How much time are you wasting in disorganized virtual meetings that don’t lead to action or meaningful results?
Endless meetings can be one way that you fall into the busy trap.
I spend a lot of my time in Zoom calls, so I’m well aware of the most common problems that stop meetings, virtual or face-to-face, from being successful and productive.
In this blog post, I want to help you have more engaging, shorter meetings that lead to clear results and strengthen relationships among remote teams.
These are tips for online meetings, however some of the principals may apply to in-person meetings as well.
Before any meeting works its way into your calendar the first question you need to ask yourself is this: do we really need a meeting?
Your time is precious, so avoid filling it with lots of virtual meetings that have no specific purpose. If you have a goal in mind, first consider if there could be a faster ways to achieve it.
- If you need to explain a new feature or a procedure to the team, maybe you can record a demo video using Loom.
- For status updates, you can ask your team members to enter information into a shared document.
- Brief, one-to-one check-ins with your team can sometimes be faster than getting everyone together on Zoom.
However, if you decide to go ahead with a meeting, here’s a few questions you’ll need to answer.
What issue are you trying to solve?
Maybe you need to take an important decision and you’re gathering C levels and department heads together.
It could be a brainstorming session, a training workshop, or simply a casual chat to build relationships within your remote team.
Whatever type of meeting it is, think about the following:
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- What is the desired outcome?
Having the answers to these questions in mind will help you plan a productive meeting.
I advise you to stick to just one theme per meeting to keep people focussed and in the zone.
For example, checking in on how people are progressing with projects, or reviewing monthly figures requires a very different mindset to a brainstorming session or top level decision making, so they should be separate meetings.
Also, if you are in the process of making a high-impact decision, the discussion about the possible options and making the final choice should be different sessions.
Who needs to be there?
When you have the purpose of the meeting and the desired outcome, then you can decide who needs to be there.
I encourage you to be selective. Unless you’re doing a whole company workshop or a virtual team building session, you should only have people in the meeting who are directly involved in the subject at hand.
The more people in a meeting, the more sluggish it can get, especially when it’s taking place online.
How will you schedule the meeting?
One of the biggest challenges for remote teams can be different time zones. If you have team members spread across the globe it can be challenging to find a time that works for everyone.
I recommend using a tool like World Time Buddy to find the sweet spot that works for everyone.
Also, everyone deserves to have sacred time for their most impactful work. If you want the team to stay productive, try to avoid letting meetings spill over into their deep work time.
Planning the Meeting
Your next step is to meticulously plan the meeting.
Establish Meeting Guidelines
Firstly, you need to establish some guidelines for virtual meetings. These may apply across the board or be specific to a meeting or type of meeting, but make sure everyone is aware of what’s expected of them.
- How are team members expected to behave? Should they wait to be called upon or can everyone speak freely?
- Are cameras mandatory (I say they always should be)
- Should people mute their notifications?
- If someone receives an important call from a client, do they answer it or does the meeting take priority?
Put the guidelines in a shared doc that everyone can access to avoid confusion.
Setting the Agenda
A major problem with virtual meetings is that they drag on too long.
This leads to lack of engagement as people lose interest and start multi-tasking with other windows open in the background.
So when allocating time for a meeting I challenge you to cut the expected time down by 15 minutes. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get through issues when the clock is ticking and you stick to your agenda.
Next, limit the agenda to just a handful of topics, 3 or 4 is ideal, and make sure they are all within the same theme, as mentioned above. Allocate a fixed amount of time for each topic.
Send out reading material, preparation work that needs to be done or questions that should be answered before the meeting. Instead of making everyone sit through a long presentation on Zoom, you can include that information in the preparation material.
It’s important that the expectation of reading and doing the prep work becomes part of your company meeting culture.
If everyone is up to speed when they join the meeting., you don’t have to waste time explaining things again.
Finally, nominate someone to chair the meeting and someone to take notes and/or translate those notes into action items.
Etiquette for Virtual Meetings
Here are some simple etiquette tips for online meetings:
Record the meeting
It’s always good practice to record the meeting so people can refer back to it, and anyone who can’t attend can watch it.
Don’t have other windows open or try to multitask in the background. If it’s an open discussion, make sure to get your voice and opinions heard.
