If COVID-19 enforced working-from-home means endless badly run teleconferences, I quit. Fortunately, virtual meetings don’t actually all have to be “A Conference Call in Real Life” (which if you haven’t seen, stop reading now and watch it and “A Video Conference in Real Life”). While very funny, these 2 videos highlight many of the common pitfalls of virtual meetings. The CollaborateUp team went frame-by-frame through both along with a comprehensive review of our own experience and lessons learned to assemble the Top 8 things to make these meetings better.

For Meeting Participants

Bring your patience and good humor. For many people, this may be their first time really using these platforms. You may have used them for the odd conference call here and there, but have you really tried to get anything done on them? There will be user-errors and tech-glitches. Be patient with yourself and each other.

Know your equipment. Don’t be like Paul in the video. He doesn’t have his headphones plugged in or his settings configured. Or like Beth who can’t figure out that we can only see the top of her head…or worse (just watch).

Leave time for testing & updating. Don’t be like Beth, who arrived late because she had to download the software upgrade. These platforms release new software updates quite frequently. Make sure to download them before the scheduled meeting time. Also, don’t be like Tripp who starts to lose his patience with everyone.

Take these meetings seriously. Hopefully you don’t start looking for the physical conference room 5 minutes after the meeting starts and don’t start shouting at people when you can’t find it. But, like John in the video, that’s exactly what a lot of us do in the virtual world. Plan and arrive on time, ideally a bit early to test your equipment. And most importantly: DO NOT MULTITASK. Replying to emails, checking sports scores, etc., not only distract you and show disrespect to your colleagues, they can suck up bandwidth.

For Meeting Organizers

Plan differently & deliberately. Virtual meetings require a different kind of planning from in-person meetings. Research shows that more than 80% of communication occurs nonverbally through body language, facial expressions, and voice tone. Even with video conferencing, you lose much of the fidelity and ability to “read the room”. One example: neither you or the participants can easily detect who’s turn it is to speak. In person we rely on subtle cues like a raised finger, a shift in posture, or a low frequency verbal cue (think of the “uh” some people say before they speak to show they want to butt into a conversation). As a meeting facilitator you have to be way more deliberate, calling on people, enforcing norms around taking turns, muting people’s microphones if they go on too long. Things that might seem rude or unnecessary in real life become vital online.

Encourage the chit-chat. When I first started using virtual platforms and watched side conversations start in the online chat function, I got annoyed. I treated it like rude side conversations in a live meeting. I wagged my virtual finger in judgement. Soon, though, I realized the virtue of these chats. They serve two functions. First, it can help replace the visual cues you normally rely on to moderate conversations. As facilitator, I encourage participants to not wait to butt into conversation but instead to drop thoughts as they occur to them into the chat. Then as facilitator I can circle back to them in the same way I might have reacted to a raised hand or a shift in posture. Second, even if the chit-chat isn’t directly related to the current topic, it at least keeps people focused on the platform and not multitasking off the platform doing email, surfing the web, etc. In addition, it often helps to have a co-facilitator for virtual meetings. This person can monitor the chat room, mute noisy participants and just generally help with the logistics of a virtual meeting while you concentrate on core facilitation.

Designate a techie. As you’ll see in the video, everyone speaks at once trying to help Paul fix his settings. To reduce the traffic jam, have one person be the designated tech.  They don’t actually have to have a techie background, just a bit of familiarity with common PC and Mac audio settings and and quirks of the specific platform. 

Leaders: fully participate. Over the past week, we’ve helped many clients transition previously planned in-person meetings that would bring together executives from across multiple countries. In most cases, the senior leaders who originally planned to participate or make opening remarks backed out. This is a mistake. It sends a signal that “virtual meetings” don’t count. If working virtually persists for several months, leaders will need to consistently signal that we are all in this together and that we need to keep making progress together.

Virtual meetings don’t have to suck. It takes some effort and planning on the part of meeting organizers, participants, and leaders. With some patience, good humor, and advance planning, we can thrive. 

We invite you to check out our Menu of Virtual Services! And to join one of our upcoming virtual roundtables (or listen to a recording of a past recording), which we’re holding as part of The CollaborateUp 2020 Collaboration in Crisis & COVID-19 Interactive Roundtable Series.

For more information, check out the recording of our recent roundtable: Virtual Workshops & Co-Creation: Know When (and How) To Hold ‘Em

Please also check out our Virtual Platform Comparison Tool to see the various functionalities that a number of virtual platforms offer. We’ve done the deep dive for you to help you more efficiently meet online!

Need a virtual facilitator? We’ve got a cadre of facilitators well-versed in creating engaging, outcome-oriented sessions on multiple virtual platforms. Schedule a consultation today at  https://calendly.com/beth_collaborateup