12+ Virtual Meeting Tips that Aren’t a Waste of Time
Are you following the best practices and tips for virtual meetings, or are you just winging them?
Thanks to COVID-19, virtual meetings are becoming more common than in-person gatherings.
Sales teams can meet with clients in half the time and for a fraction of the expense. Salons can run virtual consultations rather than waiting for an in-house appointment. And fitness gurus can hold one-on-one training sessions right from their living room.
Despite all these perks, the way you run and attend a virtual meeting says a lot about your brand, so you have to get it right every time.
If people on the other end notice technical issues, feel like they’re constantly being talked over, or leave thinking your meeting was a total waste of time, you’ll come off as an unprofessional mess.
So in today’s guide, we’ll outline the best tips for virtual meetings that guarantee success.
And if you’re new to the virtual meeting world, we’ll start with the basics:
What is a virtual meeting?
A virtual meeting is a real-time conversation that happens on an online video conferencing platform. Depending on the chosen app, meeting attendees can interact using video, audio-only, chat functions, or screen-sharing capabilities.
How does it work?
First, a host initiates a virtual meeting by sending electronic invites to potential attendees. They might also decide to accept online appointments, and then send invites to those who sign up.
Invites usually contain the date and time of the meeting and a link to sign in to a private virtual session on a video conferencing platform.
When the big day rolls around, hosts can share presentation slides, lead a brainstorming session, distribute surveys, collaborate on projects, and more.
Attendees can then respond and discuss ideas with their hosts and the other meeting guests in real-time. They can even decide to share their screens with everyone during the call.
Essentially, a virtual meeting is just like holding a meeting in a conference room — except it’s online. So to recap, a virtual meeting:
- Is initiated by a single host
- Takes place at one specific date/time
- Usually lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours
- Generally includes a small invite or attendee list (less than five people, ideally, but could be up to 100)
- Encourages interactive back-and-forth conversation and collaboration
Now that you know what a virtual meeting is, you may be wondering:
What’s the difference between virtual online meetings and virtual events online?
A virtual event is an online live stream hosted by a single party and broadcast to hundreds or thousands of people. They can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days or weeks.
Virtual events skyrocketed in the COVID era because large gatherings were considered potential “super spreaders.” Conferences, college classes, group sessions, concerts, webinars, and more moved into the virtual event space as a result.
You can think of virtual events like a collection of virtual meetings. They often start with a keynote speaker to kick things off. Then it’s common for attendees to branch off into smaller virtual meeting sessions as the event goes on.
Unlike a virtual meeting, attendees are typically responsible for registering for a virtual event. So rather than receiving a personalized invite, interested parties sign up (and sometimes pay for access), then navigate to the online live stream to tune in.
In a nutshell, virtual events:
- May be hosted by several speakers, organizers, trainers, etc.
- Can occur over multiple days
- May include several multi-hour-long sessions
- Allow thousands to attend and often require registration in advance
- Focus less on two-way dialogue and more on creating an experience, disseminating information, or highlighting a notable guest
Though many of today’s tips apply for both types of online gatherings, we’re going to focus specifically on what to do before, during, and after your virtual meetings.
Use these tips for virtual meetings before you invite anyone
These virtual meeting tips ensure you start off on the right foot:
1. Decide whether you really need a virtual meeting
How many times have you left a meeting wondering that could have been handled via email? For most people, the answer is too many times.
So consider whether you can convey the information you want to discuss during a meeting in another format. Then you won’t have to ask people to block off time in their busy schedules.
Can you record a video message using Loom and send it to everyone who needs the intel? Would a status update request in your team’s Slack channel encourage a faster response? Should you write up a new protocol and add it to your company’s Wiki or internal knowledge base?
Explore your options before you ask people to commit to a meeting time, especially if you’re coordinating multiple schedules in different time zones.
2. Choose the best virtual meeting platform
Certain virtual meeting platforms will be a better match for your needs and budget than others. So check out the pros and cons of each before settling on a popular one.
