7 Top Tips for Leading Virtual Meetings

7 Top Tips for Leading Virtual Meetings

We all have had a crash course in participating in (and facilitating) virtual meetings. Whether you have been part of this virtual world new to the scene, it’s worth noting that there are a few key differences between virtual meetings and their in-person counterparts. While experience running face-to-face meetings can help, you’ll want to keep in mind that video conferences are a different beast.

Holding virtual meetings requires you intensify your physical meeting skills. This means you have to be intentional about engaging people, communicating clearly and ensuring everyone is able to see, hear and understand participants. Let’s look at the key points to keep in mind.

1. Cover the Meeting Basics

On a fundamental level, a virtual staff meeting isn’t that much different from a meeting that happens face to face. While we’ll be talking about a few essential differences below, it’s also worth brushing up on the basic strategies you’d use to run any meeting:

  • Make sure you’re inviting only the attendees and stakeholders who should be there
  • Schedule the meeting as far in advance as possible
  • Set clear objectives on the front end to guide your planning and the meeting discussion
  • Prepare and send an agenda ahead of time so attendees know what to do and expect
  • Provide related reports, slideshows, and other documents in advance
  • Set aside time for breaks, especially for meetings lasting longer than an hour
  • Wrap up by outlining the next steps and action items, as well as who will be held accountable for them

These are some of the basics you should cover with any meeting, virtual or otherwise, so be sure to plan for them in advance. (Would you like to run great meetings? We have a course on the Work Smart Club with tools to make you a pro!)

2. Set Clear Expectations

In addition to the strategies above, it is essential to set expectations for outcomes and also common courtesy during meetings. These are all part of a Meeting Charter that can be a guide to ensure your meetings, and your team, rise to the occasion. For example, do you want people to mute themselves when others are talking? Can participants enter the meeting with audio only, or is video preferred? Should they prepare discussion points in advance, or will you lead the entire presentation? It’s also a good idea to touch on the topic of distractions: over 80% of meeting participants admit to checking their email during an in-person presentation. You can expect the temptation will be much greater with a virtual meeting! Remind attendees that you expect their full attention during the presentation. For this reason, our recommendation is to hold video meetings. When people are allowed to be off camera, you cannot measure their attention.
Over 80% of meeting participants admit to checking their email during an in-person presentation. You can expect the temptation will be much greater with a virtual meeting!

3. Test Your Technology

There is nothing like stalled downloads or faulty technology to kill a meeting’s momentum. Whether you’re opting for a new screen-sharing service or trying to show a video to your meeting participants, make sure you’ve tested the technology at least once prior to the meeting.

This is true of your audio, as well. It can be distracting and annoying when the facilitator spends time asking if “they can hear me now.” As the facilitator ask someone to be your sound check and exchange a private message to alert you of audio issues.

When you want to use advanced features of a virtual meeting platform for the first time, it pays to practice prior to the meeting. Features like whiteboards, web polling or flowcharting can be powerful tools, but you’ll want to make sure you understand the nuances of their use in advance.

4. Assign a Moderator

Running a virtual meeting can be time-consuming because of needing to manage technology and glitches and distractions abound. For that reason, it can be helpful to have a moderator who can handle the chat and or manage the technical issues. Depending on your needs, a moderator can also audit time, take notes, posts important links or resources, keep people on topic with chat reminders among other helpful tasks. In any case, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing someone who is organized and focused. Given the tech environment of your meeting, your moderator needs to be technically proficient as they may have to help your meeting participants resolve software difficulties. This allows you to focus on the content of the meeting instead.
Given the tech environment of your meeting, your moderator needs to be technically proficient as they may have to help your meeting participants resolve software difficulties.

5. Don’t Forget the Icebreakers

It’s tempting to dive right into the substance of your meeting when running a virtual meeting. However, it’s important to remember that effective virtual meetings need a good icebreaker.

A meeting’s success depends on how engaged everyone is and this depends on mood and attention. This is why ice breakers can be a great choice to kick off the meeting. We have a variety of fun activities that help people engage online, as well as get comfortable with the tools, in the Work Smart Club. These can be modified for in person meetings and work well because they are quick and fun.

One that is very helpful in getting everyone’s attention is called, “Dump the Details,” it goes like this. Let everyone know you have a great meeting planned and want to accomplish something important. Acknowledge that everyone probably came from a situation that may still be lingering in their mind. Ask then to spend 2 minutes sharing what they just finished up with and have them state, “I am ready to dump the details and tune in!” One of the rules is that no one is to comment on what is being said, this is a practice session on listening and opportunity to refresh one’s minds.

After the meeting people can get together and assist each other is so desired, but not prior to the meeting. As the meeting facilitator you also learn who is able to follow directions!

6. Call on Participants to Speak

In online meeting spaces, it can be difficult to encourage participation without having everyone speaking over each other. Audio delays and a lack of visual cues can make it hard to tell when there’s an opening in the conversation.

Depending on the size of your meeting, you may find it helpful to call on specific participants to speak rather than allowing everyone to talk at once. This strategy is useful in conjunction with additional software tools, like features that offer real-time polls or allow audience members to raise a virtual hand to speak when they wish to comment.

7. Engage Participants

All of the best planning means nothing if your audience isn’t engaged.

Make sure to use basic engagement strategies, like asking frequent questions, and to harness software tools like online polls or whiteboards when you can. You may also want to set aside time for breakout “rooms,” or smaller chats between assigned groups of participants. Think about the goal of your meeting and what participants need to function at their best. It is important to build in some fun and interaction.

One idea to get everyone up and moving is to give everyone 2 minutes to get up and find something blue, or orange, or perhaps something small, or fuzzy. You can have everyone bring their favorite coffee mug or water bottle and then share where they got that. Be careful this does not de-rail the meeting. Set limits and use a timer on activities.

Make the Most of Your Virtual Meetings

Technology glitches, a lack of visual cues, and other issues can make running a virtual meeting feel like a headache—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re running a huge virtual town hall meeting or a smaller conference for your team, following the tips above can help you plan, prepare, and perform well to keep the event running smoothly.

If you’re looking for better ways to get the most out of your meetings, your team, and more, we’re here to help. Our Work Smart Club offers premium resources and on-the-go training for your new managers and teams. Schedule a complimentary strategy call and let’s discuss how the Work Smart Club can significantly boost your managers effectiveness.

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7 TOP TIPS FOR LEADING VIRTUAL MEETINGS

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Dr. Cynthia Howard

Dr. Cynthia Howard has worked with thousands of leaders, professionals and business owners and recognized the unique challenges leaders have in managing, inspiring, and engaging their teams while maintaining their boundaries, passion and reason they chose to lead.

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