Leading Effective Virtual Meetings
A brief guide to planning effective phone, web-based, and videoconferencing meetings.
Over the next few months it is possible that air travel may be significantly reduced in the United States and abroad. Consequently you may be in a situation that requires you to consider using teleconferencing, web-based interaction or videoconferencing to hold meetings. This brief report is designed to help you maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of these meetings.
You have most likely participated in various virtual meetings in the past and have your own ideas about the limitations of these meetings. The most frequent response we hear from our clients is, “it’s just not the same as being there.” The fact is that regardless of the sophistication of our technology, there is no replacing the impact of personal presence in a face-to-face interaction. Some limitations of a virtual meetings include:
- Loss of direct eye contact.
- No or limited visibility of body language.
- Reduced voice quality.
These limitations are significant given that experts report that as much as 70% of communication is interpreted from nonverbal cues.
Start By Running a Good Meeting To be effective, a virtual meeting must have all the qualities and attributes of a good face-to-face meeting. Consider this well-established checklist of running effective meetings:
- Develop an agenda for the meeting including topic, discussion leader, and approximate time for each agenda item.
- Establish ground rules for meeting interaction.
- Take time for personal introductions at the beginning of meeting as needed.
- Assign someone to record minutes of the meeting. Record any action items including what will be done as a result of the meeting including who will do it and when it will be accomplished.
- Take five minutes at the end of the meeting to review your meeting process. Record any recommendations for improving future meetings.
While these actions may seem obvious, our experience suggest that less than 20% of corporate meetings include all of these basic practices.
Do You Really Need a Meeting? Many managers make the assumption that a meeting is necessary. Are you sure that a meeting is essential or that all agenda items need to be covered in a particular meeting? Could informational items be covered more efficiently in an e-mail note, memo, or other communication?
Consider that the average meeting of seven managers and their supervisor may cost your organization $1000.00 per hour or more to finance. Are you making the best investment of your meeting time?
Do You Know Your Technology Options?
How familiar are you with the meeting technologies available to you in your organization? Are you using the best technologies available? Contact your IT or Communications representative to review options. While phone conferencing may be the easiest, Internet-based and videoconferencing applications provide many benefits including document sharing and visual interaction.
Responding to the Challenge
To lead an effective virtual meeting your challenge is to compensate for the loss of personal interactions and intimacy that face-to-face meetings afford. The basis of effective collaboration is trust. Trust is established on our ability to understand others and count on predicted behaviors. We can only build trust through interation.
A common tendency is for virtual meetings to focus only on the meeting content and not allow time for important individual and team interaction. In fact, social interaction enhances understanding of and commitment to the meeting’s content.
Before the Meeting
- Send out the agenda and any supporting documentation at least a week in advance. Ask for additions or corrections to the agenda. Encourage one-on-one conversations to clarify and review the meeting agenda in advance.
- Give participants an active role in the meeting. Engage others in facilitating discussions or leading decision-making. Consider having another participant facilitate the meeting or parts of the meeting.
- Consider having the meeting leader travel to the remote locations. This way the whole team can feel that they are part of the core meeting at one point.
- If your meeting is by teleconference, consider limiting participation in the meeting to seven individuals. More than seven participants can make interactive discussions difficult.
- Have your technology set up and tested in advance. Be sure to have a technician available throughout the meeting to address problems.
- Be sure the technology has enabled everyone to participate fully. Can everyone hear or see? Are speakers, cameras and microphones placed strategically? Check with all participants before the meeting begins.
During the Meeting
- Virtual settings tend to cut down on informal social interaction. People who work together but don’t see each other day-to-day need this time. Provide some time for participants to check-in informally before the meeting begins.
- Provide ample time for people to introduce themselves if necessary. Visitors should be introduced and their role in the meeting identified.
- Participants may miss visual opportunities to be invited in the discussion (e.g., head nod, hand gesture). Actively engage participants by checking-in by name or asking all participants to respond in turn to an issue or topic.
- If you are leading a mixed meeting (i.e., some on site and some participating virtually), it is vital that the virtual participants are actively engaged in discussions. It’s easy for these people to become be ignored and feel like second-class citizens.
- Be sure participants have documents in advance and can follow the documentation together throughout the meeting. Be sure documents have been uploaded for web-based applications.
- Use your meeting time effectively. Avoid prolonged, one-way information sharing. Engage the team in collaboration, problem solving, decision making, or providing multiple perspectives on an issue.
- Avoid distractions. Anyone who participates in a remote meeting knows that it is tempting to double-time by answering e-mails or filling out expense reports. Address this in your meeting expectations.
- In the meeting debrief to be sure to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology.
After the Meeting
- Be sure to distribute meeting minutes and action lists to all participants.
- Follow up individually with individuals who may not have participated fully in the meeting. Ask what can be done to promote their active engagement in future meetings.
- Make changes in meeting process to accommodate suggestions from the meeting debrief. Build these actions into your shared expectations for future meetings.
Keep on Trying
Many people report a less than satisfactory experience with virtual meetings at first. Our experience is that people get used to these meetings and the associated technologies over time. Virtual teams that depend on virtual meetings have proven to be highly productive.
Chances are you will have greater success with virtual meetings with younger participants. The newest generation to join the workforce is already acclimated to having best friends that have never seen face-to face.