In order to solve the issue of bad online meetings, we need to address the specific pain points that we are having on our team. Does someone have a bad connection? That has to be fixed. Do we need headsets? Lets solve that. If someone has bad etiquette, that also needs to be solved. Pinpoint what it is about your online meetings that isn’t working and go after it!

Most people that I talk to about online meetings tell me that mainly, they’re painful! The technology never works well, people aren’t paying attention, and there are tons of distractions.

I think we can all relate to this video of “a conference call in real life” 🙂


Pilar Orti and I talked about this on the 21st Century Work-Life Podcast (which I highly recommend listening to) and I wanted to pass on the tips we discussed.

1. Have an organizer

Designate someone as The Organizer. This person is in charge of making sure that everyone has the meeting information and the materials needed to attend and contribute.

2. Host a dress rehearsal

If you are going to record or broadcast the meeting, have a short “dress rehearsal” to make sure everyone has tested out their internet connections, lighting and sound.

3. Arrive early and test your equipment

When we have meeting in a co-located space, you can slide in at the last minute, sit down, and still be fully present. But in an online meeting, if you slide in at the last minute, chances are your microphone isn’t going to work, or you’ll need to reboot your computer, or some setting is off. For an online meeting, arrive a little early and test your equipment.

4. Come prepared

If there are meeting materials that have been sent out prior to the meeting, be sure to read them before the meeting starts. Conversations can go so much more in depth when people come prepared.

Destroyed equipment: have a back-up plan5. Have a backup process

Something will always go wrong and for the weirdest reasons. So if one tool fails, have another tool that you can use.

6. Set up meeting protocols

In online meetings it can be difficult to know when someone wants to speak. So, for example, you could have a protocol that when someone wants to speak, they raise their hand (this only works when using video). Other protocols could be muting yourself when not speaking, or removing distractions (barking dog, turning off ringer on phone, etc).

In addition, know what behavior is important to the group you are speaking to. Is it important for the team to be on time? Is it important to be prepared?

7. Use a back channel

During a meeting, there should be a way to communicate with each other on some sort of back channel. So for example, if someone is having technical issues, these can be fixed without interrupting others. This can be any sort of chat tool like Skype, or the chat feature in Google Hangouts. This is good for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a way to communicate without interrupting the conversation
  2. It can help those participants whose language is not the dominant language being used in the meeting
  3. Have a place to capture topics that people may want to bring up in addition to the agenda items

8. Use video

I insist on using video for all my remote meetings. Using video keeps people more engaged and accountable and it creates a more personal atmosphere. In addition, I recommend tools that allows you to see others’ videos while sharing your screen (like or Sococo).Online meeting using video

9. Get everyone talking

It’s nice to start the meeting by having everyone talk. One way of doing this is to start with a simple intro question (favorite holiday food, favorite smell, etc)… something that’s quick and easy to answer and gives everyone a chance to speak before the meeting starts. For some reason it seems that once a person has spoken into the group, it’s easier for them to raise issues in the future.

In virtual teams we miss out on a lot of information that in co-located spaces we might pick up just from seeing each other and having casual conversations. Pilar Orti

10. Keep presentations to a minimum

Don’t have more than 10 minutes of any sort of presentation before having an interactive activity. People lose interest and attention fades.

11. Select a person to answer a question

If you ask a question into an online group you can either get no response or everyone responding at the same time. Be sure to address your question to a particular person.

Online meetings don’t have to be painful! If we all take responsibility for making sure we arrive on time, prepared, and ready to go, we can make online meetings efficient and even… enjoyable!

What additional tips do you have for improving online meetings?

21st Century Work Life Podcast: Online Meetings


Don’t forget to listen to this episode of the 21st Century Work Life Podcast with myself and the fabulous Pilar Orti. It’s one of my personal favorite episodes: entertaining and full of great tips!


And check out this great article How to Make Sure Your Next Web Conference Isn’t a Complete Failure

 Image credit on Flickr: Alexander Muse