The host with the most: how to hold an effective virtual meeting
March 24, 2021
Anyone else feel really drained after a virtual meeting? You’re not alone: ‘Zoom Fatigue’ describes the feeling of stress and tiredness that comes after (over)using virtual platforms. It’s an entirely new phenomenon that materialized during 2020 when offices closed their doors and we all started chatting online.
Organizations are powered by virtual platforms right now, and it’s unlikely this will change as we emerge from the pandemic. The fact is, remote work has been on the rise for some time. And, Zoom fatigue aside, the pandemic has shown us how possible — and in some cases, preferable — it is to function as a remote team.
Whether you’re a host or attendee, polishing your virtual meeting skills is something worth doing. In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of virtual meetings and then share some tips to help you hone your virtual meeting etiquette.
What is a virtual meeting?
Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at the different types of virtual meeting:
This is an online meeting that involves visuals and sound. Attendees aren’t in the same room, but being able to see each other means they can still pick up on each other’s facial expressions and body language. Seeing and hearing the people you’re talking to is especially useful when you consider that most communication is nonverbal — i.e., body language and tone of voice.
This is a more hands-on form of video conferencing, with participants working on things together. It can include training, sharing slides, and hosting presentations.
This is an audio-only meeting where everyone dials in and chats on the phone. The downside is you can’t see each other’s face — but it’s low-tech, which means if the internet’s down or running slowly, you can still talk.
A webinar is a portmanteau of the words ‘web’ and ‘seminar.’ Once you break it down like that, you get a pretty good idea of what it’s all about: virtual seminars. They’re usually educational, with one person teaching and the participants listening.
If face and sound aren’t a priority, group collaboration can happen via a chat app or on a cloud-based platform. Google Docs is a popular one for shared spreadsheets and word docs, while project management tools keep teams on track in real-time.
What are the benefits of a virtual meeting?
Chatting to colleagues on different continents, no commute, the option to wear PJs and slippers on your bottom half (kidding) — the benefits of remote work are huge.
Assemble a dream team
You’re no longer limited to working with people in your immediate town or city. With remote work, you can beam specialists and pros into your office (or living room) in seconds.
A wider customer base
Depending on your business, you may also be able to widen your customer pool by offering your services virtually.
No travel means no travel costs, less time spent on the road (or in the sky), and less stress.
With no need to be physically in a place at a certain time, it’s much easier to find a time that works for everyone. There are no journey times to factor in, and people can tune in directly from home.
What are the disadvantages of remote meetings?
Dodgy internet connections, distracted participants, and crying babies in the background — when you take meetings out of the office, life has a habit of butting in. Here are some pitfalls to watch out for.
It’s not easy to focus when there’s background noise, dirty dishes, and tempting phone notifications going on around you. It’s also much easier to fall into passive listening. Focusing and keeping participants feeling engaged is a challenge.
Virtual chat exhaustion is very real. This means some people might start dreading video calls or lose focus faster.
From slow connections and annoying speech lags to meetings cutting out entirely — technology doesn’t always behave as it should.
Top tips for conducting a successful virtual meeting
Pick the right tools
How many people will be attending? What kinds of things do you need to talk about? Think carefully about what you need to accomplish before picking your platform.
A teleconference between six people is ideal, but if 200 need to be involved, things will get hectic fast. If the team needs to collaborate on something complex, like a website design, then diagramming software that lets people comment on the design is a must. If you need to see people’s reactions when you share a new idea, video is the best choice.
2. Invite people
Hosting a virtual meeting requires proper etiquette. First, write down a list of everyone who needs to be involved. Then, send out meeting invitations. These should be sent out well before the event takes place, and they must look professional. Make sure it includes the following information:
- A descriptive subject line to stand out in someone’s inbox, ideally with the date and time included.
- A short introduction that will introduce the project and remind people why they’re receiving the invitation.
- Preparation requirements that give attendees clear instructions about what to bring and what’s expected of them. This can be the same for the entire team or personalized per individual.
- The agenda, so people know what will happen and how long it should take.
- The meeting objective, including the outcomes you hope the meeting will accomplish.
- The time and date, taking different time zones into account. It’s also a good idea to write out months so people in different locations can understand the format.
