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You’ve done everything you could to host one of your best virtual meetings yet. You’ve showered to look your best, mentally outlined the points you need to discuss and emailed participants to join the online meeting.
You even practiced your best smile in front of the screen (hey, nobody needs to know you were talking to yourself on the screen before the participants showed up).
Despite all that, the meeting didn’t go exactly as you planned. If anything, it went south, feeding your belief that online meetings are just not for you.
But, wait right there. Before you jump to conclusions, let me tell you a secret: nobody ever gets their virtual meetings right in the first few attempts. Why?
Because virtual meetings take lots of trial and error. And lots of learning, which is why we’ve put together this handy checklist-style guide for you.
Let’s jump in.
A virtual meeting is an online meeting that you or someone else hosts to connect with you or your team. It’s pretty much like your good ol’ face-to-face meetings minus the in person aspect.
With the increase in remote working (thanks, but no thanks to COVID-19) and distributed teams, virtual meetings are increasingly becoming all the rage.
If you find yourself disliking this trend and wondering exactly how to run a meeting that’s a success, hang on tight. Because by the end of this piece, we’re positive you’ll leave with some useful takeaways that’ll help you run effective virtual meetings.
The key to effective virtual meetings is having the right platform among your remote work tools. Some prominent names for hosting meetings are:
Once you’ve selected the right virtual meeting platform, go ahead and check off the following pointers suggested by Founder at Unified Comms Influencers, Dominic Kent:
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To make it easy for you to navigate each phase of running a satisfactory virtual meeting, I’ve divided the best tips into 3 parts:
Check out all 17 tips at a glance in this infographic or scroll down to learn more.
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If you’ve assumed the bulk of the work here goes into hosting an online meeting, you’ve got it all wrong. Why? Because the real work goes into the planning and preparatory phase.
To begin with:
“The first key to running an effective virtual meeting is truly asking if you need the meeting in the first place,” notes Joe Martin, the VP of Marketing at CloudApp.
If you can explain everything via asynchronously, you really don’t need a meeting.
Fio Dossetto, the Senior Editor at Hotjar shares, “As a team, time is your most valuable asset, and spending a lot of it in status update meetings and/or large group calls when only a few folks speak is not a productive investment.”
So, ask yourself: does your meeting have “a clear outcome and purpose that is related to your company and team goals?”
If you find yourself nodding yes, go ahead and plan that meeting. If not, consider writing an email with your request or recording a video explaining your plan to your employees.
Now that you know your meeting must exist, write down its objective. Why? Because it’s helpful to send this objective to the participants so they can learn what the meeting will cover.
If you prefer, you can also collaborate with employees or teammates on deciding the meeting agenda.
Hiba Amin, the Marketing Manager at Soapbox, shares, “an added bonus with collaborating on the agenda is that you can tackle items asynchronously sometimes to the point of solving or deciding on things before you even meet (meaning you get an extra 5-15 minutes back in your day!).”
In the same vein, settle on who’s to participate in the virtual meeting. Make sure you list out only those people who have something to contribute to the meeting.
For example, Dossetto shares “at Hotjar, we have a guideline where if someone is speaking less than 10% of the time of the meeting, then they shouldn’t be in it and should get the output afterwards in writing instead.”
Lastly, don’t forget to settle on a duration for the meeting. As a rule of thumb, shorter meetings of about 30 minutes tend to be more productive than longer ones.
For any meeting to be successful, it’s essential you invest in the right tools.
But that’s not all. You need to understand the ins and outs of the software’s functionality so that you can make the most of it instead of getting confused smack in the middle of the meeting.
The CEO at Mio, Tom Hadfield recommends, “Make sure you get familiar with in-meeting controls. By using controls like virtual lobbies and interactive troubleshooting, you can ensure only the right people entire the virtual meeting at the right time and you’ll always be aware of any network of users issues. For example, if you start speaking when on mute, you can get an automatic notification to prompt you to unmute.”
Can’t figure it out?
Consider assigning someone techie on the team as the facilitator of the meeting (we’ll talk about this in detail in just a bit).
