IT’S BEEN ALMOST two years since platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams became ubiquitous, but not everyone has gotten comfortable with virtual meetings. Here are some tips for a better experience.
Encourage engagement. Meeting facilitators must keep participants engaged and ensure everyone’s voice is heard, according to Karin M. Reed, CEO, chief confidence officer, and on-camera coach at Speaker Dynamics, and co-author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work. Facilitators should establish the expectation that everyone’s input is valued and they will be called upon at some point (with the option to pass), she advises. Other engagement methods include polls, breakout groups, and white-boarding sessions.
Set an agenda. Aaron Cheatwood, owner and lead technician at ACE Rescue Computer Solutions, an IT services firm in Heber City, Utah, tells his clients to draw up an agenda in advance with discussion topics. This can also serve as a script for who will be speaking and presenting when.
Lean toward shorter. “Not all virtual meetings have to be short, but they definitely have to be shorter than their in-person counterparts,” notes Cheatwood. If a lengthy meeting is required, break it into several sessions or provide breaks so people don’t tune out, he adds.
Enlist a moderator. The meeting leader can moderate for small groups; for larger groups, both Cheatwood and Reed advise having a moderator who watches people’s body language to see if someone wants to speak and monitors the platform’s chat. “The fastest way to lose engagement is if I’ve got a question, I type it into the chat, and somebody ignores it,” Cheatwood says.
Adopt best practices for hybrid meetings. Before the pandemic, remote meeting participants were often forgotten. Now with the hybrid workplace, Reed encourages companies to adopt inclusion practices to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to contribute. This requires an investment in the necessary technology, such as cameras, microphones, speakers, and lighting.
Reed also urges companies to develop a “team meeting agreement” that provides guidelines on how to run effective hybrid sessions. (For example, meetings could follow a turn-taking policy, where each participant has a designated time to speak, which prevents people from talking over each other.) Another practice is pairing remote participants with in-room “meeting buddies” who make sure their remote partner is called upon for questions or comment. Finally, Reed notes that some organizations have adopted a “remote-speak-first” policy.
Finally, avoid virtual meeting burnout—a fallout from the pandemic—by assessing the necessity of the gathering. “A lot of asynchronous work is taking the place of meetings, which I think is a really great step in the right direction,” Reed says. “There’s more thought now than before about whether a meeting needs to happen or not, and that’s a good thing.”