- The meeting format — for example, a virtual conference room or on a specific platform.
- Contact details, including who to speak to in case of issues and the best way to reach them. This could include organizer names, the HR department, or the tech team.
- Supporting documents — if your meeting requires preparation or will revolve around key information, make sure you send this out to participants in good time so they can prepare.
3. Schedule carefully
Scheduling is no easy task when you’re all spread out around the world. Time zones can get confusing, so make use of tools to help you plan.
- Every Time Zone uses sliders that help you see what time it is in different locations.
- Worldtimebuddy shows you team member locations and puts time zones in a handy table so you can see them side-by-side.
- The World Clock Meeting Planner also puts time zones in an easy-to-read table.
4. Create an agenda (and stick to it)
A well-thought-out agenda is the glue that keeps everything together. It keeps things efficient and moving toward an outcome — which means there’s no time wasted discussing what to do next. It also provides a sense of purpose for everyone on the team.
Your meeting agenda should include the following:
- Key talking points, with a structure that indicates how long you’ll spend talking about each item
- A list of the people and teams who need to be involved
- What each person is responsible for bringing to the meeting
- What each person’s role is during the meeting
- Relevant resources, including slides, documents, and diagrams
The more interactive you can make the meeting, the more attendees will feel engaged. Give participants active, ongoing tasks — like note-taking or managing presentation slides.
5. Set some guidelines
Setting clear guidelines is one way to provide structure, which can be a big help to those who are prone to feeling a bit lost. It also helps everyone behave appropriately and ensures the meeting runs smoothly.
Tell attendees how they’re expected to contribute during the virtual meeting — such as ‘mute your mic when someone else is talking,’ or ‘introduce yourself before speaking’ — either as the meeting begins or via the invite you’ve sent out a few days prior.
6. Make time for casual chat
A few minutes of friendly chat helps break the ice and builds the rapport needed for a productive meeting. It also helps employees build camaraderie — something that’s particularly important for boosting engagement and creating a positive workplace culture in remote teams.
In a virtual setting, it’s all the more important to intentionally guide this part of the meeting. As host, you could ask attendees how their weekends went or ask each person to share an embarrassing story about themselves. One study discovered that workers who shared an embarrassing story before a brainstorming session were 26% more effective at generating ideas than those who didn’t.
7. Engage everyone
As with real-life meetings, it’s important to make sure everyone has a space to speak. In a virtual setting, you need to be aware of different dynamics: Some people are less comfortable talking into a camera than others and maybe less outspoken as a result. Implementing a structure can help like an ‘everyone has five minutes to speak’ rule.
If you spot someone dominating the meeting, or someone shying away from the discussion, take note and gently guide the conversation toward more balance. For example, asking everyone in the room to share an insight or scheduling in some one-on-one time with quieter members post-meeting.
Everyone needs to walk away with a clear idea of what they need to do next. This includes who needs to do what, when, and how. Hosts should first thank everyone for attending, then send out meeting minutes (if taken) or a roundup with action points.
You could also send round an anonymous feedback survey, to hear how people thought the meeting went. This gives you a chance to assess the format and make the next one even more productive and engaging.
Virtual meeting etiquette: Dos and don’ts
Shout or speak too quietly — be natural.
Interrupt other speakers, or try to talk over them.
Let one person dominate.
Make distracting movements, especially when others are speaking.
Carry on side conversations.
Cover the microphone or camera lens.
Work on other tasks or check email during the meeting.
Go around the ‘room’ and let everyone introduce themselves, what they do, and what they’ll bring to the meeting.
Speak clearly and slowly (this is especially important if there are a few seconds of lag).
Keep movements to a minimum (but be natural).
Look into the camera and maintain eye contact.
Dress appropriately. Yes, the bottom half too, even if no one cans see.
Make sure background noise is kept to a minimum.
Make time for a few minutes of non-work chat before getting down to business.
Test your tech pre-meeting to make sure everything’s working — including screen sharing and mics.
Come prepared, and read the agenda beforehand.
Save questions for the end.
Thank everyone for coming.
Give people actions to take away, and check everyone thinks they’re achievable.
Put phones on silent and turn off distracting notifications.
Be friendly, polite, and punctual —behave as you would in an in-person meeting.