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run effective online meetings

How to run effective online meetings

As most of us have now transitioned to remote working, you’ve probably noticed how your calendar is busier than ever thanks to a stream of online meeting invites.  With organic discussions in passageways and kitchen areas no longer possible, the shift to a larger number of formalised meetings has been unavoidable.

For those who have been working in teams that are spread across various cities or countries, online meetings would already be the norm.  But for those who have just entered this virtual world for the first time due to the covid-19 pandemic, it can be a bit of an adjustment, and a daunting one at that.

To make things easier, we’ve compiled the following list of tips and tricks to ensure that you get the most out of every meeting and that nobody leaves your online session thinking “this could have been an email”.

Tip # 1:  Be clear about who you need and why you need them

Meeting fatigue is a very real problem, particularly for people who are stuck in back-to-back online meetings all day, not allowing them any space to do the work they really need to do.  It’s important, therefore, to carefully consider who you need and what exact role you want them to play in your meeting.  You want to avoid including someone in an hour-long meeting for example when they’re really only there to field one question.  Rather ping that person via instant chat or email prior to the session to get that input.

Tip # 2:  Provide a “how to guide”   

Don’t assume that everyone who’s joining your call knows how to navigate their way around your selected online meeting tool.  Share some “how to” tips either as part of the meeting invite, or prior to the session to ensure that everyone knows how to put themselves on mute or add a question to the chat.  It really helps to put people at ease, particularly those who are not as comfortable using new technologies.   

Tip # 3:  Set some ground rules

Be clear about how the meeting will be run.  Include things like:  Testing your connectivity 5min prior to the call, confirming who the meeting facilitator will be, defining when and how people can ask questions, who to inform if you need to leave early or will be running late, keeping your sound muted unless actively talking, or any rules around cellphone usage. For video chats also be clear about the expected dress code and state your preference around camera usage.  

Tip # 4:  Prepare visuals to help guide the conversation

With face-to-face meetings it’s easy to jump onto a whiteboard to sketch something up, or jot down key points made, but in a virtual space, this becomes more challenging.  Most people understand concepts quicker and more easily with the aid of some kind of visual, be it a simple diagram, or even a few PowerPoint slides.  Keep this in mind and come prepared.  Also look into online mind mapping and other collaborative tools that can be used to break down concepts and tasks during the session.

Tip # 5:  Encourage the use of video where possible

Video serves two main purposes.  1)  It gives that human connection we’re all missing at the moment and also makes it feel like everyone is in the same (albeit virtual) room; 2) You can immediately see who’s following what you’re saying and who’s not.

Tip # 6:  Last, but certainly not least… Don’t forget the basics!

Online meetings should follow the same basics you’d employ with any face-to-face meeting.  So be sure to send out a meeting agenda ahead of time along with any pre-read documentation that is applicable, take minutes during the session, agree on next steps and actions, and don’t forget breaks if the session is more than 1 hour long.  A good leg stretch or coffee break does wonders to people’s energy levels and will ensure a more active discussion.

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