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Even before COVID-19, remote meetings were becoming increasingly popular. However, amid this crisis, people have spent more than 5.5 billion minutes attending virtual meetings. While some people may still be concentrating on the effectiveness of meeting remotely, prior research shows that video conferencing can boost both productivity and collaboration among teams.
You need to make sure that everyone in attendance is following virtual meeting etiquette. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Prepare for your online meeting.
Just as if you were to schedule an in-person meeting, it’s never in good taste to waste an invitee’s time. If you do, this shows that you don’t respect their valuable time. And because it’s not necessary, attendees aren’t going to be engaged with the event.
In short, the first rule of virtual meeting etiquette is to make sure that it’s productive and useful. The best way to guarantee that is by doing plenty of preparing in advance, but it takes two to tango. So, here are some ways that both organizers and participants make the most out of the meeting.
Preparation tips for organizers:
Prepare an agenda.
An agenda, explains Abby Miller in an article for Calendar, “is like a roadmap that you use wherever you go on a road trip. It helps you plan your trip in advance and keep you on the best route to reach your destination.” How so? By answering the following questions:
- Who is going with you?
- When and where are you leaving?
- What’s the purpose of the trip?
- How much time do you have to arrive at your destination?
- What happens if there is a detour or your vehicle breaks down?
Before scheduling a meeting, make sure that you create an agenda and distribute it to invitees in advance. And while there’s honestly no right or wrong way to do this, most agendas have the following six components:
- Agenda header that identities who are calling the meeting, date, time, location, and purpose.
- The key objective that answers why we’re meeting and what we want to accomplish.
- Input, such as assigning meeting responsibilities.
- The meeting work plan, or the body of the agenda that puts in order what needs to be covered.
- Time allocation for each point.
- Following-up with participants, like sending the minutes.
Preparation tips for attendees:
Always review the agenda, and any other relevant documents, in advance. It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be on time and prepared. It also gives you a chance to address any questions or concerns.
Consider volunteering to pull together information, share new information or take the minutes. It will show you’re taking this seriously, and it’s also a great way for you to develop your own leadership skills.
Preparation tips for everyone:
Whether you’re organizing the event or attending, the following advice pertains to anyone involved with the virtual shindig:
- Work from a quiet room that’s free from distractions like pets or family members. Bonus points if this room is carpeted, since that reduces reverberation.
- Use a neutral background, like a grey-colored wall. Some tools like Zoom have a virtual background you could use if this isn’t feasible.
- Make sure the room is brightly lit.
- Use your laptop and not your phone since it’s more steady and keeps you hands-free to take notes. For audio-only meetings, invest in a decent pair of headphones with a built-in mic. Bonus tip: raise your webcam to eye level.
- Always test your tech before the meeting. For phones, that means having a strong signal and no interference. On a computer, making sure your connection is working, turning your camera on, and double-checking your mic and speakers.
- Learn tricks and hacks. As I previously wrote in another Entrepreneur article, you can do some cool things with Zoom. These include using the meeting ID so that it can be scheduled via your calendar and using the chat feature. Other tricks are using host controls so that you can control everyone’s audio, video, and screen-sharing settings. There’s also the active speaker view that “detects which user is speaking and changes the screen to their window.”
Make the meeting feel “real” and productive.
Sure. Nothing beats in-person interactions. But, you can work to create the same vibe when meeting virtually.
Without question, one of the best things about working from home is that you can work in comfortable clothing. Even if that isn’t your pajamas, you’re probably in more casual attire that you wouldn’t normally wear to work.
That’s all well and good if you’re on an audio-only call. But if you’re on camera, then definitely dress just as you would for an in-person meeting.
Start the call right.
Before jumping into the meat and potatoes of the meeting, spend a couple of minutes having everyone introduce themselves, regardless of whether the participants know each other. It’s a simple way to let attendees know who’s there, as well as what their roles and responsibilities are.
With the pleasantries out of the way, recap invitees why they’ve been gathered. You can also quickly explain what you expect to achieve to remind everyone what the purpose of the meeting is.
Even though virtual meetings don’t seem as professional, the truth is that they are. As such, they deserve the same respect and etiquette. That means that everyone should turn off any smartphone or computer notifications, mute their mic when not speaking, and always looking into the camera.
Moreover, give your full attention to the meeting — no multitasking. Now is not the time to clean out your inbox, check your social feeds, or do work. It’s also not the best time to eat, play with your dog or tidy home your workspace. Stay seated and present until the meeting has wrapped-up.
Also, be respectful of other people’s time. If the meeting is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and end at 3:30, then that’s the allotted time. Personally, I always schedule the meeting five minutes ahead of time to avoid anyone showing-up late.
Make sure that you keep the meeting as short as possible. Follow the agenda and squash side conversations from taking over. Remind everyone to speak clearly and concisely so that there’s no need for repeating what was just said.
Keep everyone engaged.
Yes, you can still keep your audience engaged virtually. For example, you could assign everyone a job and ask questions. You could also make it more interactive by using real-time polling, gamification, or have attendees solve a problem in groups.
I would also recommend leaving sometime in the end for casual conversations … as long as you’ve gone through your agenda. Working in isolation isn’t the best for your health and wellbeing. So, this gives invitees some much-needed social interaction.
Don’t forget to follow up.
“Even the best meetings will prove worthless if no one takes notes or outlines follow-up tasks,” writes Marty Fukuda. “To this end, designate an attendee (not the facilitator) to take minutes.” They should also know that it’s their responsibility to “email a summary to all participants following the meeting.”
“While the notetaker is in charge of minutes, the facilitator should also jot down, as the discussion progresses, the tasks that need to be completed,” adds Marty. “By the meeting’s end, all to-dos, along with hard deadlines, should be assigned.”
Additionally, if there are any questions or concerns that weren’t addressed, add them to the next agenda or schedule a one-on-one with that individual. And since this meeting went off without a hitch, make arrangements for your next successful virtual meeting.