All too many people have had the experience of a conference call gone wrong, awkward silences, people talking over each other, and that distracted tone of voice and clicking keyboard that tells you your colleague is using the meeting as a chance to catch up on something else. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right set-up, video meetings can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings, possibly even more so.
Next time you need to connect your colleagues across time and space, try these tips for maximizing engagement and bringing the meeting to life.
Preparation and technology
Just as with face-to-face meetings, preparation, a clear purpose and setting expectations are some of the key elements of a successful meeting. In addition, you have technology to deal with and the need for new protocols to make the meeting work really well.
Most experts agree that using video is the best way to do virtual meetings. Facial expressions, body language and visual cues are a big part of how we understand each other plus it radically limits the sneaky temptation to multi-task. But when video is not an option, there are still ways to get the most out of conference calls or, in some cases, a chat format can also work, especially if the meeting lends itself to Q and A topics.
The great thing about online meetings is being able to build trust and rapport among colleagues in diverse locations. Allowing some time for small talk at the beginning of the meeting can go a long way to adding the human dimension to your long term work and collaboration.
Get participants to introduce themselves, if they don’t already know each other, or if they do, give take a round giving everyone the opportunity to share something about what’s happening in their personal life or work life. If you know the team members, support rapport building by pointing out connections or adding information about work or personal interests they have in common or related projects they have worked on.
The facilitation techniques known as “checking in” and “checking out”, described in our blog post on collaborative meetings, work well for virtual meetings. Using an opening question like “what do you most want/need from this meeting?” for the checking in and then “do you get what you wanted/needed and what are your next steps?” for checking out and letting people know they’ll be asked to respond to the question at the end helps keep them present and engaged.
Multi-tasking during meetings is not only bad etiquette, it also negatively affects the quality of meeting.
In this article, Keith Ferrazzi, suggests three ways to keep people engaged and cut out multi-tasking: use video, have one person assigned who can call on people to share their opinion at any time and give people different tasks during the meeting, that rotate from meeting to meeting. Tasks can include time-keeper, a minute taker, Q&A manager or listening for specific things like agreement or new ideas. He suggests that meeting leaders take a firm stand that multi-tasking is unacceptable and that everyone is expected to be mentally present.
Have a back-up plan
Know ahead of time what you will do if the technology fails, if connection is lost to one or more participants or if the call drops all together. Depending on the stage of the meeting, it may be appropriate to try again, reschedule or complete via a chat function or email. As a meeting leader, being prepared for this situation and ready to respond if it happens, is the best way to waste as little of your colleagues’ time as possible.
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