Five Key Success Ingredients for Hosting a Great Virtual Meeting
by: Catherine Saar
Now that most of us are working from home and spending hours and hours a day attending virtual meetings, you may want to make the meetings that you lead as engaging, effective, and connecting as possible – both for you and your attendees. If you’re able, begin by identifying a good space to locate your home office where kids and pets are less likely to cause a major interruption. And, recognize that we are all in this together right now—not everyone has the luxury of quiet, private space. If that’s the case for you, just acknowledge it and weave your circumstances into your planning! Whatever conditions you find yourself in, here are five key success ingredients to help you host a virtual meeting that attendees are most likely to enjoy:
Get cozy with your technology
Once you have identified a meeting platform to work with, make sure you practice with it so you feel comfortable enough that you can troubleshoot issues that might arise. Consider how to improve your lighting (if you are going to be on-camera), your background, and your sound. Learn both how the basics and the bells and whistles work on your platform. Practice with associates or friends so you can be more relaxed. Make sure you sign on 10 to 15 minutes early to get ready, fine tune, and be ready to welcome your meeting attendees. The energy you bring to your meeting can make all the difference. Not sure which platform or tools to use? Check out our FAQs.
Meet your audience where they are
Consider the composition of the team you are convening. Are they new to each other or do they gather regularly? Thinking about who they are and how connected they are to each other and to the topic at hand will help you to consider how to best prepare for your meeting.
Are your attendees tech savvy or new to the digital world? What is their access to technology and bandwidth like? If participants haven’t used technology a lot, or are tech resistant, take it slowly with them. Normalize the use of the technology by easing them into the platform you are using. Allocate time during your meeting to give them a tour of the tools, introduce them to new features slowly and allow them to play in a non-threatening way. You can always build on what they learn. If there are very resistant participants, you may want to reach out to them to offer one-on one support or to provide additional tips and tricks to ease their worries and grow their confidence.
For those who are comfortable with tech, you may have more opportunity to introduce tools like Poll Everywhere or Mural that can enhance their online experience in an engaging way.
Be clear about the purpose and the journey
What is the purpose of the meeting? Are you gathering to make a decision or to brainstorm? Is it an update? Let your attendees know why they are there, what is expected of them, and what you hope to accomplish in the time you are together. Have an agenda, or build an agenda together.
You may also want to set agreements for meeting norms and participation upfront. Consider things like sharing airtime, keeping confidences, or other guidelines for how to interact. Once you set the ground rules and gain agreement, you will be able to refer back to those agreements during the meeting should it become necessary.
Engage the whole person
Adults learn and engage in a variety of ways. Some of us enjoy auditory input, others are more visual, while others are more tactile and sensory. How might you introduce all of these elements into your virtual interactions to make them come a live for a variety of learning and listening preferences? Consider using more visuals in a presentation and getting folks on camera if available. Seventy percent of communication is visual, so if you can encourage participants to turn on their cameras, you will have a higher likelihood of keeping them engaged. It will also give you the opportunity to read your virtual room.
For the tactile folks, consider a quick stretch break during a long meeting and introducing hands-on activities. Get creative. If you are “lecturing” keep your information share to five to seven minutes or less. Follow any information share with interactive activities and participant contribution. Inviting other voices into the conversation is key.
Remember we are human first
In this era of social distancing, we may find ourselves sitting alone in our home offices for hours a day on conference and video calls. It becomes exhausting for both the meeting facilitator and the participants. To that end, how can you acknowledge participant needs so they can be fully present to deal with the matter at hand?
A little bit of compassion can go a long way. It may be as simple as dedicating a few minutes of time to check-in on how people are feeling. This can be accomplished verbally or with some fun annotation tools available on many online platforms and apps. You may want to consider, is this their first meeting of the day or the sixth? What is their energy level, and how might that inform how you show up for the meeting? In short, how can you encourage a virtual connection that acknowledges a collective humanity and that builds relationship for the team that has gathered?
A virtual meeting should not go longer than 90 minutes without a break. Consider getting participants to do some pre-work to keep the meeting to a reasonable time. And be real. The dog may bark, the kids may scream, so bring your sense of humor. We are all in this together, and together we can create a better way to engage.
For more tips and insights on running great virtual meetings, both large and small, take a look at our self-paced online course LEADING VIRTUALLY.