How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings

Startup Trends

9 min read

How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings

Make Sure the Meeting Is Necessary

No one complains about not having enough meetings. For most employees, a meeting is just an inconvenient hassle they only sit through because they’re required to. It interrupts their daily schedule, interferes with their “real work,” and eats up their time.

So before you schedule that Zoom conference call, ask yourself, “Is this really necessary?” Would an email suffice?

And by sparing your remote teams too many virtual meetings, not only will you earn their gratitude, but you’ll also make the meetings you do hold more important. If team members figure out that you hold meetings every couple of hours to talk about nothing at all, they’ll get in the habit of tuning you out.

Instead, set the precedent that when a meeting happens, it happens for a reason.

Decide Who Needs to Be There

As a general rule, the more people you have in your virtual meeting, the less value anyone will get out of it.

For more effective virtual meetings, only invite the people who really need to be there and let everyone else focus on their primary work. If you need to let a bigger crowd know the details of the meeting, you can always share the recording after it’s over.

Clinging to an “invite everyone just in case” mentality won’t do you any favors. Sometimes, less is more.

Schedule Time Wisely

Throw out the idea that every meeting has to be at least an hour long. If you only need 15 minutes to conduct a given meeting, schedule 15 minutes—or 20, or 45, or however long you need, but no longer.

This will take up less of everyone’s workday as well as prompt them to be more efficient with the time they have. Research has shown that when groups operate under time pressure, they perform better.

When possible, opt for short, productive meetings rather than longer ones full of dead space.

Prepare an Agenda

Never go into a virtual meeting without a clear agenda. Outline details like:

  • The topic(s) you need to cover
  • The structure and order of the meeting
  • How long you’re willing to spend on each part
  • Who will be in attendance and what you need from them
  • Any questions you’ll be asking
  • Any relevant documents, files, or research

You may even want to send the agenda out to the participants ahead of time. That way, they can be thinking about the points of the meeting and formulating their own ideas. And if everyone already has an overview of the meeting, you won’t need to spend as much time explaining things.

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Set Ground Rules

Effective virtual meetings should never be a free-for-all. Set clear expectations for how people should behave during a call. Here are some good guidelines for remote team members:

  • Find a location with as little background noise as possible
  • Turn your camera on (more on that below)
  • Always speak respectfully
  • Mute your mic when someone else is speaking
  • Raise your hand (or use some other signal) and wait to be called on before talking
  • Never interrupt
  • Don’t multitask during the meeting—no pulling out your phone or opening other tabs on your computer
  • Don’t get up and walk away from your camera unless you have permission
  • If an agenda was sent out, read it before the meeting and come prepared to participate
  • If you have a major talking point you think should be added to the agenda, ask the host ahead of time rather than springing it on everyone during the meeting

By laying down some ground rules, you can help keep the meeting on track and avoid any potential conflict.

Use Video

Nonverbal communication is essential to understanding and connecting with others. If your remote workers can’t see each other, they’re missing out on a key element of how humans communicate. Using video in all your virtual meetings will help everyone express themselves clearly.

Plus, because remote workers don’t share a traditional office, it’s easy for them to feel isolated from their teams. With video calls, they’ll be able to see their coworkers’ reactions, emotions, and facial expressions. This will humanize everyone and allow them to forge more meaningful connections. It’s the next best thing to being in the same room.

Start on Time

Nothing kills momentum like a 10-minute delay because the host was late or someone needed to download the latest software. Do all that you can to make sure that you and your remote teams will be ready for the call when it’s time to start. To play it safe, always log in at least five minutes early to make sure everything is working as it should.

And if the other attendees will need specific software, a password, or anything else to join, let them know. Ask them to test their internet and video and audio equipment first, too, to avoid unexpected technical problems.

Show Up With the Right Attitude

As the host and leader of a meeting, your mood matters. You set the tone for everyone else. If you’re glum and lethargic, your remote workers will probably behave the same way. If you’re bursting with positivity, however, you can expect it to rub off on others.

So when you start your meeting, make an effort to be energetic, appreciative, and motivated—especially when you don’t feel like it. By setting a positive tone, you can set your remote teams up for more effective virtual meetings.

Break the Ice

People always perform better when they’re comfortable. If your remote workers are relaxed around each other, they’ll be more likely to open up and get involved. Better still, they’ll have the freedom to flex their creativity and candor.

Consider starting your longer calls with a brief icebreaker or team-building activity. This can be as simple as having the team members all introduce themselves and mention what they’ve done lately. Alternatively, you can have a little more fun with it, such as:

Playing a silly game like “Two Truths and a Lie” or “Would You Rather?” Asking a question like “What’s your favorite food?” or “What’s your main hobby?” and having each person answer in turn Letting everyone share something fun or interesting they did over the past week or weekend

Get Everyone Involved

Effective virtual meetings should be a conversation, not a monologue. After all, if all you needed to do was talk to your camera, you could have just recorded a video. Why bother inviting anyone else if they have nothing to contribute?

Use your meeting to pose questions, expose problems, and list goals. Then, open the floor for the whole team to get involved and give their unique perspectives, solutions, and ideas. If no one seems eager to jump in, call on specific team members to get a discussion started. (Though if someone seems to be dominating the conversation, politely interrupt and give someone else a turn.)

Whatever the purpose of your meeting is, encourage collaboration.

Take Notes

Most of us have experienced the alarming feeling of leaving a meeting and realizing we don’t know what the next steps are. A lot of information gets thrown around, and it can be hard to keep track of it all. Worse still, maybe you think you do know what you’re supposed to do, only to learn later that you missed an essential point or misunderstood some instructions.

Have someone make notes of anything important that was discussed in a meeting (especially any tasks that were delegated) so you can send it to the right people. Everyone should get a brief recap with:

An overview of important decisions or revelations The next steps they should take Any deliverables they’re responsible for When those deliverables are due A list of ongoing questions and problems they can help solve

Of course, you could always just record the meeting and share the video. But by using notes, you can give each person only the information that’s relevant to them rather than forcing them to wade through an hour-long recording to find one specific section.

End on a Strong Note

First impressions are important, but so are final impressions. The way you end your meeting matters.

Don’t just say, “Okay, bye,” to end the meeting. Wrap everything up with a concise summary, thank everyone for their time, and wish them well.

Throw some encouragement in there, too. It doesn’t have to be a full pep talk, just a quick reminder that you trust them and believe in their abilities. You might be surprised how much of a difference it makes in their days.

Get Feedback

Lastly, reach out to your remote workers to see how they feel about your approach. Do they think you’re conducting effective virtual meetings, or do they see room for improvement?

The best way to do this might be to send out a brief feedback survey that employees can use to anonymously rate and review your meetings. That way, you know you’re getting their genuine opinion, not a sugarcoated, fake response.

Then, take their input and use it to hone your style. In no time, you’ll be running effective virtual meetings like a seasoned pro.

Want more insights on how to lead your remote teams? Give this article a read:

Tips for Managing Remote Workers

And check out this guide for how to foster better communication within your company:

How to Improve Communication in the Workplace

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