A poorly run business meeting is just a waste of time. Following these 10 steps will help you make your meetings more productive and worth the time spent for both you and the participants. In most cases the same tips apply to virtual meetings as well. However, you have to bare in mind that online meetings or sessions usually require lots of additional preparation upfront.
Below you will find useful tips for running efficient face-to-face and virtual meetings.
Create an agenda – a written plan or a roadmap of the meeting. The agenda will keep you stay focused during the meeting so that you won’t lose track or miss the opportunities to complete all the important items that you have prepared in advance.
It is a good idea to send the agenda to everyone beforehand, which will allow the participants to have time to prepare for the meeting.
Having the agenda ready and on paper will also prevent you from losing credibility in case your boss or a participant unexpectedly asks for it at the very last minute before the meeting.
Make sure that all the participants have access to and will use the same technology. Having the same video conferencing software is vital. If your online meeting is only a one-time event you may consider using a free online meeting application such as Abeedesk which is entirely web based and requires no login or registration.
Once the tool for the virtual session has been chosen, it would be wise to test both the app and the internet connectivity to avoid embarrassing technical problems in the course of the online session.
Prepare the visuals to effectively convey your message on the screen. Use Power Point slides or PDFs. Make sure that your application can actually display those slides or pages either by converting them to an online whiteboard-friendly format or by a screen-sharing option.
Prior to the online session provide the participants with any information about how to access the video conferencing software so that they have a chance to test it beforehand. Ask them to enter the virtual room a few minutes before the scheduled start time to test connectivity. More about that the in the „Start on Time” section below.
Remote online meetings allow the attendees to communicate from different locations like offices or coffee houses. Ask the participants to find, if possible, a quiet spot to minimalize any background noise for more effective communication.
#2 Set a clear goal
Make sure what you want to accomplish during the course of the meeting. Clearly specify the goal and add it to your agenda so that everybody knows what to expect and what is expected from them.
#3 Invite the right people
Invite only those people that will help you achieve your goal. Think about who has the information that you need, who has the decision making power that you need and who you are going to assign tasks to during the meeting.
If, for any reason, the key people cannot come there may be no point even calling a meeting.
#4 Start on time
Respect your and everybody else’s time by sticking to the timeframe.
Once the meeting starts you might want to lock the room door from the inside. In this way, you send a clear message to the latecomers that such behaviour is unacceptable and next time they will surely be on time.
Asking the participants to log in a few minutes prior to the start is a good practice. This way, you have made time for testing connectivity and resolving potential technical issues. Conduct a quick roll call to check if everything works fine and kick off your online session.
In the virtual environment it is easy for people to come up with excuses for being late. Some video calling apps such as Abeedesk come with a room locking feature which is exactly what you may want to use to prevent the latecomers from entering the session and disrupt the meeting.
#5 Set a positive tone
Start with a small relaxing talk (an icebreaker) to warm up the participants and make them feel comfortable.
Remember that a live online meeting is just as a regular meeting and must be conducted that way.
Try not to pretend to be more casual or easy going than you would if you normally were in a real face-to-face conversation. Focus on your audience. Do not multitask. Do not eat or drink. Speak clearly and at a slightly slower pace due to the voice delay that may occur at different remote locations. Maintain an eye contact and dress apprioprietly. Avoid asking open-ended questions or you will end up with either a dead silence or multiple people talking at the same time. Ask questions directly calling the participants by their names.
#6 Use visuals
Use a flipchart and record graphically key ideas and concepts that your team may come up with during the meeting. Draw diagrams such as mind maps to effectively communicate those ideas and concepts.
For effective online communication you should not rely too much on sketches or drawings made in real time on the interactive whiteboard. This consumes everybody’s precious time and usually will not have such a powerful impact on your audience. Instead, use Power Point slides or PDFs that you have prepared for this meeting.
Use built-in signalling features such as „raise a hand” or „thumbs up/down” to assist you in effective communication.
#7 Stay on track
Stay focused and stick to the agenda! It is your guide that won’t let you get distracted or derail the meeting.
However, it’s very likely that other unplanned but important topics will arise during the meeting. Make a note of any of such topics and put them on a „parking lot” and, if time allows, come back to them later, if not, you might want to include them on your next agenda.
Having a timekeeper could be helpful. This way, you can focus on your agenda items and not worry about the minutes.
During the virtual meeting participants tend to multitask and switch back and forth between activities such as checking e-mails or surfing the web. As a leader you must keep your audience’s attention focused at all times, but it is not an easy task, especially in the online environment. Do not be distracted and give your full attention to the participants. Ask questions directly to specific people. Be natural and have fun!
#8 Take notes
Get a recorder – a recording device is just fine, but think about having somebody to actually take notes during the meeting.
A recorder’s role is to capture the key points in writing that arise in the course of the meeting. The agenda items can serve as main headings under which the recorder lists key discussion points and decisions.
Get a facilitator to assist you during the online meeting. Their job is to do anything that will help take the pressure off of you as a main presenter. The facilitator can take notes, track the time, monitor the chat messages that come in and support the participants with technical issues leaving you only with the action points on your agenda.
#9 Wrap up
Finish the meeting in a satisfying way so the people know that the time was well spent and so that next time they will show up with even better attitude.
Wrap the meeting up with action items – things you have accomplished during the meeting. Summarize and state out loud those accomplishments. Repeat and remind the participants who is supposed to do what and when and then let them know what the next steps are.
For even better communication you might want to get a verbal commitment from each person about their responsibilities.
Also get the feedback by asking the participants questions like: Does anyone have any feedback? or Does anyone have anything to add?
#10 Finish on time…
… and do not prolong the meeting!