How to properly prepare and host a virtual meeting

How to properly prepare and host a virtual meetingBefore mandated separation was in place, we all spent an incredible amount of time in virtual meetings. It was an essential part of how we all worked, but now that we are all stuck working from home, virtual meetings are a way of life. As a result, people have somewhat forgotten some of the essential rules for hosting and taking part of conference calls and online meetings. The purpose of this article is to share some quick tips to ensure you hold better and more efficient virtual meetings.

  • Start with the invite itself – Remember, everyone’s calendar is stuffed with various agenda items. With people jumping from call to call, it is easy for your meeting to get lost in the mix of all the others competing for mindshare on a calendar. One way to get your meeting to stick out is how you structure your invitation.
    • Streamline the subject. Subject lines should be clear and explanatory. Something such as: 3SixtySMB | Client Name Discussion Regarding Fridays Webcast and Next Steps – Wednesday 4/29 @ 1pm Eastern Time. A subject line like this one clearly shows the recipient who they are speaking with, why, and when… It is much harder to glaze over a subject line like this, and within seconds, the recipient knows exactly the purpose of the call.
    • Condense the body. The agenda should be clear and concise… Now is not the time to write War and Peace; no one will read it. Keep it simple.
    • Provide only a dial-in option when possible. Virtual meeting solutions are nothing new, yet people still do not understand the basics of how to properly use them. Nothing will throw off the tempo of a meeting more than waiting for someone to join because they waited last minute and need to download WebEx for the hundredth time. Or, listening to someone typing away on their keyboards because they forgot to mute their lines. Dial-in only options eliminate many of those headaches.
  • No back-to-back meetings – This is a standard meeting rule of thumb that people tend to forget… Always leave 15 minutes between meetings if possible; we all know how often meetings run over their allowed times.
  • Prepare for the meeting – Ensure that either at the start of the day, or at least an hour before the meeting, you share the background of the meeting with others from your team that might be joining. Items such as who you are speaking with and background for the call are critical pieces of information to be shared with them. This ensures everyone is on the same page prior to the start of the meeting. Again, everyone is busy, but you do not want your team showing up unprepared.
    • Take 15 – 20 minutes prior to the meeting to prepare yourself. Review notes, background, and remind yourself of who you are speaking with. Jot down a few very specific questions in which you plan on asking and your end goal for the meeting.
    • Be mindful of your background. When participating in video calls, this is especially important. Just take a few minutes to tidy up anything that could be seen in the background. And, ensure that whenever possible, you can mitigate noises or environments that could disrupt the meeting.
    • Always use a headset. This is a huge personal pet peeve for a few reasons. Most speakerphones are designed for one person to speak at a time… What ends up happening is the person on a speakerphone will continue to speak and miss those subtle cues that someone is trying to speak and just bowl right over them. Also, most speaker phones have horrible room acoustics and as a result, some people become difficult to hear. Laptops are worse; they are not designed for conference calls… If someone has their volume too loud, you get an echo that everyone can hear but them. You end up completely oblivious to the fact that you are making the call painful to listen to for everyone else… Plus, people tend to forget that their keyboard is attached to the laptop, and again, you end up oblivious to the fact that everyone can hear your extremely loud typing.
    • Start up a team chat. This will allow for you to coordinate as a team in the background as the call happens. This really allows for more of a team-cohesive approach to the meeting.
    • Prepare to join 3 – 5 minutes early – Virtual meeting platforms will fail you at the worst time. Prepare to join 3 – 5 minutes early; this ensures you give the meeting platform enough time to spin up properly. Nothing is worse than when your participants are ready but waiting on you to load up the virtual meeting platform.
    • Mute by default – Your line should be muted by default, and you should only unmute it when you want to speak. Whether you are in the office or at home, no one wants to hear the noise in the background, your heavy breathing while they are talking, or you taking a bite of a sandwich because you skipped lunch.
  • During the call, start with a proper agenda – Take care of roll call, introductions, meeting summary, and opening questions before getting started. The most important part of the meeting is how you set the stage, ensuring that everyone is on the same page on the reasoning of the meeting. Too many times people skip this part, only to find out 30 minutes into a meeting that the reasoning behind the meeting changed on the other side or they had a piece of critical information missing that changes everything. Also, if it’s a smaller meeting, try building a bit of a rapport before hopping right into things. A little bonding goes a long way!
    • Actively listen – There is a difference between listening and actively listening because there is a big difference between “what people say” and “how they say it”. Sometimes the nuances are in the way something is said, and those small nuances can be the difference between good and great meetings.
    • Be present/listen – Seriously, too many people forget the simple concept of being present and listening. Some believe they are listening, but they’re too involved in jotting down notes, or thinking of their next question and are really not present. As a result, they miss things… and nothing will annoy people more than someone that isn’t paying attention to what is being said asking questions that were answered previously in the conversation.
    • Take detailed notes – Part of listening is taking notes, lots of them… Many believe they can simply remember the fine details. However, after a few hours, those details can be forgotten. And of course, don’t be afraid to share these notes with co-workers. This goes back to doing your homework; note-taking and sharing are extremely important to ensure everyone has the most relevant information and is on the same page.
    • Never make assumptions – Too many make assumptions, and those assumptions lead to bad meetings. For example, these can be assumptions such as believing you know what the client wants, that the right people are on the call, the budget, and decision-making process… the list goes on. Never make assumptions, and always ask questions to understand unanswered details. Your meeting counterparts will respect that you are trying to understand their situation better.
    • Clear next steps – This is a big one… Never, ever end a call without clear next steps and a scheduled call! Nothing kills the momentum of a good discussion more than not having a scheduled next step. People are busy, and unfortunately, you are not always their top priority–almost anything can happen once a call ends. Without a scheduled next step, there is no guarantee you’ll get them on the phone again.
    • Summarize – Do not forget to summarize what was discussed in the meeting and ask for confirmation. We all hear different things at times, and it is critical to make sure everyone is on the same page before leaving.

Looking at it all written out seems like a lot of details to ensure a good virtual meeting, but honestly after a few calls, it should become routine and easy to follow… Given that 100% of all business is being done virtually these days, now is the time to make sure you are doing things right!

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