When’s the last time you attended a meeting? I’m talking about a live, face-to-face, in the same location, physical gathering of people. It was likely several months ago. Many more months may pass before you see the inside of a conference room again.
With their pros and cons, virtual meetings have provided a way for companies to collaborate and move forward during the COVID-19 outbreak. Though it’s not the same as being together in person, a live video of coworkers and managers offers a better sense of connection than a conference call or group chat.
The medium is here to stay. People continue to avoid the office and work remotely, so it’s worth learning how to make the most out of your virtual meetings. Here are some challenges to overcome, what you should do to prepare, and how to run a virtual meeting.
What Are the Challenges of Leading a Virtual Meeting?
You can’t lead a virtual meeting without proper equipment and the internet. If employees are working on their home computers, they may not have the right software or accessories. Or, their internet connection may be slow and unreliable, especially if they’re sharing bandwidth with other family members.
Even with the right technology, making a virtual meeting engaging can be challenging. The level of participation may vary. Some people speak up more than others, even talking over one another. Others may not say one word. Some will try to multitask; others just zone out entirely. With working at home, inattention is also caused by distractions like kids walking in the room or the dog barking down the hall.
Gauging the emotional climate of a virtual meeting can be difficult (check out this Nat Geo article on the science behind “Zoom fatigue”).. Some workers may be dealing with feelings of isolation or incompetence if they’re not technologically savvy. It can be harder for a leader to develop trust with a team that’s spread out remotely and not looking at each other in person. Handling conflict is tough enough; handling it through a screen is a whole new struggle.
How Can I Prepare to Lead a Virtual Meeting?
Start with the basics. You want to make sure everyone has the equipment they need for virtual meetings and is familiar with your video conferencing software and features. If possible, conduct a test meeting to work out any kinks.
For a spotty internet connection, you can offer them tips on how they may be able to boost their WiFi signal. If someone heavily relies on a stable internet connection, optimization tools like Big Leaf’s Home Office solution can improve performance. If employees have trouble connecting or can’t be visible for some reason, you should also provide a dial-in option. Your IT team can help!
You can make your virtual gathering more collaborative by sending an agenda ahead of time, as well as any presentations that will be made during the meeting. Assign a facilitator to guide the conversation, call on people, and include everyone at some point. Select someone else to take notes that can be sent out to the group later.
Facial expressions and body language are key forms of communication. To make strong personal connections, encourage everyone to be on screen as much as possible. If it’s going to be a long meeting, ask participants to grab a drink and some snacks beforehand. Plan to take breaks together as needed. Some of the best discussions happen when people casually mingle around the watercooler.
TIP: Check out these tips from an etiquette expert on how to make a good visual impression during video calls.
How Do I Lead a Virtual Meeting?
Recording your virtual meetings gives people an opportunity to review the meeting later. It’s also a great way to share the meeting with anyone who couldn’t attend. If the group is small enough, announce the name of everyone who’s in attendance and make a conscious effort to give them all a chance to contribute as the meeting goes on.
You must stay on task and avoid tangents to keep the group engaged and discourage participants from multitasking. Once you’ve concluded a section, quickly recap what was just discussed before moving on to the next item. If you’re presenting, it’s best to unshare your screen during discussions so that people can see each other while having a conversation.
In order to prevent people from talking over one another, ask them to use hand signals for certain actions. A thumbs-up can mean they understand and they’re ready to move on. One hand up could signify the need to ask a question; two hands up might translate to “hold on a second.” As the time spent in virtual meetings increased, many collaboration tools added emojis to help simplify live interaction.
If the group takes a break, tell the attendees to leave their cameras on so you can tell when everyone is back in the virtual room. If children make an appearance or pets come into the picture, don’t make it a big deal. Let the person handle the distraction so the meeting can continue.
For better interaction and explanation, you can use a whiteboard (virtual or real) to illustrate points, create outlines, brainstorm ideas, etc. Finally, after the meeting is over, be sure to send out an email detailing what was discussed, what was decided, and what’s next.
Don’t forget to ask for feedback and give any if you have it.