Making your Virtual Meetings Work

Published on
June 30, 2021
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This image was created by the author using Canva.

Many people don’t enjoy meetings at the best of times. There are entire books written on how to run effective meetings, and lots of cartoons and jokes about ineffective meetings.  Meetings are an obvious pain point for many.

Pivoting to holding meetings virtually is handy in some ways, and can be incredibly frustrating in others. All the things you didn’t like about attending meetings in person, are amplified when the meetings are held online. Some of the things that appealed to those who like attending meetings in person, seem to be missing when the meetings are taking place virtually.

How can we possibly make virtual meetings work you ask?

This article shares 25 tactics and a couple of bonus tips that can vastly improve your virtual meeting experience. I’m sharing what I learned from when I first started holding hybrid meetings (live, by phone and by video connection) more than a decade ago while serving as a senior officer in the Canadian military, and what I’ve refined over the last 8 years as an entrepreneur who works with virtual teams.

5 Tactics for Meeting Preparation:

Preparation plays a big part in holding effective meetings.  Here are a few things you could add to your virtual meeting check list:

1. Share the meeting link in advance, and then share it again the day of the meeting.
2. Share the purpose of the meeting and a draft agenda in advance (preferably with the first meeting link). 
3. Share reading materials in advance when at all possible.
4. Log in a few minutes early to address any technical issues. 
5. Make sure everyone understands how to use the technology in advance.  For important meetings, hold a dress rehearsal with key participants.

BONUS TIP:  If the agenda is more than 90 minutes long, consider including a health break.

When participants know the purpose of the meeting, and have an opportunity to look at and contribute to the Draft Agenda, they know what to expect and are able to prepare in advance. Even really creative people, who always seem to be going in a million directions at once, enjoy having an idea of what to expect at a meeting.

10 Practical Tactics for Making your Virtual Meeting Work:

1. Start the agenda with brief introductions, this helps people understand who is in the meeting, and their purpose for being there.  
2. If you’re expecting a large group, set a time limit for introductions and have a time keeper (also sometimes known as a facilitator, or the meeting Chair) gently remind people to stick to the time limit.
3. After the introductions state the purpose of the meeting to focus people’s attention.
4. Go through each item on the agenda, under the assumption that people have read the materials in advance, so that the discussion can keep moving along.
5. If you’re holding a meeting that requires motions to be approved, where possible draft motions in advance, it helps save time and keep the meeting moving.
6. Make sure that participants share the air. If someone starts monopolizing the time, which risks taking the meeting off the agenda, firmly, politely, and kindly ask them to table their thoughts for a side bar meeting on that topic, or ask them to share their thoughts in an email or phone call after the meeting is over.
7. Always leave time near the end of the meeting for a round table discussion. This is an opportunity for participants to bring up things that they’d like covered, if not today, then at the next meeting. It’s also an opportunity for participants to confirm their understanding of what took place during the meeting. Some people wait until they are asked to share their ideas before revealing the gems of knowledge and ground-breaking ideas that they’ve thought of.  Not everyone is an extrovert ready and willing to share their ideas to anyone who will remain still long enough to listen.
8. It’s very effective for the meeting Chair to list tasks and ensure that people know what’s expected of them before the meeting closes.
9. The last item on the agenda is the date and time for the next meeting, if applicable.
10. Commit to ending the meeting on time. People are busy, they appreciate knowing that they can rely on the meeting Chair to respect their time by sticking to the agenda. If at all possible, end the meeting a few minutes early!  People will enjoy attending your meetings if you respect their time.

BONUS TIP: Thank people for participating in your meeting, even if it’s a part of their regular duties. Adding a few words about their specific contribution is a nice touch. It demonstrates that they were heard and are valued.

5 Tactics for Inclusive Virtual Meetings:

1. Make sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, and that they can do so in a manner that is comfortable for them. Some people prefer to type in the chat, rather than speaking out loud. That’s OK!
2. Allow participants to turn off their cameras and mics. Part of the virtual meeting fatigue is feeling like you always have to be “ON” and camera ready.
3. Approximately 20% of the world’s population is disabled, sometimes with invisible disabilities. This may make virtual meetings more difficult for them. Provide live closed captioning and/or sign language interpreters whenever possible. Especially if you know your meeting is going to include people with disabilities. If you have a large company, your human resources team can find out how many people require this sort of accommodation. 
4. Whenever possible include at least closed captioning for every meeting, this normalizes the practice and relieves the people who normally wish for this sort of support from the burden of having to ask for it. Closed captioning helps the deaf and hard of hearing people, those who are attending a meeting in their second or third language, and those who have difficulty processing the spoken word.
5. If you’re working with a set team, get in the habit of calling on people by name to provide their feedback in a set order, so that they know that they can chime in with their thoughts, either verbally or in the chat, when it is their turn.  This is particularly important if you’re holding a brainstorming meeting using a round table method.  

5 Additional Tactics to Facilitate Hybrid Meetings:

1. Follow all of the tactics listed above, paying particular attention to calling on those who are attending virtually to share their thoughts on each agenda item.
2. Make a point of calling on the virtual attendees first when it comes time for a round table discussion. This allows them the opportunity to share their brilliant ideas, without feeling like they’re being included as an afterthought.
3. Allow people who are attending virtually to signal that they “pass” on commenting on some items. If you’re a sighted person you can see the people in your face-to-face meeting signalling that they want to pass. People participating by phone or by video should be asked. This may feel awkward at first. Don’t worry, with practice it gets easier.
4. If a virtual attendee makes a motion, or shares a key resource, ask them to include that text and/or link in the chat. This makes it easier for the person taking the minutes.
5. Make a point of thanking everyone, those who attended in person and those who attended virtually for making your meeting a success.

There you go - 25 Tactics for Making Virtual Meetings Work! Plus, a couple of Bonus Tips. May you enjoy all of your virtual and hybrid meetings moving forward.