Updated: May 26, 2021
After a year of online meetings, webinars and web conference calls, it can still feel unnatural to conduct business through screens — and challenging to engage team members working remotely.
So we’ve compiled some key insights from a range of experts on ways to improve every aspect of your virtual meetings.
1. Start With Yourself
Work from a quiet, carpeted room. Liu says putting a rug on the floor prevents hollow-sounding audio and distracting echoes.
Use a neutral background, such as a neutral-coloured wall.
Create good lighting. Liu suggests “two LED desk lamps with adjustable intensity and hue on either side of your webcam directed toward your face so you can tweak it according to daylight conditions and create uniform lighting on your face. One large lamp can also work.”
Use a laptop or desktop computer, not your phone. This “allows you to easily take notes and have a stable image, which is nearly impossible if you’re holding your phone or trying to balance it on your desk.”
And, Liu says, be sure to look at the camera, not the screen, while you are talking. “While looking at someone's image is perfectly natural (what we do in person), looking instead at your camera will make it seem like you're looking directly at them, which creates a stronger connection. While subtle, it feels different,” he writes.
For more tips, check out the Forbes article 3 Video Musts For Building Your Personal Brand In WFH Meetings.
2. Set A Clear Agenda And Agree On Remote Meeting Guidelines
She recommends sending the agenda to all attendees at least 24 hours in advance, and she suggests incorporating these elements:
Key talking points
Meeting structure (for example, when and for how long you plan to discuss each talking point)
Team members/teams that will be in attendance
What each team member/team is responsible for bringing to the meeting
Any relevant documents, files, or research.
Most experts also recommend setting meeting guidelines to outline the rules and expectations for how participants will contribute.
In the Hubspot blog post How to Host an Inclusive Virtual Meeting, Hubspot Remote Work and Inclusion Program Manager Meghan Williams writes that she puts up a slide at the start of each meeting that reads:
Thanks for being here! We’ll get started at [time].
For this meeting, please:
Keep your video on
Mute your audio
Open the chat pane
Raise your hand using the “raise hand” feature on Zoom (we’ll show you how!) to ask questions.
3. Consider Adding Icebreakers To Your Agenda
It can be difficult to keep your team members feeling connected. No matter how long you’ve been working together, try starting with some team-building activities such as icebreakers. Here’s a fun list of 12 ice-breaking questions for teams.
4. Establish Etiquette For Online Meetings
Introduce everyone during the meeting, and give everyone a chance to contribute
Don’t stare at your phone while other people are presenting
Don’t interrupt other people when they’re speaking (or attempt to speak over them)
Test all technology (including camera/video, Wi-Fi, and screen sharing) before the meeting
Read the agenda, and come prepared
Don’t work on other tasks (like checking email) during the virtual meeting
Turn off all notifications and make sure your cell phone is on silent
Make sure all team members are in a quiet area free from unnecessary distractions
5. Encourage Engagement
In a blog for online collaborative whiteboard platform Miro called 16 Secrets of Engaging Remote Meetings, the Senior Communications Manager at TINYpulse, Ketti Salemme, recommends: “To encourage collaboration and engagement during remote meetings, allow individuals to either speak up or ping in their contributions to the conversation online. For introverts, this might make participation and sharing new ideas easier.”
Although some people find it easy to just jump in when they have something to say, it can be difficult for others — and can result in awkward pauses, or more confident team members dominating the discussion. The Hubspot blog post mentioned above offers strategies for encouraging all participants to engage during meetings, including:
Raising your virtual hand. This tool on platforms such as Zoom allows participants to indicate they have a question; it can also be a great way to gather quick feedback by asking yes/no questions.
Use the chat feature.
Pass the microphone. If everyone is expected to provide an answer, have the host start and then pass the proverbial microphone to any participant. Once that participant answers, they'll end their statement with, ‘Next, I'll pass the microphone to [name].’”
Keep in mind that some participants may experience anxiety around video meetings. In a CNET blog post called Zoom anxiety is real. Here's how to combat it, author Alison DeNisco Rayome explains how many people dislike having to see themselves on-screen. If you want your team to keep their video on during a meeting, be sure to also share how people can turn off self-view.
6. Keep The Meeting Moving
In the Harvard Business Review article What it Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting, authors Bob Frisch and Cary Greene write: “Meetings should be discussions. Background information should be provided beforehand. If someone needs to present, use screen sharing to guide the conversation, so attendees can literally ‘be on the same page.’ But prioritize conversation to maximize the time people are looking at each other.”
The Hubspot blog post mentioned earlier also recommends that you:
Pause: “When everyone is on mute and staring at you on camera, it can be instinctual to race through your notes without coming up for air. However, in a virtual atmosphere, it's more important than ever to slow down and pause often to ensure that folks have an opportunity to jump in, slower WiFi connections can catch up with a delayed sound response, and participants have the opportunity to digest your words.”
Ask for questions: “In a virtual setting, you may not always catch a confused look and folks might not feel as comfortable interrupting you for clarification. So, intentionally ask your participants - what questions do you have for me? Pause longer than you normally would to wait for questions.”
7. The End Game
The Ultimate Guide mentioned above offers a checklist that every participant needs to know at the end of your online meeting:
Deliverables and next steps
Who’s responsible for following up on each item or task
When those deliverables are due
When the next meeting or check-in will be
One last suggestion comes in the post 7 Powerful Tips for Highly Productive Online Meetings on Business.com, which recommends sharing meeting notes: “Once your online meeting concludes, make sure a summary of all the meeting notes is sent to the participants. List the action points identified for each agenda item along with the name of the person responsible for its delivery. Ask all the participants to acknowledge the meeting notes and confirm their understanding.”