May 07 2020

Prepare Technology in Advance of a Virtual Meeting

Personal interaction works best when the equipment functions correctly.

Running a virtual meeting is exactly like running a physical meeting — except it’s completely different. When more than three people are trying to share ideas and communicate, the same skills used for effective old-school, physical meetings will help in virtual meetings. 

You may just need a little translation, so here goes. 

Set the Stage for the Meeting Properly

In a physical meeting, it’s important to be in a space that is conducive to discussion and learning. The same is true for virtual meetings. Make sure that the technology you are planning to use works, and works well, long before the meeting starts. 

Conferencing tools all have features that manage who can participate, who can speak and what all attendees see. Make sure that you’re comfortable with these tools and how they work. If there will be more than a dozen attendees, ask someone else to take charge of the technology so that you and other presenters can focus on the meeting. 

Anyone presenting or talking needs to be seen and heard clearly. That means using headsets, and not the ones that came for free with your last smartphone. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but you must have a USB headset (one ear is fine) with a speaker and, even more important, a good-quality microphone.

Being seen is more complicated, but it includes making sure that speakers have good lighting in the rooms they’re speaking from and that everyone looks straight at the camera. Pro tip: Have the meeting window right under the camera on your monitor so that your eye is drawn there automatically.

If you’re unsure about the stability of your internet connection, test it ahead of time; an online test such as Speedtest will give you answers. And if you’re working from home and sharing bandwidth with someone else in the house, make sure they know when you need them to ease up on the Netflix. 

Step Up Your Leadership Game When You’re Online

Virtual meetings will never be as effective or efficient as an in-person meeting. When you’re physically across the table from someone, there are many unspoken ways of communicating that don’t come across online. This means that you must step up your game when it comes to organizing and leading a large meeting just to accomplish the same results as with an in-person meeting. 

Start with obvious basics such as a clear agenda and good post-meeting documentation of notes and action items; these are even more important for virtual meetings than in-person ones.

Next, draw in the introverts when discussion points happen by explicitly going around the table or asking people — by name — their opinions. This isn’t that different from a physical meeting, but you’ll find that in a virtual meeting, it’s easier to stampede over the quieter participants. That calls for you to increase efforts to get all the stakeholders to participate.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Learn about the technology behind videoconferencing tools and how to keep them running.

Focus on the Meeting, Not the Side Tasks

For many, virtual meetings are the ideal opportunity to check email, catch up on critical to-do items and quickly edit some documents — all valid work tasks, but they draw attention away from the meeting and dramatically reduce its value. 

Keeping focus on the meeting calls for a combination of technology and technique. One simple tip: Make sure that everyone’s camera is turned on during the meeting. Being able to look at your fellow attendees tells you whether they’re paying attention. At the same time, if they know that whatever they do is visible to everyone else, it can discourage distracting behavior.

You must also work to make sure that the meeting is interesting and moving along at the correct pace to justify that attention. Technology is a great help here; record one of your meetings and play it back to a trusted coworker who can offer tips on what you can to do improve your own meeting style. 

Look for Assists to Boost Your Communication Clients

We’re in the infancy of virtual meeting clients. Tools from Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix, Zoom and others are amazing ways to replace a crowded conference room, but from a collaboration point of view, they’re still not quite the same as working together in person.

But just as you might use other, physical collaboration tools in a meeting room —flip charts, whiteboards and shared displays — look for the virtual equivalents to keep your meetings lively.

In some cases, your meeting client might not come with the necessary tools, which means you may have to look around for additional complementary elements. Fortunately, workers generally have powerful desktop or laptop computers available, which means that running a meeting client and a collaboration tool at the same time won’t be a problem for them — assuming you warned everyone ahead of time that they’d be running two things at once. People need to be ready for it. 

In other cases, the meeting client itself can be a big help. For example, Microsoft Teams, part of the Microsoft 365 suite, has group document editing built in, which can be an effective replacement for flip chart exercises. Product demos and presentations are definitely easier with screen-sharing capabilities that are built in to a modern meeting client. 

Making virtual meetings effective doesn’t require magic — you already know what you need to do. Take the same ideas and techniques you use for effective collaboration in physical meetings and translate them to a virtual context. The results will come quickly. 

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