Virtual Meetings

All of the tips for effective meetings hold true for virtual meetings.  You need to pre-plan, create and distribute an agenda, engage participants and monitor participation during the meeting, and more.

However, there are some additional considerations for virtual meetings, mostly dealing with managing the virtual environment and engaging participants.

Managing the Virtual Environment

The following tips will help you manage the virtual environment of an online meeting:

  • Do a sound check before the meeting, to make sure that you can hear and be heard.  This applies to both facilitators and participants.
  • Be aware of background noise.  Cut down on noise by using a headset.  At the start of the meeting, instruct participants to mute their microphones when not speaking, so that others don’t hear typing, paper rustling, folks drinking coffee, or other noises.
  • Learn how to share your desktop, either as a facilitator or participant, so if you need to share information, it can be done smoothly and quickly, without a waste of time.
  • If you’re facilitating a virtual meeting, ask someone to be your aide to monitor the side conversation in chat, bring forward important comments, monitor the hands raised in chat so you know who should speak next, and help out in the chat by posting urls or dealing with technical issues.

Engaging Participants

If you’re facilitating a virtual meeting, you may need to be even more planful about engaging the meeting’s participants than if you were facilitating an in-person meeting. It’s very easy for participants to “tune out” in a virtual meeting, either by doing something else (e.g. email) during the meeting, or even leaving the room while leaving the meeting on, to create the appearance of still being there.  The following are some strategies you can apply to foster participant engagement:

  • If you’re facilitating, get to the meeting early to greet participants as they sign on.  Encourage informal discussion before the meeting starts.
  • Make sure to plan on time for short introductions.
  • Post the agenda in an attachment so that participants can download and follow it.
  • Even though virtual meetings can support many participants, try to limit the number of participants so that the meeting is manageable and everyone has a chance to talk (no more than 15-20 participants as a general guideline).
  • Encourage participants to activate the video option, so everyone can see each other in real time.
  • Plan on showing visuals as part of the meeting, either images, powerpoint slides, or short video clips, to keep the visual portion of the meeting active and engaging.

The following two videos discuss these and other ways of making virtual meetings effective.

Depending on your sense of humor, you may enjoy the following video, which comically shows things that can go wrong in a virtual meeting, without careful planning and clear ground rules.