While it’s possible to run a small online meeting yourself, you’ll find that it’s helpful to assign a team to manage larger virtual meetings.
Consider adding the following roles:
It’s common for participants to talk over each other when it comes to virtual meetings, which is where a facilitator plays an important role.
This person helps keep conversations on track and makes sure everyone is heard. In the absence of a tech person and other roles highlighted below, a facilitator takes on other responsibilities.
Tech support is exactly what it sounds — a person or a team that handles all the technical issues related to the hosting software to ensure things run smoothly.
The person should also be able to help participants’ solve their tech problems. For instance, if someone is unable to join, tech support should be able to help solve the issue.
This person is helpful for ensuring you don’t lose track of time by giving silent prompts to you. This is essential so your meeting doesn’t overrun and everyone gets a chance to share their opinions/concerns.
A notetaker is responsible for taking notes throughout the online meeting, highlighting action steps that everyone needs to take and gathering deliverables at the end of the meeting.
Such a person handles the chat box and highlights questions or comments that need addressing.
This is particularly important for those of you who have a distributed team with teammates joining from different time zones.
To settle on a virtual meeting time that gels well with every participants’ time, either make sure you’ve access to the team’s shared calendar or pick a few slots and ask participants’ to pick one that suits them best.
At Visme, we do this via Slack with one person picking out time slots and requesting the rest of the team to vote their preference.
It’s crucial you send out the online meeting’s invite beforehand so participants can check the software and download it if they have to.
Don’t forget to schedule an automated reminder so participants have the meeting on their calendar.
What’s more, share your meeting agenda.
Amin notes, “Use a collaborative agenda that everyone has access to prior to the meeting. This way, all meeting participants can show up prepared and contribute to the agenda before every meeting. It also means that you’ll be able to prioritize what’s discussed first once you do meet.”
Lastly, circulate any reading materials in advance, reminds Dossetto. She explains, “[this is] particularly important: you want to maximize your time together, and spending the first 5-10 minutes bringing everybody up to speed on the topic is not a good way to do it!”
However, Martin adds, “if it’s a lot of material, send a video overview prior to the meeting.”
For example, “prior to our board meeting,” Martin shares, “our CEO uses the CloudApp screen recorder to do a 1 minute overview of the longer presentation. It provides an easy way to consume a longer presentation in under a minute to be better prepared for a meeting.”
Once you’re done handling all the software and associated tasks, get to the meat of the matter. Start by outlining what you have in your mind.
Playing it by ear is likely not going to help you. Chances are you’ll miss an important point or two. You won’t be able to follow a proper structure as well, which can leave participants confused.
So, it always helps to chalk out an outline of the important points you’d cover to keep the meeting structured and well-directed.
If you aren’t sure how to structure your presentation, dive into the guide that shares 7 ways to structure your presentation.
Effective presentations are 7% content, 38% your voice, and 55% non-verbal communication, which brings us to creating effective presentation slides.
Designed beautifully, these slides can hold your viewers’ attention and improve the quality of your virtual meetings significantly. Instead of creating these slides from the scratch, save your time and use a presentation template from Visme’s template library.
The good news is that you can fetch any template that you need, be it a template for a meeting discussing your finance report:
Or the marketing plan for the quarter:
All of these templates are easily customizable, so you can add more slides or remove the ones you don’t need, change the template color to your brand colors, or slip in a chart or graph.
If you plan to create a presentation yourself, start with picking a theme in Visme, which will give you options to add slides.
For instance, I love the Creative theme and once I get to designing it, Visme gives me tons of design options for each slide that I create. This makes creating presentations a piece of cake.
When designing your slides, always bear in mind the following tips:
Looking for more tips for designing a winner presentation?
Here’s a complete guide to designing a presentation and some inspiring presentation examples that’ll help you ace your online meeting. If you prefer watching a video walkthrough, here’s a helpful resource:
A good presentation can literally hold your audience’s focus and keep the entire conversation engaged. This is why we recommend you create interactive slides.
