How to Run an Effective Online Meeting
Tech tips, meeting organization and management
Online work meetings are not meant to be entertaining, but they do not have to be as dull as watching paint dry either. The leader of an online meeting should understand the technology, be organized and manage interaction to ensure participation and minimize disruption. Most of all, a video meeting should be productive.
The best video conferencing apps can do more than merely enable a virtual face-to-face meeting. Apps like Zoom let you display files from your computer to everyone else on the call, as well as pass control for others to share their screens. You can assign one or more people to assist with running the meeting, and record the call as a video.
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about running effective remote meetings.
Before we jump into running the meeting, let’s review a few options you might find in your meeting software and why they are important.
If you have never hosted on video conference, or are hosting on software unfamiliar to you, log in days ahead. There are myriad ssues that could come up, most easily solvable, but you don’t want to be figuring anything out just before the meeting is to begin.
Most online meeting platforms require you to download an app. Once you are set up, the software will have tutorials on to use the particular app you have chosen. It is a good idea to go through these, and find the location of tools and features.
These are common features to look for and become familiar with:
Video. While you have the option to turn your camera on and off during a meeting, it’s a good idea to have it on. Research published in Psychology Today says 55% of communication is body language, while another 38% is tone of voice. Whether you are running a team meeting, or one with clients, request in advance that everyone turn on their camera. This will give you insight on how the meeting is going, and if participants are engaged or not paying attention.
When testing out the software before your meeting, see how you look on camera. You want to have good lighting or a window in front of your desk, and ask your remote team to do the same. Having lighting behind you will place your face in a dark shadow, which is not attractive or professional.
Look beyond your image at the background of the video and make sure it is tidy and professional. Some apps offer virtual backgrounds, but it is good to have a neutral background just in case.
This should go without saying, but after sitting through several virtual meetings where people are snacking, take my advice—don’t eat on a video conference.
Microphone. You will also want to test out your microphone in advance and make any adjustments necessary. At the beginning of the meeting, ask people to turn off their microphone when not speaking. This prevents listening to background noise, limits audio feedback problems, and prevents everyone from talking at once.
Speak clearly but at your normal level—no need to shout.
Screen sharing. During the meeting you will want to share your screen to go over the agenda and project information. Some software lets you hand off control of screen sharing to others in the group, which is vital if multiple people are making presentations. You can also play videos during a meeting, but they should be optimized for the internet to create a smaller file size, or they may freeze, take a long time to load or not play at all.
Participants. This tool allows you to view who is in the room and assign them permissions.
Hand raising. This tool allows participants to raise a virtual hand, indicating they would like to speak. If you have a small group, this may not be necessary. However, for groups of more than four people it’s handy, and absolutely essential for larger groups.
In a video meeting, there is typically a slight audio delay. This combined with missing the subtle nuances of all being in a room together means that without some method of taking turns, a meeting could be a free-for-all with everyone talking at once. However, few video conferencing apps offer a hand raising feature, other than Zoom.
Chat. This feature allows participants to have side conversations or ask questions while the meeting is going on. If you want your team focused on a presentation, turn chat off. However, chat can be useful. For example, one participant can ask a question of another in the group without disrupting the whole meeting. Chat is also where the co-host can manage people who have a question to be addressed during the meeting if a hand-raising feature is not available.
Before the meeting
Set the agenda. An agenda outlines what will be discussed and in what order. Send this out before the meeting with a window of time to comment or request additions to the agenda.
Send a meeting invite from the app. Most online meeting apps sync with popular calendars like Google or Outlook. When you send an invite from the app, participants can add the date directly to their calendar along with the link to join the meeting.
Expressing expectations for participants. This is an opportunity to ask participants to bring information to report on and let them know in advance you will all be using your video cameras. Decide who will take minutes, and assign a co-host to help you. You can also let attendees know if the meeting will be shown live or distributed to social media, email or the company blog.
Create a presentation. Online meeting materials could be simple or complex depending on the amount of information you need to share, but definitely should be included. PowerPoint is great for this purpose. For a weekly staff meeting, the agenda is the first page of the presentation. Then you can copy and paste text for each agenda item as a separate page, increase font size to large, add a colored background and you’re done. This helps keep the team focused on the current issue up for discussion.
Right before the meeting, clear your desktop of all open programs, pictures and all documents except the ones you intend to share. Mistakes do happen where an unintended document or image is displayed, and this can be embarrassing or worse.
During the Meeting
Log on early. You should be the first one in the room, along with your co-host. Remind the co host of duties, such as starting the recording, monitoring the chat feature, or letting you (the host) know when someone has their hand raised.
Also, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection and that your device is either plugged in or fully charged.
Prepare your screen. Have your PowerPoint or other documents you will use open, and all other programs closed. Put the agenda up on your screen and share your screen.
Start recording. This an easy task to forget, but can often be set up to start automatically.
Welcome participants. Some apps, like Zoom, have a waiting room feature. This allows you to hold anyone entering the meeting in a virtual “room” until you are ready for them to join the meeting. This is also an extra security precaution to prevent bad actors who were not invited from entering the meeting. Meeting software, like pretty much everything else online, is vulnerable to hacks.
At the designated meeting time, or when you are ready, ask your co-host to let people in the room.
As people are entering the room, check to see if everyone can hear and see each other. A good way to do this is by having everyone either check in by saying their name.
Be able to access tools quickly. Working from home can always present unforeseen challenges. If someone rings your doorbell and your dog starts barking, turn your camera off, ask your co-host to take over for a moment, and mute your microphone. Follow the same protocol if you need to hunt for a document during the meeting to explain any gaps in talking.
Engage participants. During the meeting, address people by name, ask questions and opinions, and generally encourage interaction and involvement. You are trying to achieve the collaborative effectiveness of an in-person meeting.
Look into your camera as much as possible, as this is the closest equivalent to making eye contact on the view end.
Summarize. It is a good idea to summarize what action items were agreed upon during the meeting. Your note taker can help with this.
Ending the meeting. With most apps, if you are the organizer of the meeting, as soon as you leave the room the meeting will end for all participants. Otherwise, each person will end their own connection to the meeting.
The Future of Meetings
Virtual meetings, which exploded in popularity when masses of workers were sent to work from home during COVID-19, will still be used going forward. Here’s why.
- Telecommuting will increase as businesses have realized a portion of the workforce can effectively work from home.
- A significant portion of the population that had not used video conferencing tools before are now familiar with the technology.
- Businesses that had not used video conferencing tools before are finding new ways to connect with distributed teams and customers around the globe.
Tech savvy, including mastering running effective video conferences, is one of the top rated job skills for the future of work.