeting ends on a productive note. The key here is understanding how to facilitate a smooth flow of the meeting, relay information effectively, and keep your participants engaged.
About The Author
Christian is an all-rounder in ContactOut specializing in content writing and SEO. Being a virtual assistant himself, he understands the importance of orderly and productive online meetings. Outside of work, he is known to love three Cs: cats, coffee, and cheese.
Also, he’d be happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.