Business meetings are not a new phenomenon across the corporate landscape and most any professional can recount stories of more than one meeting that felt like an eternity, provided little to no value, and left you wanting to regain the lost hour of the life that was spent counting the ceiling tiles.
While the number of hours professionals spend in meetings continues to increase, ensuring the attention of those present has become even more of a challenge given the shift to working from home. One only needs to look at the meteoric rise of video conferencing tools since January to know that online meetings are now normal for businesses worldwide and from all future outlooks, will be the case for the near and distant future.
However, having the technology to support these online gatherings is just the beginning. The real focus of managers and executives has to shift to ensuring the engagement of attendees and ensuring they deliver value.
Having worked remotely for the majority of my career I believe there are some things that can be done to ensure that you have an engaged audience during an online meeting. To help with that, I have listed some of my best tips below.
Meetings that consist of one individual doing all the talking and presenting are those that in most cases could be avoided and the contents shared via an email. A productive meeting is one that fosters dialogue and interaction and even more so when they are conducted online.
When holding an online meeting, one of the best ways to ensure your audience is engaged is to ask questions, ask for input, and open the door for attendees to provide additional insights. If you are giving a webinar to an audience, be sure to let them know you will take questions throughout the event instead of waiting until the end. This will minimise the likelihood of your attendee logging off or worse yet, tuning out. If it is an internal video conference and you find the attendees hesitant to participate, consider calling them by name and asking them for their thoughts on the topic at hand.
People, by nature, want to be engaged and if you create the space to make that happen online you will have a more productive outcome.
Keep it short and have a clear agenda
In most cases what is covered in an internal meeting can be discussed in thirty minutes or less. This is even more important to remember when holding a remote online meeting. Keep in mind that for the majority of your workforce, being remote is still a relatively new environment for them and they are still adjusting.
Keeping your meetings to the bare minimum necessary and having a clear agenda that is stated at the beginning of the meeting (better yet, put the agenda in the invite) will ensure all who attend understand the goals and objectives and that there is an end in sight.
At the conclusion of the conference, ask for any other items or questions, and then bring it to a prompt conclusion.
Insist on video
It is quite ironic that for years we have been socially distancing through our phones and various social media platforms, yet now that we have all been asked to shelter in place for the last few months, the thing we all crave most is human connection.
When holding your meetings, insist that your attendees use video. It does not matter if they have on a hat, a t-shirt, or have a child roaming in the background, it actually humanises the meeting a whole lot more. Additionally, it allows all attendees to pick up on any non-verbals that otherwise would not be able to be known if the call is audio-only.
Wait for the period
This week I was part of an online meeting where one of the participants was continually speaking over the others. Despite the fact that being interrupted is a pet peeve of mine, having one or several attendees interrupt or speak over another is a sure-fire recipe for a disastrous online meeting.
At the start of the meeting, acknowledge that it may be difficult, but as best as possible for everyone to wait for the individual to stop speaking before jumping in. This is not only the polite thing to do, as my mother used to tell me; it will also require a deeper form of listening and add value to the meeting.
Remove distractions as best as possible
When I begin a meeting, as best as I can I remove the distractions I have in my office. I turn my mobile phone to airplane mode so there are no alerts coming through. I close my email and any other web application that will send an alert as I want to be fully present for the meeting.
While these are good practices to put in place for in-person meetings, the need to do so when online is heightened. At the beginning of any online meeting, encourage the attendees to reduce the distractions, get away from their phones, and engage as best as possible. Rarely, if ever, will something occur in those thirty minutes that cannot be tended to afterward.
While meetings will never go away, it is important that we create an environment where those attending can be most engaged. Of course, having a good reason to hold a meeting is table stakes, but if you apply some of these tips, I assure you that your attendees will be more engaged and your meeting will not be the topic of the running office joke.
Originally published Jul 09, 2020, updated Sep 30, 2020