Meetings are difficult enough. But remote meetings present unique challenges. Yet in most organizations, conference calls and virtual meetings are standard business practices. Whether a conference call or a virtual meeting using meeting software and a shared screen, here are the 12 key factors you need to make the next remote meeting a success:
When planning a remote meeting, ask: “What are we trying to accomplish?” “What are the required logistics of the meeting participants?” Then, choose the right format. If you need to brainstorm, weigh an idea’s pros and cons, problem-solve, or discuss complex issues, hold a virtual meeting with the visual benefit of a shared screen on which you write all the points that people make. This lets people see all factors and not polarize on one. Insist everyone logs in visually by using software such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom or Adobe Connect. If you just need an update to understand and interact with information, a conference call may do. Once you’ve chosen the format, inform all attendees.
For a successful meeting, you need an agenda. Send it to participants 3 days ahead, and request they have it in front of them at the meeting. Include realistic timeframes so items aren’t cut short to end on time, and statements of purpose and focus for each agenda item to stay on course and avoid tangents. A statement of purpose is 1-2 sentences on why the agenda item is more important than the 10 million other things everyone knows they have to do. A statement of focus clarifies what you need from participants; i.e. their ideas, considerations, etc.
In conference calls, people can’t raise their hands. In virtual meetings, it’s too easy to talk over each other, or be too polite and say nothing. A circular order (around the room) gives everyone airtime. Unless the meeting is informal, include this on the agenda. For more accountability, establish a random order, in which you as organizer call on everyone in no particular pattern — when it’s their turn, they had better be ready. Stick to the speaking order when it’s time for the meeting. When it’s their turn, people can either speak, pass or say “Come back to me.” If the conference call mixes people in the same room with those in remote locations, let the remote people go first to help them feel more included.
“Call in by” or “Log in by” Time
Set a “call-in by” or “log in by” time that’s about four to five minutes before the meeting starts. Otherwise, attendees may be late — whether they lose the log-in information, have a computer glitch, just habitually wait until the last minute to dial in, get an e-mail, or wind up talking to a coworker.
Unusual Start and End Times
For example: “Log in between 8:53 and 8:57 a.m. The meeting will start promptly at 9:02 a.m.” Weird times are memorable, and force people to calculate (“At 8:45 I’ll be on that side of the building. To get to my computer, it will take…”). The net result will be a greater likelihood of people calling in and logging in on time. As the call organizer, stick to unusual times for each agenda item as well (i.e., “9:02 – 9:17 a.m.: Questions on the new policy”). This shows you are paying attention to and respecting time.
Start on time, period. Otherwise, you train people to come late. Even better, block latecomers. True, some agenda items may suffer without the “right” people there. But you only have to do this once or twice before everyone gets the message you are serious about starting on time. In the future, they’ll make sure they do.
We’ve all been in remote meetings with dogs barking, pans clanging, water running in the background. Make sure people know how to mute themselves using the meeting software. Remind them to do so when they’re not speaking. If someone forgets in a virtual meeting, the organizer can do it — so don’t hesitate. In a conference call, people should use the mute function on their phones when they call in.
In remote meetings, it’s too easy for people to do other things. But if they’re multitasking, they’re not paying attention. Banish multitasking ahead of time by getting everyone’s agreement: in exchange for their full attention, the meeting will be more focused, and more will get done faster.
Create a WEBCAMS ON policy: it creates accountability and improves a feeling of connection. People stay focused and don’t multitask. Seeing people pay attention to what you say, nod in agreement or even roll their eyes communicates so much more than audio-only silence. It creates a welcome sense of a live conference room.
In a virtual meeting, use the shared screen to record what people say so everyone can see it. By making the speaker’s ideas and point of view visible, it establishes that all ideas and viewpoints are important. It also depersonalizes the discussion so it’s not someone’s thoughts versus another’s, and keeps ideas from getting lost in the shuffle. When people can see all the factors of whatever they are discussing, this leads to what I call “holographic thinking,” a state of highly effective collaborating that results in more complete ideas and solutions.
After the call or meeting, email the notes to all participants. If the meeting was long and covered many different topics, break the notes out into separate emails with clearly labeled subject lines. This will increase follow-up after the meeting, and help people locate the notes again.
At the meeting’s end, invite everyone to unmute themselves and say goodbye. A little cacophony gives people the feeling they have been together.
By building these 12 hacks into your conference call or virtual meeting tips, you’ll impress participants — getting more done, at higher quality, and ending on time. Once people realize a meeting won’t drag on indefinitely, they will participate more enthusiastically … and come to future remote meetings better prepared, and more engaged.
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