Let’s walk you through 3 proven ways to make your slides interactive. You can always grab more from 17 other ways to make your presentations interactive.
Animate the bullet points.
One good way is to time your bullet points to show up after the other so viewers can focus on each point individually.
Animate your visuals.
I’m a fan of the interactive visuals that Visme allows us to create. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Such animated charts add life to your slides, making them engaging.
Poll your audience.
This way you can definitely keep them engaged as they’ve more to do than listen to your presentation.
Want to animate your presentation, but unsure about how to execute it well? I feel you. I doubt my animation chops some days too, which is why I recommend you use animated templates to create interactive presentations.
By doing so, you can tell each participant what’s expected of them. Either write these pointers down in the email you share or create a checklist (hint: it’s easy to read and follow this pattern) for everyone to refer to before joining team virtual meetings
Important pointers to include here:
In case of audio-only calls (an option you should always offer in case any participants have a slow internet connection), request everyone to share their names before speaking. This helps everyone understand who’s saying what.
This is an important key to hosting productive online meetings.
If you want participants to be paying attention to the meeting, do the same. Don’t look at your phone or check your inbox. Similarly, keep distractions at bay and join in from a quiet place.
That said, keep in mind the following:
This isn’t very different from hosting in-person meetings.
You just need to be mindful of pausing a lot more often and keeping an eye on the chat box (if you don’t have a conversation assistant). This way, you can answer everyone’s questions and lead a productive discussion even as you work from home.
On a side note, if you want to brush up your presentation giving skills, bookmark this guide on delivering an impactful business presentation.
Let’s move on to tips for hosting virtual meetings, shall we?
If you’re bringing together people who don’t know each other, it helps to kick things off with a round of introductions.
Even if participants know each other, it helps to take out a few seconds and tell everybody who’s present in the meeting.
“Begin with informal chat to remove any serious vibes like you would in an in-person meeting,” highlights Christina Pashialis, Content Marketer and Founder of ContentUK.
Keep a list of icebreakers for virtual meetings so you can refer to it before you start an online meeting.
But the golden rule is to use an icebreaker that engages your entire team. For example, asking what everyone is watching on Netflix is universal as compared with asking how the football show was last night.
P.S. “Discussing the weather counts,” in Pashialis’s words.
There’s always a second or two’s delay when it comes to virtual meetings.
A good workaround here is pausing a few seconds after every point you make or question you ask. This way, anyone who wants to chime in can do so without having to interrupt you.
If you're going through everyone’s take in the virtual room, consider calling out names. Here’s how:
❌ Let’s ask for everyone’s opinion on this new plan now. Who wants to go first?
✔ Let’s listen to everyone’s opinion on this new plan now. How about you go first Nik, followed by Brain and Sarah in the end.
This helps you reduce the likelihood of participants talking over each other.
Often, the quiet ones can’t muster the courage to speak up in a virtual setting. In this case, the onus is on you to encourage them to share their take on the matter at hand.
Pashialis points out, “ask the opinions of the quieter people in the call. It’s sometimes hard to sense when it’s your ‘turn’ to talk in a meeting and some people may feel awkward! Asking different people for their opinion helps to keep the meeting inclusive.”
Martin suggests you “review outcomes and setup next steps at the end of the meeting.” This tells everyone exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Make sure you discuss any deliverables needed and assign responsibility for them to respective teammates. Also, agree on when each deliverable is due and if (and when) you need another meeting to move things forward.
Lastly, as you wrap up your online meeting, make sure you:
“Send over a summary of the main action points from the meeting to keep a project moving forward,” recommends Pashialis.
Whatever you’ve decided with your team at the end of the meeting (see tip no. 16) also goes here. If needed, send a recording of the meeting.
Sure, virtual meetings have taken a reputation for being a time suck, but they don’t have to be. Stick to this checklist of effective online meetings we’ve shared with you and with time, you’ll see hosting meetings isn’t a drain at all.
But, foremost of all, sign up for Visme for free today so you can create powerful presentation slides that hold every participant’s focus and help you run productive meetings.
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