Learn our ten tips cultivated from years of experience on how to be a good host (or attendee) during virtual meetings.
Virtual meetings, like them or loathe them they are here to stay. Of course the proliferation of video meetings will forever be associated with COVID and the 2020 global pandemic, however we were already well on our way to a virtual future pre-pandemic.
Microsoft Teams had over 32 million daily users at the start of March. Whilst this is only around a quarter of the ever increasing number now, it is not an insignificant amount. The continued globalisation of workforces and the increased demand on our time, combined with the improvements in the necessary technology, had meant that more and more meetings were being conducted online.
Does this mean that face to face meetings are headed the way of the fax machine? Definitely not. There will always be a need, and a value to in-person meetings, but they will likely be the minority, and reserved for more significant dates such as monthly or quarterly updates.
So if they’re here to stay, how can we get the most out of them? Meeting management has (IMHO), been a long under-appreciated skill. Now virtual meetings are taking the place of everything from a quick chat with your desk mate, to meetings with the board, virtual meeting management is more important than ever.
Below is a list of my top ten tips for virtual meetings. These have been compiled from my own extensive experience as both a host and attendee, as well as some great points from friends and colleagues. It is by no means exhaustive, and I’d love to hear any other tips anyone has to add!
1. Be on time.
I cannot stress this enough. Most people wouldn’t dream of arriving at an in-person meeting 1 minute late. Back in my restaurant days I used to say to the waiters “If you’re on time, you’re late.” I.e. they were expected to be on the floor ready to start work a few minutes before their shift.
Of course there is no point in staring at your lonely face on Zoom for ten minutes before a meeting, but why not log in just 1 or 2 minutes before the set start time. That way you can start on time, finish on time, and keep everyone’s day flowing.
2. Check your tech.
To continue the analogy of ‘old school’ meetings, you wouldn’t have turned up to an in-person meeting without your briefcase or a working pen? Make sure you have downloaded (and signed up!) to the relevant software BEFORE your meeting, and also check that your headphones and laptop etc are charged and working. There will sometimes be technical issues that none of us can avoid, but let’s keep the controllable ones to a minimum.
3. Mute is your friend.
If you’re not talking, mute yourself. I don’t think I need to explain why the rest of your team don’t need to hear your kettle/doorbell/children/dog/bodily functions.
4. Don't stress about distractions.
Your doorbell will ring, your kids will scream, your dog will bark. But you’re on mute right? So no stress. Turn off video for a moment. Excuse yourself if necessary. No one minds, stay calm, keep your cool.
5. Be aware of the time.
You may not have a meeting straight after, but others may. Give a 5 minute warning to check everyone is ok to go over. If they’re not, reschedule a follow up.
6. Respect the chair.
As I said earlier, meeting management was an undervalued skill in the old days, it’s especially important in today’s world. Let whoever is running the meeting run the meeting, and if you want to go off agenda, wait until the end.
7. Give us a break!
When scheduling meetings, why not start them at 5 past the hour, or finish them 5 minutes before the hour?
Back to back meeting burnout is a real issue for many of us. Even if you’re following rules 1 and 5 you might still only have a few seconds between meetings. Having a few extra minutes to stand up, get yourself a coffee, and be able to clear your head can be invaluable. You don’t have to wait for this to become part of your organisation’s SOPs for it to make a difference. Why not just start it with some of your smaller internal meetings and see if it catches on?
8. Don't forget about timezones.
This can be especially true for those early morning meetings, or even the pesky ones at the end of the day. Even if it just an hour or two difference, it can have a big impact on people’s plans.
9. Try not to talk over people.
This is an area that I find differs quite significantly from the old way of doing things.
Interruptions, or more specifically interjections, can be a key tool in meetings. However the mechanics of everyone having a single dimension of audio output means that if you have more than one person talking at once it just sounds like you’re in a school playground.
It can be very tempting to want to get yourself heard, but much better to raise your actual or virtual hand.
10. Just say goodbye.
You’ve finished your very important call. You’ve finalised your plans for the next billion dollars of revenue. Then you inexplicably go from hot-shot exec to awkward teenager in under 5 seconds.
You’d never wave to the crowd as you left the actual board room, but something happens in your brain at the end video calls that compels you to move your hand(s) from side to side. It’s an odd final impression to leave. I favour a friendly thanks and goodbye, and then (as per rule number 2), know exactly where to quickly click the leave meeting button, and ensure a timely, dignified exit.