For example, Nextiva Video gives you 1-click invite links, HD video and audio on one of the industry’s most reliable networks, and the ability to screen share and file share.
Hosting your virtual meetings in one shared workspace like this will help you streamline pitches to win new business and collaborate better (and easier!) with your teams.
Once you decide on a video conferencing platform, make sure to familiarize yourself with its tools, functions, controls, and capabilities beforehand. You’ll come off as a pro and be able to troubleshoot for attendees who have questions or technical difficulties.
3. Come up with a virtual meeting agenda
Effective virtual meetings start with well-organized virtual meeting planning. So create a virtual meeting agenda that outlines:
- Your meeting’s goals and objectives. What are you hoping to get out of this session? Do you want to brainstorm, teach a new protocol, or pitch a new idea? Write down this goal and focus your talking points on accomplishing it.
- Your meeting’s structure. Outline what you’d like to discuss or present during the beginning, middle, and end of your session. Chunk these bullet points into easily digestible 10-minute blocks. And leave room for questions and comments.
Try to aim for 30 to 40-minute virtual meetings. Attention spans may wane if people have to sit and stare at their screens any longer than this.
When you have an agenda, you’ll want to email a copy to each invitee in advance. Include a one-sentence objective summary of what your meeting will address to give everyone a heads up about what to expect. This also gives them time to prepare questions or chime in with thoughtful contributions.
4. Choose a meeting time that’s best for as many people as possible
You’ll need to give attendees a definitive start and end time, so they can fit your meeting into their schedule. Your meeting agenda should provide a better idea of how long your session or presentation may last.
Think about who really needs to participate before inviting anyone. Try to keep the invite list small, so that everyone’s voice has a chance to be heard. Brainstorming and decision-making sessions are more productive with fewer competing voices.
Schedule a time that works for most people. It may not be feasible to choose a time that works for everyone, especially if you have attendees in different time zones. Tools like World Clock Meeting Planner will help you sync slots across time zones to find an overlap.
If you have employees working in different time zones, try to vary meeting times so one person isn’t always attending meetings too late or too early in the day.
Psst! This guide on the importance of scheduling highlights 7 reasons to get your meetings on the books sooner than later.
Assign each attendee a specific role once they RSVP. For example, you’ll need someone to take notes for others who can’t attend the meeting.
Send automated meeting reminders so invitees don’t forget about your meeting. You can even automate text reminders for your virtual meetings, which can be a huge help for people with busy schedules.
5. Create an interactive, engaging presentation
If you want people to focus during your virtual meeting, it helps to give them something to focus on. Attendees who are engaged are more likely to pay attention and remember what’s been discussed after the meeting ends.
So, create an interactive and engaging presentation to share information, and your attendees will easily follow along.
To keep your presentations short, send out required reading or subject matter material in advance. Everyone can scan this intel before your meeting, and they’ll be caught up without you wasting time to get everyone on the same page.
6. Set the scene with a professional workspace
Where you host your virtual meeting is just as important as what you share during it. Your setting can be distracting to others on video. And if it’s noisy, it will disrupt the meeting’s audio.
- Hold your meeting in a quiet room. Find somewhere to be alone, and close the door if you can. If you have roommates or officemates, let them know not to interrupt. Fabrics and soft furnishings like carpet, rugs, and curtains help muffle echoes and reduce reverberation to create less hollow audio.
- Find a neutral background that isn’t too distracting. Interesting items on a bookshelf may be cool, but they can take away from what you’re saying if someone’s mind wanders to them. You can also utilize virtual backgrounds to block out your workspace.
- Create good lighting, so your face isn’t in shadow or washed out. Aim for a soft, uniform light from multiple directions to brighten up your face. A sunny window, two small lamps, or an inexpensive ring light work well here.
7. Get your tech setup right (+ test it beforehand)
When it comes to virtual meetings, it’s best to use your laptop or desktop rather than your phone, even if the app on your phone is easier to use. You’ll have a stable picture and the ability to take notes or share your screen.
