If you’ve ever been on conference calls, online presentations or virtual meetings with several people across multiple locations, you know how much it can suck. People who don’t have the right software, interruptions from background noise, callers talking over one another or not listening – it happens all the time.

We’ve prepared a little framework to make virtual meetings more effective, one you can use when you’re setting up your next online call or virtual meeting. Hopefully you can use these ideas to help it suck less.

Before Virtual Meetings

1. Set a clear time.

Nothing wastes valuable virtual meeting time like waiting on a key participant. Make sure your group knows the starting time and the collective amount of time wasted if they’re late (it’s great if you can build a cultural expectation around the value of everyone’s time). Confirm details with participants of the meeting the day prior, if possible. For an afternoon meeting, remind participants in the morning.

2. Tell everyone what the meeting is about.

In advance, clearly state the purpose of the virtual meeting. Share an agenda in advance. Explain to each participant what their expected role is in the meeting.

3. Get everyone on the same page with etiquette.

Make sure your participants are apprised of how to make the meeting go more smoothly. Who is the leader? Do you need participants to introduce themselves (initially or before commenting)? Is there a rotation or hand-raising protocol? Are there time constraints?

Here’s an example of some concepts you may share with your group:

  • Please sign on 10 minutes before the meeting starts to verify your system connects properly (download & install any plugins).
  • Be on time!
  • Unless you’re using it for the call, please turn off cell phone.
  • If you are in a busy area, please put your device on mute.
  • When you speak, please state your name.
  • Please, no multitasking! We all get more from the call if you fully participate.
  • Stay out of your e-mail throughout the call.

4. Pre-install and test tools.

If you’re using a dial-in or online meeting service (anything from Skype to GotoMeeting to WebEx to Google Hangouts), have someone test it in advance. Document any special steps (they’re all a bit different). If there’s a particular plugin required, send a reminder that everyone needs it installed well before the meeting. If the tool doesn’t run on a particular device (e.g., phone or tablet), make it clear for everyone when you share the agenda.

5. Forbid multitasking!

If you read the CaptureApps blog regularly, you know we’re not really into multitasking. The human brain simply isn’t good at doing two things at once, so during the call, participants should know that the call will be 100% more effective and efficient if they don’t do other work concurrently.

During Virtual Meetings

1. Present the agenda.

Even though you sent the agenda in advance, remind participants of the framework: who is on the call (and why), how long is the meeting, how you want the meeting to flow, and who the key role players (e.g., note taker, leader) are.

2. Forbid multitasking.

Yes, we’re repeating that one because it’s important. If “Right Coast” Scott is reading about the Florida Gators on ESPN or texting with his hockey buddies, he’s not contributing effectively to the agenda.

3. Have a dedicated person take notes.

So that everyone can get more from the call, let them know that you have a dedicated scribe! With one person taking notes (preferably audio and written), participants can listen and communicate more effectively. It also reduces the potential for multi-tasking.

4. Have participants identify themselves when they speak.

“Hi, this is “Right Coast” Scott in DC…” helps everyone know that it’s not “West Coast” Scott in LA. Since online meetings can have choppy audio and voices can sound similar, everyone can be more easily identified.

5. Stick to the agenda.

It’s possible that callers will drift, but enforce your agenda. A little personal talk may be allowed, but don’t let it get you too far off track. We know one CEO who you can count on a 15 minute soliloquy at the beginning of each call. It’s quite off-putting… If something gets too complex for the virtual meeting, make a plan to take the topic offline for further investigation and discussion.

6. Clarify and track commitments.

Your dedicated note-taker should have especially accurate notes about action items. If your agenda has a clearly defined goal (and it should), then the action items should be aligned to that goal. For example:

  • “West Coast” Scott is going to get pricing on the conference sponsorship by EOB Friday
  • Phil is going to finish the updates by the end of the month
  • “Right Coast” Scott needs to talk to the attorney about the contract – when he gets a green light, he’ll tell Phil

At the end of the virtual meeting, recite the to-dos and make any clarifications. Ensure team members commit to milestones and have a way to track progress/follow-through.

After Virtual Meetings

1. Send a meeting recap as soon as feasible.

Using the outcome from #6 above, document via email the next steps from the virtual meeting.

2. Track progress.

Process matters. If you get in the loop of creating next steps and executing them, you’ll build momentum. We have all been in meetings where there were no clear objectives and no clear next steps – guess what, nothing good happened after. Hold your team accountable and you’ll build momentum.

We hope you can use our framework to make your virtual meetings better for you and your team.


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