I recently attended a large virtual meeting. The topic was timely but several things went wrong: the host joined late, we were entertained by background ‘home’ noises, people interrupted each other, the chat feature wasn’t used and the host left the meeting before us!
Clearly, video conferences, virtual meetings and online learning, are still new to us and we are yet to learn how to make them truly useful and effective.
Here’s the irony; a well-conducted teleconference is more efficient and effective than a face-to-face meeting. A poorly managed virtual meeting, however, is a complete waste of time and resources.
Based on my experience, hosting and participating in such meetings, here are some sure-fire recommendations to ensure that this new way of ‘virtual work life’ is useful and effective.
Before the meeting
1. Plan ahead - In addition to sending a meeting invite and confirming attendance, your participants must know how to download an app, if required, to access the meeting. Without this, they may join late or just not participate.
2. Background - Your camera will show your audience exactly what is around you. So, select a place that is pleasant, uncluttered and well lit for your meeting.
3. DND - As the host, try to have a distraction and interruption-free environment, including kids, dog, phones or the TV. You will achieve very little, if your audience is entertained by interlopers!
4. Look the part - Depending on the type of meeting, how you present yourself does matter. Generally, a virtual meeting conducted from home does not require formal clothing but you should choose your attire based on your audience.
5. Share Material - Sharing all relevant information with your audience beforehand is essential as it will provide a basis for people to follow, get interested and allocate time.
Be cautious when including a video in your virtual presentation as it could fail when accessed by people using different Internet speeds.
During the meeting
1. Turn the camera on - This is the most important aspect of conducting an effective virtual meeting. It enables people to read each other’s interest levels, reactions, encourages them to pay attention to the meeting and resist multi-tasking. So, you must turn your own camera on and request your participants to do the same. This will result in better teleconferences – guaranteed.
2. Control the mute - Unmuting is helpful when you want free-flowing participation from your audience. However, when you are speaking, place everyone on mute to block background noise.
3. Break the ice - Be the first to log in to the meeting. Connect with them by welcoming them and engaging in friendly conversation. It is essential to empathise with your audience to create engagement.
4. Two ground rules - Participants must commit to be respectful of others’ time and to be fully ‘present’. This includes not multi-tasking, not interrupting, using the chat feature and the symbols.
5. Assign tasks - Give participants various responsibilities during the meeting to engage, i.e. record the minutes, track action items, assign owners and deadlines and conduct a fun activity at the beginning or end of the meeting.
6. Engage - Your success as a host depends on how effectively you connect with your audience. With virtual meetings, this is even more important as you are not facing your participants. Angle your camera to make ‘eye contact’ with your audience and create an atmosphere for people to feel welcome and connected.
7. Body language - As the host, your posture, smile, gestures and voice matter. Also, be conscious of fidgeting or accidentally touching your hair, face or nose – not appealing to watch!
8. Seek feedback - Unlike face-to-face meetings, it is hard to gauge reactions and body language in a virtual setting. Therefore, it is important to pause and ask if participants have questions or observations.
9. Collaborative problem-solving - Use the virtual break-out rooms to get participants to work together to generate ideas and business solutions.
10.Air time - Try giving each person some time on the agenda to make a contribution to generate better interest, participation and collaboration.
After the meeting
1. Be polite - As the host, you cannot leave the meeting before your guests! Do thank everyone for participating and stay until the last guest leaves.
2. Meeting after the meeting - Participants often congregate in groups for a post-mortem, after a meeting. Avoid this by having participants say what they disagree on, at the conclusion of the meeting. Encourage openness and do not penalise - even if you disagree.
Teleconferences are a quick, easy and inexpensive way of getting people together.
Most applications have a ‘record’ feature that will capture the conversation as well as documents and other material presented during the meeting.
Subject matter experts can ‘patch in’ to the meeting to offer their expertise when they are needed, regardless of their location.
Participants can use ‘virtual break-out rooms’ for quick discussions, a time-saving feature not present in regular meetings.
Remember, how you dragged yourself to work when you were sick? With teleconferencing, you can work from home (WFH)!
Like it or not, virtual meetings are here to stay. So, let’s maximise technology to conduct and participate in virtual meetings brilliantly!
(Deshika Rodrigo is Executive Coach, Women’s Motivational Speaker and HR Consultant. She can be reached via Deshikarodrigo47@gmail.com)