In the wake of Covid-19, companies across the country have arranged for their staff to work from home. Fully remote meetings and video presentations have become a staple of modern office life, but they pose unique challenges — especially when it comes to keeping everyone engaged and ensuring they get the information they need.
However, when done properly, a remote meeting or presentation can be just as effective as one conducted face-to-face. That’s why we asked 14 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust to share their top secrets to hosting a successful online meeting. Follow their advice when you’re leading your next video meeting or conference.
1. Set aside time for questions.
We hold company-wide town hall meetings once a month and these, like everything else, have transitioned to virtual Zoom meetings. One of the most important aspects of any meeting — but especially a virtual town hall — is leaving the last 10 minutes for questions. After you spend time going over goals, roadblocks and big wins, there are going to be plenty of questions. Schedule time to address them. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group
2. Keep a tight schedule.
Online meetings have to have a tight agenda and timeline, and meeting leaders need to control activities on that agenda. Keep your meetings as short as possible and avoid meetings that have too many attendees. Having 20 people in attendance works for a well-oiled team; make it fewer for those who are learning. Make sure the leader calls out people to participate. If meetings go over an hour and a half, you’ll lose people’s attention. – Reed Holden, Holden Advisors
3. Be prepared.
Obviously, be prepared with your content, technology and setup. Have a backup phone in case your main medium conks out. Check your lighting and do a practice run beforehand to see how you come across as a host or co-host. Include engaging questions so that your attendees want to participate. I always like to end with, “Keep hope alive!” – Wendy Zanarotti, Help Unlimited Temps, Inc.
4. Call on individuals to answer questions.
The camera is a barrier for some people, and they won’t contribute to the meeting. Instead of a generic “What do you all think?” it’s much better to ask, “Susan, what do you think?” Whoever is running the meeting should regularly call on people to get their thoughts. Knowing they may be called on at any moment will keep the team engaged in the meeting. – Rob Cima, FeatherShark
5. Use virtual whiteboards.
Engagement is a critical success factor. Cameras should be used, and I utilize online tools such as virtual whiteboards to keep the conversation interactive. It is difficult to facilitate, keep the technology working and ensure everyone is engaged, so I ask for help and identify people to help build interaction and solicit feedback from the other participants. – Lisa Levy, Lcubed Consulting Inc.
6. Host ‘roundtable’ meetings.
Get people on camera in good lighting, and be ready to have everyone contribute in meetings. I’ve had a lot of luck hosting meetings as roundtables rather than as information broadcasts. This is helpful because companies often run more efficiently when everyone feels valued and engaged. – Stephen Deason, The OPARASA Group, LLC
7. Start with a warmup.
A successful online meeting starts on time, and the agenda includes a short warmup period. That first five minutes allows people to interact more casually and gives those who may have encountered technical hiccups a few minutes to get connected before digging into the meat of the agenda. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting
8. Create a meaningful agenda.
Make sure to have an agenda that’s meaningful to those attending. This is an issue that happens all the time in face-to-face meetings, but with remote meetings, disengagement becomes more of a problem. Also, when possible, require cameras to be on. The amount of disengagement that occurs when the video feed is gone can make anyone cringe. – Robert Newland, Newland Associates
9. Turn microphones on.
There are some meetings where it really helps if everyone leaves their microphones on. The person speaking can register feedback, such as laughter, “oohs and ahhs,” spontaneous questions, etc. Sure, the dog will bark, but talking to a completely muted “Brady Bunch” screen can be pretty uninspiring. – Ted Helprin, Supply
10. Make it interactive.
Make online meetings as interactive as possible. The more people involved in presenting, roleplaying or providing input the better. I would also recommend having short Q&As between segments versus just one at the end. In will ensure that your audience is actively engaged. – John Lewin, Stivers Staffing Services
11. Use the camera grid view.
Forget the bells and whistles. Your corporate backdrop is distracting — just don’t. Embrace the awkwardness and provide systematic order. Prepare an agenda and have a moderator control the communication flow. Utilize screen sharing when needed, but turn it off and use the grid view with cameras whenever possible. People need to see each other’s faces to stay engaged. – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects
12. Assign small tasks.
Find ways for members to contribute to the meetings. Assign them small tasks to announce or research that they can share during the meeting. This will keep them focused so they are aware of when it is their turn to share and it will give them the feeling of being a participant rather than just an audience member. – Santino Filipelli, Modern Realty
13. Cut meeting times in half.
Reduce the time you spend on regular meetings to half the regular time. Working remotely entails even more work — because of that, we need more time on our hands to do things. We don’t want meetings to drag us down. Because time is so valuable, all we need to do is smile, check in on each other and get things done. We still want to have a normal life and enjoy things away from our tiny desks. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
14. Set individual expectations.
Make it known that each team member will be expected to contribute, with a list of talking points. If they have no talking points, they likely should not be at the meeting. Prioritize recognition, and set aside part of the meeting to recognize your team members for their contributions. Finally, make sure every team member has their camera on! Being visible keeps everyone from checking out. – Zee Ali, Z-Swag