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.
5. 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:
- It’s a way to communicate without interrupting the conversation
- It can help those participants whose language is not the dominant language being used in the meeting
- 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 Zoom.us or Sococo).
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?
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
Another helpful article Lisette.
I remember the days where we start a conference call with lots of “can you hear me?” – that would go on for 15 minutes before we get into the proper conversations.
Today we have decent tools we can utilize and it’s all up to us how we’ll organize them.
Thank you Chris. There were indeed YEARS of “can you hear me?” – and I fear there will always be a little of that. But I’m on a mission to minimize the pain. I have hours of online meetings every day and most of them are seamless – so I know it’s possible! 🙂
Think of all the time we can save – or the other topics we can focus on! 🙂
Great tips Lisette and Pilar!
I especially love the idea of the back channel.
Here are a few I would like to suggest:
1 – if you can’t use video distribute a doc with everyone’s photo or perhaps have a webpage with everyone’s photo on it. It helps people to put a face to the voice.
2 – often meetings get side tracked by off topic discussions that wind up monopolizing the time for scheduled topics. I like to have something called the parking lot at the end of the meeting. If a topic comes up that is off topic we save it for the parking lot. Then we reserve 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to revisit those topics and either assign them to a follow up meeting or plan another way to address them. This ensures they are not overlooked or forgotten but they don’t interfere with the planned meeting objectives.
Thanks again for the sound advice!
Great suggestions Phil! Both are great ideas – I’m especially fond of the Parking Lot idea. At Happy Melly, we use Trello for this. Works beautifully!
Thanks for the great post, Lisette, and I really like Phil’s suggestions too. As I am usually attending meetings where most of the attendees are there in person and I’m calling in via Google Hangout, I can’ t emphasize enough how much having an agenda with shared notes helps as far as as staying focused on what’s going on. Another thing that’s really important is the audio setup – when you’re struggling to hear and the camera isn’t necessarily on the person speaking, it’s really tough on anyone participating remotely. Even a small thing like our main office moving the location of the conference room microphone and camera slightly- and that made all the difference for us remote employees calling into meetings.
Logitech makes some great conference room equipment: http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/conferencecam-cc3000e-business (I’m not an Affiliate – but do tell them Lisette sent you ;). It allows the remote attendee to adjust the microphone – and zoom in on the webcam to see what’s being written or shown.
Also, the KUBI is brilliant for attending large meetings remotely: https://revolverobotics.com/ (now here, I am an Affiliate so definitely tell them I sent you) – it allows the remote attendee to move themselves from side to side (or up and down) to see who’s talking.