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10 Rules to Running Successful Virtual Meetings
With everything that is going on in the world at the moment with the Covid-19 pandemic the move to working remotely has exploded. People have, to be fair, worked remotely for a long time and been successful with it, but it's not normally been the whole team, it's normally been a few people and even then they would pop in for face to face meetings or team meetings. Of course, in many places, if not all, across the world, that's not possible now so the alternative is having virtual team meetings.
Virtual Team Meetings
Virtual Team Meetings are a lot like real meetings, but harder! So, if your normal meetings are badly run and people talk all over each other or 3 conversations happen at once then you are going to really struggle when it goes online. Before we go any further lets just clear something up, you are not going to be able to have a successful virtual team meeting on a conference call, you think you can, but you can't. For exactly the reason I just outlined, people will talk all over each other and they will be doing other things while talking on the phone. Come on, we've all be there, you put the phone on mute and do something more interesting, like a crossword or cutting your toes nails or, well you get the idea, all of which is harder to do on a video call.
The rules of the Virtual Meetings world are pretty similar to having a great real-world meeting, so let's chat about it.
1. Check Your Equipment
At least 30 minutes before you head into the virtual meeting session it's a good idea to just make sure your equipment works, all of the major systems – zoom, skype, Microsoft Teams and so on give you the ability to check your camera and mic are working, it's not good to try to log into the meeting and find out you have no sound or video, or both.If you are new to the software, give that a test out so you know the options and controls, there's more than likely some great training video's on the vendor site or youtube to follow.
2. Catch up Time
Remember that this is a team that normally works together, don't just dive straight into agenda point one unless agenda point one is how is everyone doing? People will need a little time for a catch up and a bit of moral support, give that time, no more than 5 minutes or so and then get started. You can always hang around after the session for a catch up as well.
3. Meeting Chair or Facilitator
Someone has to be in the person running the meeting in exactly the same way as a standard meeting, but they have to be really quick to flag when people are talking over each other. They should be the organiser so should have the control of the mute button for other participants, if people continuously talk over then hit the mute. Its this person role to guide the meeting through the talking points of the session but their most important role is to lay the rules out.
4. One at a Time
If everyone is talking no one is listening, rule one is 1 person at a time, when you finish talking give pause or a visual cue that you are finished, the facilitator can call on someone to go next if someone doesn't step in. If you are not talking, it's a good idea to put yourself on mute. It's a good idea to actually set a time limit for each person talking, that way more people are engaged.
In advance of the session make sure that everyone knows what the meeting is for and what's going to be discussed, what is their part of the meeting, do they need to pre anything to share, will that be spoken, slide content or a hand out, if it's a hand out share that in advance. In the meeting talk clearly and remember that there is probably going to be a delay so keep that in mind before you jump in.Also, don't try to have 3 different types of meeting at the one session, if it's a catch up have a catch up, if it's a tactical operational session do that. Even if the same people are going to be in the same session, exit and come back in to make it a clear change of discussion.
6. Record Things
Keeping minutes and notes of the meeting is important as is capturing the actions. Since this is a virtual meeting you have another fantastic tool in your toolbox however, you can record the meeting and make it available to everyone later. If you use Microsoft teams for example, record it and then Teams will stick it into Microsoft Stream for you, so ensure you have set up a channel for your meeting videos and then share that to your teams. In fact I've recently learned that teams will actually transcribe your video conference text for you. You can keep a lot of content in there that people can refer back to time and again when they need. If you don't have Office 365 then you can use Youtube and upload as a private or unlisted video then share that link out.
7. Capture, Assign & Track Actions
Capturing actions and who will do what is important as well and again there are countless tools for that. Since we are a office 365 company we use Microsoft Planner which allows us to set up team contributions and assign actions in the plan to people who can update remotely and then we can share that planning board live in the video conference.
8. Keep It Simple
Use tools that you know, and don't make the session run too long, 2 hours on video is a long time, try to keep them to 45 minutes if you can. As with your real-life meetings make sure you are only having 1 type of meeting at a time, don't roll your daily catchup meeting into a tactical or strategic meeting, it'll just be confusing.
9. Encourage Catch Ups
We aren't talking about taking troublesome conversation out of the meeting - keep them there. However, just like at work, catching up over the coffee machine for a natter is a good thing, lots of problems and improvements happen there, people bond and support each other there. Encourage the virtual watercooler sessions, get your team to catch up 1:1 as often as they can on video. This also helps people feel less isolated and reduces the chances of them going a little stir crazy, it's good to feel connected.
10. No Food
For some reason people on video conferences from home tend to think it's ok to snack while on the call, it's not, don't sit there and munch through your lunch or snack of chocolate cake, your mouth is closer to people in the virtual world than normal, we don't want to watch you eat! Sure, bring some water or a coffee but when you are drinking flip that mute button.
It's Different, but the same
Having great virtual meetings and great real-world meetings are very similar, just with a few more key things. There are positives, there is never a time when a meeting room isn't available for example, you don't have to put on the suit and tie, there's no travelling and you can definitely have your dog in the office. Following the 10 hints above will mean you'll have a good experience; it also may mean that you may never go back to the old normal again.
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