Chances are, the idea of attending a virtual meeting is not foreign to you. You find a room (ideally a quiet one), with decent internet connectivity, and fire up that virtual meeting software only to find out that not even half of the attendees have arrived, the main speaker's mic is going in and out, and who's making that horribly annoying swishing sound?

Let's face it: virtual meetings are rarely a breeze. People are distracted, no one likes to turn on their video, and presentations are always longer than they need to be.

According to a virtual meetings survey we ran at the beginning of the year, only 30% of respondents say that most or all (80-100%) of their online meetings are productive.

But with remote teams on the rise and commutes getting longer, virtual meetings aren't vanishing anytime soon.

If you're suffering from this virtual collaboration slump, it's time for a refresher course on how to run an effective virtual meeting so your team will never check out when they dial in again.

Virtual Meetings vs Face-to-Face

There's really no debate as to which is more effective: face-to-face meetings are the clear winner; with 68% of survey takers saying they prefer in-person meetings over virtual. However, it's important to understand when it's appropriate to schedule virtual meetings vs. face-to-face ones.

When meeting with someone face-to-face, you have their uninterrupted attention and can see their body language. Face-to-face interactions are best suited for meeting with potential or current clients and job interviews.

However, when teams are remote and there really is no other option, virtual meetings are a necessity to making hefty decisions and moving business forward.

Let's go over some tips for effective virtual meetings and hear from some of the pros on how they make their meetings more productive and engaging.

Virtual Meetings Best Practices

1. Introduce yourself

As obvious as this sounds, sometimes people need a reminder that not everyone may be acquainted on a virtual call.

Especially with remote teams, it's good practice to kick a virtual meeting off by having everyone introduce themselves and share what they do (not what they're working on — save those for status updates).

In addition to intros, spread positivity by having the attendees go around and share a victory or something positive that's happened since the last meeting. It can be anything from launching a big campaign, meeting with a potential client, or simply completing a task.

You'll find that most accomplishments in an organization aren't done by just one person. Sharing these victories can help boost morale across the board—starting your meeting off on the right foot.

2. Mind Your Manners

When time differences are involved, there is always the possibility of having a virtual meeting scheduled in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. During this time, meeting etiquette and manners fall by the wayside and all hope for a productive meeting goes out the window; and no amount of coffee can save it.

Reminding yourself to practice proper meeting etiquette will keep you engaged and attentive, and it will show respect and consideration for those presenting. When doing this, you'll find that others will grant you the same respect when it's your turn to speak. Some meeting manners to keep in mind:

  • Dress appropriately
  • Arrive on time or early
  • Close all irrelevant tabs or browsers
  • Don't check your phone or email
  • Mute your microphone while others are presenting
  • Never carry on side conversations
  • Save questions for the end of the presentation
  • Thank everyone for their time

3. Engage Attendees

It's so easy to log in, turn video off, and mentally check out of a virtual meeting (in that order). However, turning off your video makes it easier to get distracted and leads to multitasking—which isn't doing you any favors.

Even on the busiest days, multitasking during a virtual meeting doesn't really benefit you in any way. Not only are you paying less attention to the meeting, but it actually takes you up to 40% longer to complete the same tasks while multitasking than if you were to tackle them separately. So no one wins.

Turning your video on encourages attentiveness. Since everyone is looking at each other, it deters attendees from checking their phone or writing an email.

Donna Dennis, president of Leadership Solutions Consulting, and creator and facilitator of American Management Association's three-day seminar on Leading Virtual and Remote Teams, recommends going around and having everyone share their role in the meeting before launching into a discussion. She says, "Everything you can simulate from face to face encounters is good."

Encourage problem solving and opposing ideas. Listening to presentation after presentation can stunt outside thinking and idea sharing and possibly lead to groupthink. Support sharing all questions and ideas (no matter how "out there" they are), and be willing to have an open discussion on big decisions; while leaving the judgements at the door.

4. Maintain Focus

As the number of participants grow, the easier it is to jump off topic and derail the entire virtual meeting. This causes the meeting to drag on, participants to lose interest, and none of the meeting objectives get met.

So how do we avoid jumping from topic to topic and stay on track? Roger Schwarz, author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review that covers how you avoid meeting derailment:

  • Agree on the track before going down it. Have everyone agree on the topic and goals of the meeting beforehand.
  • Make sure you've covered everything before moving on. Instead of saying, "OK let's move on" say something like, "I think we've covered everything for topic A. Is everyone ready to move on to topic B?"
  • Test your assumption that the meeting is getting derailed. If someone is choosing to bring up an outside topic, question the relationship between the two topics by saying something like, "Mike, I'm not sure how your point about X is related to topic B. Can you explain how the two are related?"

Once you've covered all your meeting objectives, end the meeting! Don't feel like you need to take up the entire hour you blocked off on the calendar. Celebrate a job well done by ending your meeting early so everyone can get a few minutes back to grab coffee or catch up on some tasks.

5. Review Next Steps

It's important to remember that in a virtual meeting you must chart a course for the future. A productive meeting spends time focusing on moving forward, rather than looking back.

When in-person, you can end a meeting with a powerful, motivational speech and grab everyone's attention for the remaining minutes. However, it's harder to convey the same message online. By the time a meeting is over, most attendees have their fingers on the "end meeting" button.

Instead of a moving speech or asking the ambiguous, "anything else we should cover?" end the meeting by reviewing what you've accomplished and what's going to happen next. Sum up big decisions and call out individuals who are tasked with action items to make sure it's top of mind. Agree on due dates and lock them in by creating and assigning tasks in your work management tool. Save the speeches for in-person.

When you end a virtual meeting with everyone in agreement on what happens next, you'll start to see your meetings become more productive and effective.

It's Your Turn!

Time to put your learnings to practice.

Although in-person meetings are ideal, there are ways to upgrade your virtual meetings so they're just as productive. Some key points to remember:

  1. Always introduce yourself and share big wins
  2. Dress appropriately and be respectful of speakers
  3. Ask engaging questions and avoid multitasking
  4. Stay on track and refocus "derailers"
  5. Always go over action items

Hosting a virtual meeting soon? Simply enter your email below for a free checklist to hosting virtual meetings so you can spend time focusing on the content instead of the logistics.


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