Five top tips to plan and host successful virtual meetings

Five Top Tips to plan and host successful virtual meetings

Given the times we are living in, we thought it would be useful to share a few tips on how to plan and host successful virtual meetings that pack a punch.

Fortunately, my business partner, Rebecca Hill, has extensive experience of curating and delivering virtual meetings both in her previous global role at a large organisation and currently with her own consulting practice. The two of us have put our heads together and come up with the following five top tips on how to curate from a process perspective successful virtual meetings – we welcome your questions, thoughts and feedback!

As mentioned, we will increasingly be asked to hold virtual meetings using technology as a medium. Virtual meetings can vary in size, duration and complexity – cross cultural and inter time-zones can add further layers of complexity to virtual meetings. Using technology like Zoom (www.zoom.us)  or Microsoft Teams (www.teams.microsoft.com ) can really make a difference. Our blog is intended to focus more on the how of curating successful virtual meetings rather than the technological aspect of managing them. If you are interested or need help/guidance in the technological aspects, I would strongly recommend the following two links and also check out the website for the tech package you are due to use as many of these have some great tutorials in their resources sections – https://xblog.xplane.com/xplanes-top-25-tips-and-tricks-for-remote-collaboration and https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/productivity-tips/new-to-working-remotely–these-resources-can-help?mc_cid=6bfc881279&mc_eid=27ceffce26.

Tip One – understand your meeting participants

Being clear who needs to participate in the meeting and why, can really make a difference, particularly, when it comes to running successful virtual meetings. The temptation for participants to multi-task as they sit behind their computers in virtual meetings and check out from what is being discussed is high.  If you are clear on who your meeting participants are and why they are participating, then you can plan accordingly and develop different strategies and tactics to include and engage them virtually. Make sure through the planning process that you identify and develop a strategy for how you are going to ensure that everyone receives appropriate levels of airtime; to encourage those who need it to speak up and to manage the over-sharers.  If you do this, participants will be more likely to actively engage in the meeting and commit to the outcomes and next steps coming out of the meeting.

Tip Two – be clear on your meeting objective(s) and outcome(s) and communicate them effectively

Articulate in the invite and at the start of the virtual meeting the objective(s) and what the expected outcome(s) are of the meeting.

Only ever hold virtual meetings when they add real value to the attendees.

Assign a dedicated note taker who is responsible for noting decision, next steps etc. and follow up quickly post the meeting with a written note outlining the next steps.

Tip Three – familiarise yourself with the tech

Ensure you have at least a basic knowledge of the tech package you are using (see earlier links for further info) – this includes knowing how to mute, un-mute and manage volume settings, turn laptop camera on and off and how to share and stop sharing your screen (this is important because if you are using a programme such as Powerpoint you will need to be able to share your slides) and if there’s a chat function – how to manage the chat function (more about that later).

Assign a co-host if your tech package allows you to do this so that should you for any reason lose connectivity etc your co-host can step in and manage the situation giving you time to re-join the meeting.

Tip Four – develop a clear brief for the virtual meeting speakers and participants.

Developing a clear brief for the virtual meeting can be particularly helpful if the meeting is larger, more complex and long in duration.

Share the meeting brief in advance with speakers and participants (you may require two different versions of the brief depending on the size and complexity of the meeting – one for speakers and one for participants).

The brief should include:

Meeting preparation

  • Clearly articulate the meeting objectives and outcomes as well as running order.
  • Remind speakers and participants to think about the setting from where they are making the call to ensure minimum disruption and as well as appropriate attire (we have seen people turn up in their pyjamas and work-out clothes). We recognise that this is easier said than done especially currently given many of us are working with numerous family members at home. And think about the stability of your broadband – especially speakers.
  • Prompt speakers to talk to the camera (not the screen), set the camera at eye level, speak clearly -especially if you have non-native English speakers participating – but with animation and use voice intonation. My business partner holds her virtual meetings standing up as she believes it gives off greater energy and creates more engagement from participants (she does have a standing desk).
  • Brief your speakers on the queues you will use for introducing them and how you would like them to hand back to you and if there are Q&As whether they are hosting it or if you will be hosting it.
  • Finally, ask everyone to ensure they have what they need to hand (including a glass of water) for the duration of the meeting.

During the meeting guidance

  • Clarify at the start of the meeting to both participants and speakers the ground rules – this includes having their webcams turned on (wherever possible), keeping their microphones muted except when you want to invite them to speak, how and when to use the chat functions (eg if you want to field all questions through the chat function). If you are going to record the presentation, then let them know so that they are aware and clarify with them where and how the recording will be shared.
  • Remind participants and speakers of the objectives and outcomes as well as running order for the meeting.
  • Be careful of overusing Powerpoint, – use it sparingly and pay attention to how the information appears on the computer screen (is it too much, too small etc.). Remember, Powerpoint is there to assist the speakers, not the other way around and slides can always be shared afterwards along with any key outcomes and next steps.
  • Find ways to keep your audience engaged. Check out in advance if it’s possible with the tech package you are using to schedule polling questions, breakout rooms, whiteboarding, sticky-note mapping or share film clips or animations and test beforehand. If you do use any of these functions, provide clear guidance during the meeting if required.
  • With regard to Q&A this can be run via the chat function with participants posing their questions in the chat function for you to answer. It can be helpful to line up someone to help you triage the questions – you may want to ask one of your colleagues to help.

Tip Five – manage time with precision

Start and finish the meeting as communicated – this means for future meetings individuals will be clear on timings and not dial in late or dial out early.

Sticking to timings also means setting clear ground rules including reminding participants of speaking etiquette so that no one individual or group dominates the discussion and prompt speakers when they are 5, 2 and 1 minute out of time (through the chat) are all approaches that help with managing time.

Whilst on the issue of time, remember that if you’re planning meetings across time zones that you need to find an optimum time that works best for participants and speakers – and don’t forget clock changes as this can play havoc with diaries – not all countries change their clocks forward or back and some don’t change at the same time.

Finally, with each virtual meeting you run, you will learn what works and what doesn’t, and you will get braver with experimenting. Remember to keep a note so that you can develop and evolve your approach.

We believe virtual meetings are here to stay so we would encourage you to hone your virtual meeting craft and pave the way to making successful virtual meetings regularly.

Our next blog will focus on larger virtual events such as conferences and top tips for curating them based on our experience.

If you would like further guidance or assistance with curating, hosting or presentation skills training for virtual meetings, then please feel free to contact us at www.haslerhillconsulting.co.uk or on +44 (0) 7773229909 and we would be happy to help.



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