I think having video cameras turned on should be an obligation for all virtual meetings, even the more passive participants of workshops and training sessions. It’s already challenging to read body language on camera and interact naturally. If cameras are off, the facilitator will feel like they are speaking to a black screen which will in turn make it more boring.
Test new tech
Most of us are pretty comfortable with Zoom or other video call software by now. If you are using any new tech for the first time it’s a good idea to check it before everyone joins the virtual meeting.
Do the prep
Do the reading and any preparation tasks required. If there are important decisions to be made, managers should make sure they get up to speed with the the thoughts and opinions of their teams before the meeting.
Choose a quiet location, where there is decent light and have the webcam positioned so you can look as directly at the camera as possible.
Leading Virtual Meetings
If your meeting will have lots of attendees and cover in-depth topics, nominate a facilitator or chair person. Here is some advice if that person is you.
As the facilitator you should have a say in the meeting guidelines that I mentioned above. Decide the rules of engagement and whether you will let people speak freely or call on them selectively.
To get everyone engaged from the start, start with an icebreaker which could be an informal chat, task or poll that will help everyone feel comfortable. Introduce any new faces and let them say a few words. Research shows that sharing a personal story before a brainstorming session can even help people come up with better creative ideas.
Make an effort to engage everyone, even the introverts. Call on them to speak and don’t let the conversation be dominated by the most outgoing team members. To avoid people “checking out” of the conversation, consider calling on people at random to give feedback or contribute to the debate.
It’s your responsibility to keep the meeting on-track and on-topic. Apart from the casual chat at the beginning, as the meeting progresses if you notice that people are going off topic, bring them back to the topic at hand.
Nominate someone to take notes of important points and action items.
Don’t let conversations get derailed by frustration venting or disagreements. Instead, allow some time at the end for anyone to disagree or voice concerns. This gives everyone a chance to air their problems publicly, and you can work towards a resolution.
Use tools that will make the session more interactive, but don’t go overboard by introducing too many new things. Next, I recommend useful tools for virtual meetings.
Tools for Virtual Meetings
Most people are now familiar with the basics of video conferencing, so let’s look at some tools that can enhance virtual meetings and make life easier.
Miro is a collaborative whiteboard tool which is specially designed for remote teams. It’s perfect for brainstorming sessions, strategic planning, workshops, and sharing ideas visually.
You can use it as a presentation tool or have everyone collaborate on a project in real time.
The boards you create integrate with tools like Trello, Asana, Notion and many more.
Check out the video below for a detailed explanation of how to use Miro in virtual meetings.
To make sure nothing gets lost or forgotten after the meeting, use Otter.ai to transcribe your virtual meetings in real time.
The app uses AI to transcribe audio to text and it’s very accurate. It recognises different voices so you can assign different speakers to blocks of text.
You won’t need anyone to take notes while the meeting is in progress, but you’ll still want someone to review the text to turn the most important information into concise meeting notes and tasks.
To set clearer agendas and keep meetings on track, try Fellow. The app integrates with your calendar and allows you to collaborate on setting the agenda and offers a space to take notes and create action items as the meeting progresses.
You can use templates or create your own to have standard meeting templates across the company.
Here’s a brief demo which will help you get to grips with the main features.
Not everyone can find a quiet place to join a meeting, so that’s where Krisp app can help.
Krisp.ai is an easy tool for cutting out background noise, it’s not 100% effective to be honest, but it still helps to eliminate a lot of distractions.
Toasty.ai is a video conferencing application which promises a more dynamic experience than Zoom. It allows you to integrate tools like Miro, and has features for polling, quizzes, conversation cards and more collaborative activities.
When a virtual meeting ends, the most important thing is that actions get taken.
Make sure everyone has a clear idea of what was agreed on. If people have their own interpretations, the wrong thing can get done or nothing will get done. Check that everyone understands what comes next and has tasks in their to do list.
Ensure that the notes and transcription are easily available for everyone to access.
If a major decision has been taken, do the necessary work to change how the business operates.
Virtual meetings have been an amazing way for the world to stay connected during coronavirus and they will remain an important part of our professional lives as remote working becomes the norm.
I hope this article has inspired you to be more intentional about how you plan and run your online meetings to minimize time-wasting and get things done!