Out of nowhere, virtual meetings became the norm.

We could have switched to conference calls, but with so many digital tools readily available and the fact that face to face conversations are more personal and engaging, virtual meetings were instant winners. They’re also a good way to stay connected and mentally healthy during times when in-person encounters are vastly reduced. So as humans always do, we adapted. And quickly.

It’s no small feat to run a virtual meeting, however, so we’ve gathered together some of best tips to help you and your participants run an effective and engaging meeting.

Tips to help leaders be successful.

  • Assign co-moderators: It’s impossible for meeting leaders to deliver a great message and pay attention to activity in the chat area. Before the meeting begins, assign someone to monitor the chat, and keep track of questions or concerns that need to be addressed.
  • Set up early: Set up your meeting at least 15 minutes in advance to ensure the technology is working, and confirm you know how to use the record, chat, draw, and share screen features. Remember, software is regularly updated. What you thought you knew yesterday might be completely different today.
  • Engage early: Once you’ve signed on early, take the opportunity to chat with participants as they sign in. Help people become part of the conversation. Get them warmed up to participate by offering a few fun questions for people to chat about.
  • Monitor your speech: Because of lag times and external noise, it’s always harder to communicate in a virtual space. Be sure to talk slower than normal and create 5 second quiet pauses between your thoughts. This will give other people the time to unmute themselves and comment.
  • Remind muting: Rather than picking on people, regularly remind all participants to put themselves on mute when they are not speaking. The sounds of typing keyboards and paper shuffling can be very distracting.
  • Create 50-minute hours: Ensure that meetings scheduled for 1 hour are actually only 50 minutes. For half-day or day-long meetings, plan for even more breaks than you usually would. The rule of thumb is a 10-min break for every 50-mins of content.
  • Establish meeting etiquette: At the beginning of each call, remind participants about key strategies for making it a successful meeting.
    • No multi-tasking: Agree to call each other out for it if you see it or sense it.
    • Use headsets: Where possible, avoid using laptop microphones as the sound quality can be poor. Use the telephone or a high-quality headset.
  • Ask for feedback: At the end of each meeting, invite participants to share ideas about making the next meeting even more effective.
  • Embrace extra participants: Share the joy when kids and pets and delivery people interrupt a meeting. We all have lives outside of work and some parts are much more important than work.

Use the features available in the tool.

  • Chat: Encourage participants to share examples, offer ideas, and ask questions in the chat area. Use it as an extended area to collaborate and create personalized engagement.
  • Breakout Rooms: Separate large teams into smaller groups that facilitate verbal communication and discourse. Have each group work on a smaller problem and then bring them back together to share their outcomes.
  • Polls: Ask polls live in the session and share the responses. Focus on opinion types of questions to avoid the stress of sharing an answer that might be ‘wrong.’
  • Whiteboard: Take advantage of whiteboards to get everyone sharing creative ideas simultaneously.
  • Record the Session: Make sure all the gems of wisdom and fun stories can be shared among everyone, even those who were double booked and couldn’t make the original meeting.

Tips to help participants be successful.

  • Audio is good: Sometimes, video chats are the best andmost practical way to achieve the goals of a meeting or workshop. In those cases, make sure it is clear in the meeting invitation that video is expected. In other cases, video isn’t absolutely necessary. Feel free to recommend video chats but don’t belabor them. It might be laundry day, participants might not feel comfortable displaying their location (virtual backgrounds are always acceptable), or they may find it easier to concentrate without video. Let people participate in whatever way works best for them.
  • Get permission: Make sure people know you will be recording the session and saving comments in the chat area before the meeting gets underway. And, never share screencaps of participants without getting permission from every person. If you do get permission, be sure to block out everyone’s name in the image.
  • Help participants practice: Your participants might not have used your meeting tool before. Give them opportunities to test out the features with training tasks before they will need to message, raise their hand, or write on a white-board for important tasks.
  • Use a timer: When it’s time to take a break, instead of turning off the shared screen, display a countdown timer. This will ensure everyone can figure out what they have time to do and can return at the same time. (e.g., https://timer.onlineclock.net/)
  • Create health and safety breaks
    • Eye breaks: Create tasks that require participants to act on the 10-10-10 rule – Every 10 minutes, look at something 10 feet away, for at least 10 seconds.
    • Stretch breaks: While the countdown clock is running during breaktimes, show a video of stretching exercises or chair yoga. Encourage people to do the exercises instead of checking emails. (e.g., Yoga at Your Desk – YouTube)
    • Bio breaks: Though the line-ups for restrooms and snacks may be short, people still need time to take them!

Though we might be running virtual meetings on overdrive right now, there’re here to stay. Let’s make them as effective as possible!