In recent weeks, it’s highly likely that you have participated in, or even led, a virtual meeting. Perhaps it was a first for you—but there will almost certainly be more. Whatever the reason for your virtual gathering, there are certain “must-haves” you can prepare beforehand to ensure a productive and inclusive meeting.
Setting a purpose
None of us wants to attend a meeting without a clear purpose. With many meetings, it can feel like the only reason for having them is because it’s a recurring event on the calendar. If you’re in charge of leading one of these status update meetings, you should still have a compelling purpose, laying out goals and a clear agenda. Is the purpose of your meeting to share information and updates? To get feedback on your ideas? Develop initial questions to get the conversation started (if dialogue is one of the goals of the meeting). Be sure to email the meeting agenda in advance to give colleagues time to prepare their input.
Pro Tip: Pick just one area that you would like to focus on so that it doesn’t become a free for all.
Logistics and technology
This is where running virtual meetings can really diverge from in-person meetings. Although the occasional technological glitch is inevitable, planning ahead offers you the best chance of a seamless meeting.
- Test your videoconferencing software as well as your computer’s camera and audio to make sure everything is running smoothly in advance of the meeting. If your meeting is a larger (or all-staff) meeting, set up a “test” meeting a day or two before and send along an invite so that everyone can hop on at some point and try out their audio and video. This way, troubleshooting can (hopefully) happen prior to the main event.
- Allow enough time for people to join the meeting. If colleagues are working from home, they could have to contend with unexpected interruptions, spotty WiFi, or difficulty using the software if it’s new to them.
- At the same time, understand that everyone’s time is valuable. Make sure that you’re sticking to a schedule, and starting and ending the meeting on time.
- Make use of the features of virtual meeting software, such as screen-sharing or recording. Ensure that any other facilitators involved in the meeting are also comfortable using these features, in case they need to take the lead or troubleshoot.
Facilitating an inclusive virtual meeting
Even in the most equitable workplace, a videoconference can be tricky to facilitate. Make sure that everyone has a space to participate, and that you’re allowing for diverse contributors as well as different communication styles.
- If you notice that you’re only hearing from one person or group, you can address those who haven’t had a chance to speak and say “I’d really like to hear your perspective too.”
- Use the tools available in your meeting software to your advantage. Many virtual meeting platforms allow participants to “raise their hand” to indicate they want to speak. You can request that everyone use this feature, or let people know that it’s an option. This can be helpful for team members who are more introverted and may not want to just jump in.
- If you’re trying to reach a consensus, consider using in-meeting polling features if they’re available. Poll results can be recorded anonymously if you find it helpful in ensuring open feedback.
Wrap up your virtual meeting with clear next steps
People need to leave the meeting knowing what, if anything, is expected of them and whether there will be a follow-up meeting. You also want them to feel that something concrete was accomplished. Once everyone has signed off and the meeting has been closed, write up the next steps and send them out via email. This offers meeting participants an additional opportunity to share feedback.
Whether it’s your first time leading a meeting or you’re a seasoned pro, the better prepared and more inclusive you are, the more successful the outcomes will be.
What has worked for your virtual meetings? Do you have some virtual meeting cautionary tales? Share with us on Facebook.
Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.