As we are all very aware, at this point in time, and like it or not– virtual engagements are required. As with all meetings, whether in person on online, it takes effort and preparation to make meeting time productive.  In this blog, I am going to focus on virtual meetings with tips on ways to enhance the virtual meeting experience.

Most companies, employees and business owners don’t really have much of a choice in learning and/or adapting to all that technology offers and the virtual format can work even better. There are many advantages including having participants who are located outside your area or even country being able to attend.

1. Pre-Meeting Preparation is required.

Just setting up a Zoom meeting and expecting participants to sign in and the meeting to run itself is not realistic.  Preparation is still a large part.

Start by utilizing a meeting agenda and send out any documents you want to cover several days prior to the meeting.  Depending on the purpose of your meeting, use meeting time to go over questions, materials, discuss and/or make decisions.

Let the participants know ahead of the meeting, the objective of the meeting, what will be covered and the expected outcome.  This allows people to be ready, prepared and focused on the goals of the group.

If there are questions that can be answered ahead of time without wasting the online meeting time with the group, ask group members to submit them.

2. Limit number of participants

This depends on the nature of the meeting.  If the meeting is for a team, then you will know who should be invited and who is expected to be attending.  If you have a more open meeting and there is an expectation that particants will be actively involved in discussions, then limit participating to 15-20 members.  If the meeting is a presentation or webinar then the more attending the better.  As all viewers will be muted and involved only to listened.

3.  Using chat and sign in docs

As people join the meeting, ask them to sign in using a google doc link in the chat window.  At the same time,  leave room to add updates if they like.  The sign-up document can get their name, brief bio, or what they do, where they are located or whatever is relevant to your group.  Don’t ask too much so they need to only spend little time adding their name.

In a separate question, you might also ask what they hope to get out of the session.  You will already have provided the overall meeting objective, but this will allow you to see more specifically what members might be looking for.  It can help drive the meeting topics and items to be covered.   Read the chat and, if possible, have someone co-lead the group and let them focus on the chat and comments or questions that are communicated in the chat.

4. Set the meeting rules

Establishing rules is especially important online because we cannot read each other’s body language or pick up on the fidgeting that might otherwise indicate something is going off track. Decide the speaking order and stay with that plan. It’s very easy to start talking over each other online, so you might want to designate a word, like “over,” that people can say when they have finished their thought. You should also set a hard timeline for each agenda item and decide what critical decisions or goals need to be made in your online meeting.

Sometimes it’s easier for online meetings to fizzle out rather than end with a real result, so make sure to stick to your plan and rules.

5. Ice Breaker

Set aside a brief time per person (set a timer) for participants to share something about themselves and their situation. For example, “What is your job function?  Or, “where are you located?  What are of the country or world?”   The ice breaker is very dependent on the makeup of the group so think this through carefully and get feedback from outside sources before trying it with your group.

6. Let everyone know their role

It’s way too easy to check out when you’re sitting in front of a screen especially if your group participant feels disconnected.  Try to include everyone by assigning roles.  Again, depending on the purpose of your group and how participation works– there could be a timekeeper, a facilitator (to call on people based on assigned speaking order), and other tasks that could be handled by the group itself.  If you are planning to have a lot of meetings or classes online, be sure to change roles so everyone can get involved.

7. Slow down

Meeting in a Zoom meeting on a computer screen and perhaps experiencing technology issues or environmental distractions at home can make online engagements feel hectic, disjointed and stressful. Help everyone focus by adding as one of your meeting roles to turn off notifications, put phones away, and take a deep breath being respectful of everyone’s time. Keep the pace of the meeting on the slower side, allowing more time than you might do during an in-person session to allow for discussions, questions, and transitions.

8. Try breakout rooms

Using the Zoom app allows you to create “breakout rooms” for smaller group and more opportunities for participation.  As the moderator, you can pop in and out of the breakout rooms but for better consistency and data collection ask members to add their discussion points in the chat area or assign a note taker who can share a summary of items discussed to the entire group if helpful

9. Take time to give participants time to reflect.

Things tend to go by quickly during virtual sessions, so pausing at transition points to give people a chance to collect their thoughts and write things down can be very helpful. You can either offer a prompt, like “What questions do you still have?” You can also leave it open with “Take a minute to write down your thoughts.”

10. End the meeting with a summary

This could be when each person shares their next steps, timing, assigned responsibilities of group members and if and when a follow-up meeting is planned.

11. Follow-up after online meeting

During an in-person event, people tend to linger afterward to ask questions or bring up an issue they didn’t want to share with the whole group. Or, questions or feedback they thought about later. Since that opportunity isn’t readily available with online meetings, create an opportunity for further connection by sending a follow-up communication with any supporting documents, notes, or action items. Or, a link where those items might reside so all group members can add feedback, input or questions.  Shared documents work well for this.

A brief survey is a good opportunity to get feedback on the meeting.  Keep learning, practicing and asking for feedback to get more team participation as well as a more productive team.  (e.g., What worked for you about this session? What do you still want to know? What will you use from the session? What suggestions do you have for future meetings?).

Online meetings offer a whole host of advantages.  Take the time to make your meetings the most productive that they can be.