5 Virtual Meeting Tips for More Effective Meetings Every Time

With so many teams now holding virtual meetings to plan projects and collaborate, it’s up to leaders to figure out how to make them engaging and worthwhile.

A lot has changed in the workplace over the last year: not only are a lot of us working from home, but regular tasks like meetings and calls are now happening virtually.

With so many teams now holding virtual meetings to plan projects and collaborate, it’s up to leaders to figure out how to make them engaging and worthwhile. 

Let's be clear about this – that’s no easy task. 

After 30 minutes in a virtual meeting, people concentrate less. Researchers have also found that video calls have a higher cognitive load on your brain, which can cause fatigue

The good news is that there are ways to plan and hold effective remote and virtual meetings that not only keep your team engaged but are productive, too. 

Here are five tips for setting yourself (and your team) up for a successful virtual meeting 👇

Tip #1: Set an agenda (and some ground rules)

Before diving in, set an agenda and some ground rules for virtual meetings.

A meeting agenda does more than plot out points about what you want to discuss. It should also include details like: 

  • Who is going to be there?

  • What is the purpose of the meeting?

  • When is it, and what virtual meeting room is it happening in?

  • How long will it last?

  • What if you can't make it?

Setting an agenda is also the time to assign any meeting responsibilities or planning assignments to team members who are attending. Doing this gives your team time to get organized and find any issues to raise during the meeting. 

Then, it’s time to set some ground rules. 

Virtual meetings are no different to in-person meetings – everyone attending needs to be on the same page regarding etiquette. Make sure your team knows that:

  • Meetings aren’t a time for multi-tasking: That means no phones, no sneaky emails, no I’ll-be-right-back-I’m-just-making-a-coffee. When you’re in the meeting, that’s where your focus should be. 

  • They need to test their kit: Before the virtual meeting, ask your team to test their camera, audio, and wi-fi connection so that when it's time to start, there are no tech issues

  • Other channels are muted: Nothing interrupts meetings quite like a Slack or WhatsApp notification

  • They should join virtual meetings from a quiet zone: This can be tough when working from home (one door knock from the Amazon delivery driver can set the dog off), but the fewer distractions, the better

  • The meeting can't run over: If it's scheduled for 30 minutes, make sure it doesn't last any longer. Your team's calendar has other tasks and deadlines on it, so running even five minutes over can throw their day off.

  • If they want to talk, they should raise their hand: Thanks to time lags, people talking over one another is one of the biggest challenges for virtual meetings. If there are lots of people on the call, have the meeting participants raise their hand if they want to talk to stop the conversation from getting crowded, and set a time limit for how long they can speak before passing the microphone

  • They need to stay on script: The meeting agenda has specific tasks and items to talk about, and that's the only thing you should tackle in the meeting. If a team member wants to discuss another issue, gently remind them that it's not on the agenda for this meeting, but you'll follow up with them after

If everyone sticks to these shared rules, the meeting will go a lot smoother. 

Wait – how many people should be invited to a virtual meeting?

Virtual meetings can get crowded. Fast. 

Inviting your entire team to a Friday virtual catch up may seem like a great idea, but having 30 different people on a video call isn’t always ideal. The more people you invite, the harder it is for them to engage and add to the conversation. 

If you’re not sure how many people to invite – follow the science 🔬

University of North Carolina Professor Steven Rogelberg studies the behaviors behind successful virtual meetings. His research has found that remote meetings plummet in quality when their size increases. 

“Remote meetings can be readily recorded and listened to at twice the speed by attendees who don’t attend live,” he says. 

“Let nonessential members off the hook and share the recording so they can listen at their convenience rather than interrupt their flow.

“However – and this is key – to avoid any feelings of marginalization on behalf of team members who weren’t invited to a particular meeting, give them the option to attend any future meetings on the topic if they so desire.”

Tip #2: Think about timezones

Thanks to remote work, companies now have employees from across the globe dialing in to virtual meetings. 

But if you have team members in more than one time zone, lining up a meeting time that works for everyone isn't easy. For example, some team members based in Los Angeles might prefer to have meetings at 11 am, but that's too late for the people based in London, where it'll already be 6 pm. 

The easiest way to overcome this is finding a pocket of time that works for everyone on your team. Using a tool like World Clock Meeting Planner, add in the locations of everyone attending the meeting, and it’ll create a table of suggested times when you can all meet within normal working hours. 

