7 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

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Virtual meetings have become so common that people often hardly think of them as being any different than an “in-person” meeting. In many ways, they are very similar. Example, proper business decorum is expected whether in-person or virtual. There are ways in which they differ greatly. Example, when virtual you can sometimes attend in your pajamas (although I wouldn’t suggest it).

After nine years of working “virtually,” let me offer seven tips to make your virtual meetings a little more successful and a little more meaningful. Almost all of the tips apply to in-person and virtual meetings and almost all of these will seem like common sense. However, after years of participating in virtual meetings I can tell you that many of these tips are often forgotten or ignored. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of not following a few of these on occasion – so I’m not claiming to be perfect.

I now offer my seven tips for improving your virtual meetings.

Prepare

Taking a couple of minutes before your meeting to prepare can help you get more out of the meeting. One way is to review the invite list to see who will be attending the meeting. This can be especially important when you’re not having a video conference. It’s very easy on a phone conference call to not be aware of every person attending. Second, if there is an agenda – scan it. It doesn’t hurt to do a little review on key topics before the call. Also, a last minute glance can save you if the agenda has been updated since you last looked at it.

Find a Good Environment for the Meeting

This one can be critical and is just as important as if it were an in-person meeting. It can be exceptionally hard to concentrate on the discussion if you are in a loud and busy environment. Unless you plan to sit on mute the whole time, it will also be distracting for those on the call with you when they have to listen to your background noise. Also, don’t forget about the visual distractions of your location for the others in the meeting. If you can’t be at your desk, find a quiet corner in a coffee shop, sit in your parked car, or even head to the library. The decrease in distractions will make your virtual meeting go a lot smoother.

Be On Time

It seems ridiculous that I’d need to state it, but this is a big one. It’s the one I’m most guilty of not following. Be on time. I think people feel that because they are not physically walking into a room that it is somehow less distracting (and rude) to be late to a virtual meeting. That is hardly the case. If you’re the person hosting the meeting, everyone else is waiting for you. If you’re the first person on the agenda or a key contributor to the call, most likely everyone will be waiting for you. If you “pop in” late and ask a question that has already been answered, you can kill the flow of the discussion. If everyone shows up on time, everyone wins.

Pay Attention

This one also seems a little ridiculous to state, but it happens constantly in virtual meetings. Pay attention to what is going on. It’s a little easier to pay attention during an in-person meeting with the activity happening right in front of you (although I have noticed some drastic cultural changes regarding people and their phones). During virtual meetings it is always more tempting to read the news, scan Twitter or check favorite iPad games. Fight the urge. For starters, it’s rude. If you’re on a video call it’s almost always obvious when someone is doing something else on their computer, tablet or phone. Second, it is just one more distraction for you that takes your attention away from what you really need to be focused on – the meeting.

Participate

There are always those meetings where you really need to be an observer and not a participant. However, when opportunity allows – speak up. Actively participating in a meeting adds value for the others in the call as well as helps you stay focused and paying attention.

Take Notes

If for no other reason, taking notes can help keep you engaged in the conversation (see Pay Attention). Even if you’re only writing down high level, key points – taking notes will force you to actively listen and stay focused during the meeting. As an added bonus, it’s a great way for you to review what was discussed at a later date or to help catch up a teammate that wasn’t able to make the meeting.

Follow Up

Lastly, almost every virtual meeting resolves with some action steps to follow. Make sure you follow through with them. If your meeting was with a new client, a quick note to them summarizing the key points discussed can let them know that you’re both on the same page (or give you a chance to correct them if something isn’t right) – see Take Notes. If you promised Sally you would send over a recent draft, do it – don’t make her ask again. If you use an online collaboration tool, consider posting a copy of your notes, tasks that need to be completed, or any decisions that came from the meeting. Following up (when appropriate) lets the other people in the meeting know that you were engaged and it helps move the discussion from the meeting into application.

So those are my tips to help improve your virtual meetings. The list is by no means a definitive list, but they are the things I’ve found most useful in the last couple years working remotely and relying on virtual meetings and collaboration. If you have any tips that didn’t make my list, I’d love to hear them!

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