Under the best of circumstances, as soon as one or two attendees “dial in” to any meeting, productivity starts to suffer.  There’s a long list of reasons. Attendees often interpret virtual meetings as a license to multi-task. Meeting organizers tend to be less careful with the purpose and design of the conversation. And it’s not uncommon for one or two attendees to dominate the discussion while others sit back and “tune out.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Virtual meetings — even impromptu ones sparked by fears of a contagion — can be run more effectively, using basic meeting best practices and the right video technology.

Here are 8 tips for successful virtual meetings:

1. Always provide an audio dial-in option.

Video conferencing can work very well, but it relies on a strong internet connection that may not always be available. People need the ability to participate via audio, but make it clear that video-first is the new norm.

2. Test the technology ahead of time.

Nothing kills momentum at the start of a meeting like a 15-minute delay because people need to download software, can’t get the video to work, etc. Prior to a virtual meeting, all participants should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the major features. And remember, supplier or customer conversations may require your team to familiarize themselves with different software packages.

3. Stick to meeting basics.

Prior to the conversation, set clear objectives, and send a pre-read if appropriate. During the session, use an agenda, set meeting ground rules, take breaks, and clearly outline next steps (including timing and accountabilities) after each section and at the end of the meeting.

4. Minimize presentation length.

The only thing worse than a long presentation in person is a long presentation during a virtual meeting. 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.

5. Use an icebreaker.

It’s important to use every tool to reinforce interpersonal relationships when people may be feeling isolated. Also, it’s important to know if a participant may have a close friend or relative fighting the virus, so some type of “check in” is in order.

Need some ideas? Try one of these 5 tried-and-true icebreakers for your next virtual meeting.

6. Have a Q&A session at the end.

The facilitator can also use a polling system to “take the pulse” of the group on certain questions and ensure that all voices are heard. This can help the facilitator drive closure without the risk of excluding an introverted participant’s views.

7. Capture real-time feedback.

Gathering and processing high-quality input during virtual meetings can be challenging, especially since visual cues are harder to read.  Use a phone-based survey tool like Poll Everywhere to collect on-demand feedback from attendees on specific topics in real time. Keep the polling open, separate from the videoconference to avoid disrupting the conversation. Participants will need clear instructions on how to use the system and practices, but groups get the hang of it very quickly and it’s well worth the effort.

8. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough issues.

Meeting virtually is a learned behavior, and you’ll be amazed how much you can get out of it once you and your team begin to be comfortable working this way. It may seem natural to wait to discuss tough issues until everyone is in person, but that may not be an option. So don’t shy away from controversial topics. Leading with empathy actively supports team members and motivate employees to perform above expectations.

Leaders who are emotionally intelligent foster safe environments, where employees feel comfortable to take calculated risks, suggest ideas and to voice their opinions. In such safe environments, working collaboratively isn’t just an objective, but it gets woven into the organisational culture as whole.

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Not being able to work together in the same room with colleagues may become a major challenge in the next few weeks. To make virtual meetings work, you might need to adjust how your team conducts them. But a small investment in preparedness now could have a huge impact if that time comes. Not sure where to start? Contact us today, we can help!