For most of us, virtual meetings are the only opportunity to connect and collaborate with co-workers during this time. Even when this is all over, virtual meetings will be here to stay. Here are some tips to ensure that they are efficient, productive, and allow for open and honest dialogue:
No matter how often we do it, communicating through a screen doesn’t feel natural. But it always helps to see faces on the other end. Encourage everyone to use video if their computer allows and consider setting this as a formal expectation before the meeting. This way, people can still “read the room” and react to facial expressions. If a team member resists using video, try to help them understand why it’s important.
Have an agenda
Participants are more comfortable and confident when they have a sense of what’s coming. It also avoids unnecessary discussions of what to address next. Send out a detailed agenda at least a few hours before the meeting including timestamps for each item so folks can prepare. Clarify the goals of the meeting and let individuals know if they are expected to share something out with the group. Consider asking others to suggest items that might be added to the agenda. At the start of the meeting, send out the agenda in a chat so that people can see it.
Set the stage
Try starting the meeting with a quick 3-5 minute whip-around question. It could be anything from the commonly used — “What podcast do you recommend?” — to something more outside of the box: “If you got a new pet today, what animal would it be and why?” A simple “What was the highlight of your weekend?” also works well. These conversations are not mere time-fillers. They encourage people to let their guard down and help ensure that everyone feels comfortable speaking up. As long as you get people talking about something non-work related, you’re setting the team up for a productive meeting.
While on video, resist the temptation to sit passively as if you were watching TV. Make sure that your voice and body language indicate that you are focused. Lean forward a bit to convey interest and keep your gaze locked on on the top of your computer so that others feel as if you are looking them in the eye. Some people find it helpful to put a Post-It note next to the camera with “SMILE” as a reminder where to look. Keep your speech more concise than you would in a normal meeting, as it’s easy for people’s attention to drift.
Keep people engaged
Video conferencing platforms have a variety of tools to make meetings more engaging. The chat can be used to pose questions to the group or to steer the conversation in a different direction. Encourage others to use the chat to ask questions or add comments as some might feel more comfortable expressing themselves in that way. For those on Zoom, try using break-out rooms to get people talking in small groups before coming back to the larger meeting.
Provide opportunities for everyone to talk. In smaller meetings, try asking those who have not spoken to share their thoughts as some participants might not be comfortable sharing unless specifically asked. Consider having team members rotate through the role of moderator so that everyone has a chance to feel engaged and flex their leadership muscles. If the team is working on a collaborative project, one option is to annotate a document together as a team. This shows everyone that their input is valuable while keeping participants focused on the task. For larger meetings, the polling function can be used to ask for quick yes or no votes.
The end of the meeting should include an explanation of next steps and clarify who is responsible for completing what by when. Each individual in the meeting should leave with a clear objective. Consider also spending a few minutes to schedule the next meeting or check-in and allow for the opportunity to ask questions. One person from the meeting should follow up via email with notes including next steps for each participant. As the leader of the meeting, think about how you might want to follow up with individuals to ask for feedback on how to improve virtual meetings for the future.