Test your virtual meeting tech (again). Make sure your device can handle the meeting or video software. Do all your system updates well before the big day. Many video conferencing platforms will ask for access to your camera, microphone, and other permissions you’ll want to have squared away.
Use the best audio quality you can. A pair of headphones with a mic works better than the built-in microphone and speakers in your laptop.
8. Set virtual meeting ground rules early
There’s nothing worse than virtual meetings where everyone talks over each other. Then again, there’s nothing more agonizing than a meeting in which everyone stays silent.
To strike the right balance, send a quick email about your virtual meeting ground rules a day before your meeting. These should outline some basic virtual meeting etiquette (more on this next!) and anything else you want your attendees to follow.
4 Virtual meeting tips to use during your meeting
Join your virtual meeting five minutes early to ensure everything is working correctly. Check out your lighting, background, microphone, camera, and everything else. Then make sure to:
1. Start your meeting with a round of introductions
Introduce everyone on the call if your attendees don’t already know each other. Use everyone’s preferred name/nickname, pronouns, and job title. If you’re doing an audio-only call, ask your attendees to introduce themselves, so everyone knows their voice when they’re speaking.
2. Consider an icebreaker to get everyone comfortable and ready to participate and listen
Icebreakers help attendees relax and open up to each other. Do a quick Google search for icebreakers you think your attendees will enjoy, such as a brainteaser or pop quiz. You’ll help ignite creative sparks and kick off your meeting with fun interaction.
3. Look directly into your camera
It’s best to use video calls whenever possible. This allows people to pick up on your nonverbal body language and facial cues to facilitate better conversations.
Try to position your webcam to your eye level. Place your laptop on a box or riser so you can look directly into the camera when speaking. This is the closest thing to having a face-to-face conversation in person (and avoids the dreaded up-the-nose shot).
Avoid looking elsewhere, even if it’s somewhere else on screen, or you may come off as distracted.
4. Follow proper virtual meeting etiquette
If everyone follows standard virtual meeting etiquette, your session will go smoother and stay on schedule. To do this:
- Keep your appearance professional and behave the way you would while attending an in-person meeting. Skip the PJs, and you’ll not only look the part, but feel more confident and assured too.
- Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking to minimize unnecessary background sounds. Remember to turn it back on when you wish to talk.
- Turn off notifications on your laptop/desktop and on your phone. You don’t want these noises to interrupt you or someone else. You also don’t want private messages popping up if you’re sharing your screen (cringe!).
- Resist the urge to multitask. You’ll be distracting others in the meeting if you’re checking emails, responding to your phone, or clicking your mouse in the background. And yes, they’ll notice all of these.
- Raise your hand to speak and avoid interrupting or speaking over others. Wait for a cue from your host to begin speaking once you’re acknowledged. You don’t want the loudest attendees to dominate the conversation, so try to call on everyone at least once.
- Pause after you speak to ensure people hear your point. Technical glitches may leave room for misinterpretation. Give yourself a few seconds for everyone to catch up, ask questions, or raise their hand for feedback when you’ve completed a thought.
Virtual meeting tips for after your meeting ends
A successful virtual meeting needs an equally actionable follow-up plan. Hopefully, you or someone else took notes during your call. So use those notes to:
- Share a summary or recording of your virtual meeting for those who couldn’t be there. You can add a quick overview of what was discussed and what needs immediate attention.
- Be clear and specific about the next steps. Outline the expectations you have moving forward and set deadlines for these tasks. You’ll give everyone a clear direction and add accountability.
- Email this summary and action plan as soon as your meeting wraps up, so no one forgets what you shared or what they’re responsible for. Send this in the same email thread as your initial meeting invitation to keep everything organized.
Now you’re ready to put these virtual meeting tips into action!
Today you learned how to improve virtual meetings so they’re productive, engaging, and a smashing success. Now it’s time to schedule your first one and make it everything you hoped it would be.
Everything should go according to plan if you follow today’s virtual meeting tips. And you’ll look like a virtual meeting guru without ever breaking a sweat!
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day.
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