I tested it out with team members working from Edinburgh, Dallas, and Tel Aviv. Although it’s hard to find a time that fits into a normal calendar, here’s what the planner came up with: 

Pro-tip: Try to schedule meetings across multiple time zones as far ahead of time as you can to avoid conflicts. Because there are limited options for these types of meetings, you need to snag a spot on your attendee’s calendars as soon as you figure out a suitable time. 

Tip #3: Learn how to break the ice

Virtual meetings can be stiff, especially if everyone is working from home and outside of the normal social environment of the office. 

Breaking the ice as soon as everyone has logged in helps the rest of the meeting flow naturally. But you should be mindful to not ask open-ended questions like "what did everyone get up to this  weekend?" to a large group of people. Once 10 people have discussed their weekend activities, the meeting is probably going to run overtime. 

TeamBuilding COO Tasia Duske says breaking the ice should take five minutes or less, and it’s alright to get a little silly to lighten the mood. She recommends asking questions that get sequential answers to keep ice breakers brief and fun. 

“Start your prompt by saying something like this: "Ok, for today's icebreaker, you'll share your name, your role, and what you ate for breakfast. I'll go first, and then I'll pass to Emily with Lin on deck," she says. 

Breaking the ice this way ticks three boxes: 

✅ It’s easy: Everyone has a name, a role, and they’ve (hopefully) eaten breakfast. These types of icebreakers are nice and easy for everyone to answer, and it’s a good way to remind attendees of each other’s functions

✅ It’s quick: Remember the five-minute rule? This quick question means that once everyone has answered, it's time to get the meeting started

✅ It creates structure: The meeting host has taken the lead by answering the question first and then passing it over to another person. Once that person has answered, the host will prompt the next attendee, and so on. This stops the dead air that other generic greetings bring (like "how was your day?") and keeps the meeting on track, so it doesn't run overtime

Of course, none of this can happen if your team doesn’t have the right toolkit for joining a virtual meeting 👇

Tip #4: Invest in the right virtual meeting toolkit

When investing in virtual meeting software, it’s important to pick one that fits your team’s individual needs. 

The ideal tool will have all the features you need to run an engaging meeting, from simple video and audio connections to more advanced features like virtual whiteboards and real-time document collaboration. 

Figure out what features are must-haves for your team by figuring out if you need to: 

  • Chat in real-time: Do you want your team to be able to chat, ask questions, or comment in the online meeting in real-time?

  • Record meetings for later: If your team is spread across different time zones, or some people can't attend meetings, recording them allows you to share them later

  • Integrate the platform with your existing tech stack: Connecting your calendar and collaboration tools makes it easier to schedule a time and get to work once everyone is in the meeting room

  • Customize meeting rooms: Personalizing a meeting room with custom names, URLs, and branding can help set the scene for your team and external clients

A tool like Whereby allows remote teams to do the simple stuff (video chat with audio) and use more advanced features, like whiteboards and product roadmaps, to keep meetings engaging. Thanks to integrations with other tools like Miro, Google Docs, and YouTube, attendees can collaborate on tasks in real-time using Whereby. 

Whereby also allows hosts to split a meeting up into smaller teams and breakout groups to discuss specific topics. If you have your entire company attending the meeting, but you want the marketing and sales teams to split off and talk about certain parts of a project – you can. 

Whereby’s Breakout Groups allow meeting hosts to assign attendees to separate rooms to discuss specific topics.

Tip #5: Always follow up! 

The work of a virtual meeting isn’t over once you hang up.

It's essential to follow up with all the attendees and summarize what goals you accomplished and what tasks are left to do. Following up is usually left to the meeting host, who should give everyone who attended:

  • A quick rundown of what was discussed and what was accomplished

  • Next steps for any tasks or deliverables that were discussed (and who needs to get them done)

  • Due dates for the deliverables and how the team member should submit them

  • A possible date/time for the next meeting (if needed) so your team can block out space on their calendar

And if you want to go a step further – get feedback from everyone in the room. 

Not every virtual or remote meeting is going to be perfect, especially if your company is new to remote work and your team isn't used to collaborating through a screen. One of the best ways to improve your process is by asking everyone what parts of the meeting went well and if they think anything needs improvement. 

Oh, and keep feedback anonymous. 

Attendees need to be comfortable and honest when they tell you about what you need to improve, so make sure responses stay nameless. 

Ready to start hosting engaging virtual meetings with your team? Try Whereby for free today.

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