People who lead understand that effective meetings don’t just happen by chance. Good leaders orchestrate the components of every meeting, including establishing a clear purpose, identifying items that should and should not be included on the agenda, determining who should participate, and utilizing strategies to engage all participants. Meetings that are not planned carefully are a disaster and likely cause more harm than good.
Despite the fact that most leaders know this, establishing the conditions for effective meetings often fall by the wayside in a virtual setting. Rather than investing the time necessary to lead dynamic and engaging virtual meetings, most of us have simply dismissed virtual alternatives, citing that they are not as effective, don’t allow for authentic interaction between participants, the technology isn’t sufficient, the list goes on. As a result, we don’t have many examples to draw upon when planning a virtual meeting and consequently perpetuate the notion that virtual meetings are not as effective as face-to-face meetings.
However, this mindset isn’t acceptable anymore. Engaging virtually is quickly becoming a viable, cost-effective and time-saving alternative. The past few months have pushed us all–somewhat reluctantly–into this space. But now that we are there, I believe it will be difficult to go back. I am not suggesting that we abolish face-to-face meetings, but I am suggesting that there will need to be a balance. And if I am correct in my assumptions, establishing the conditions for effective virtual meetings will be critical.
Therefore, below are several strategies that will help you become virtual superstars:
- Clearly define the purpose of the meeting. Every participant needs to know what the expected outcome(s) will be and why their contribution is essential. If you cannot put your finger on those things, cancel the meeting. The reason could be that the items you want to discuss only pertain to a few of the participants. I’ve never heard anyone complain about a meeting being cancelled, but I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard complaints about meetings that didn’t clearly benefit all participants.
- Share the stage with participants. I cannot think of a better way to engage participants than to give them an opportunity to lead one or more of the items on the agenda. Rather than being a gimmick to keep people attentive, giving others the stage demonstrates your trust for them and will increase their intrinsic motivation to help make the meeting productive.
- Establish time to be allotted to each agenda item and set a clear end time. A football team needs a quarterback. An orchestra needs a conductor. A work team needs a facilitator. Share the stage, but do not relinquish the ability to manage the meeting and time commitments.
- Publish the agenda in advance. Sharing the agenda well ahead of the meeting (days) increases the likelihood that participants will do their homework and bring value to the conversation or decision-making process. And include all the information and links needed for the meeting. There’s nothing more frustrating for team members to have to go on a scavenger hunt.
- Use shared documents. There’s no getting around the fact that participants are going to be using their devices during a virtual meeting, so harness it and the power of shared documents. Encourage participants to add links or other information that relates to the agenda. Designate one person to be the note-taker and have him/her add notes right in the agenda.
- Start the virtual connection early. Provide unscripted time before the meeting for participants to talk with one another, visit or address items that are not on the meeting agenda. The minutes before a meeting begins—virtual or otherwise—are essential to building team cohesiveness, trust and relationships.
- Encourage everyone to utilize their built-in camera. There is no substitute for looking one another in the eye, so participants should be encouraged to activate their camera. That said, I used the word “encourage” because sometimes being self-conscious of their location, attire or hair might cause a participant to be uncomfortable and engage less than if he/she were hidden from view.
Before the pandemic, ineffective virtual meetings were often blamed on the technology, the lack of human interaction, and so on. The point is, it is just as critical, if not more, to establish the conditions for success in a virtual setting as it is in a traditional one. And mostly, no excuses. There isn’t anyone or anything to blame other than the leader for ineffective virtual meetings.