It wasn’t too long ago that debates raged about whether online meetings could ever truly replace face-to-face meetings. In the years since, many would likely say the argument was, at best, difficult to resolve and, at worst, moot.
That’s because both have their unique qualities. In the end, one doesn’t prove to be better than the other. What’s become clear, however, is that more and more business is conducted via online meetings than ever before. Between 2005 and 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. Clearly, online meeting technology represents one of the most critical communication and collaboration tools for the remote workforce. Research firm Global Market Insights predicts that video conferencing, an $11 billion market in 2017, will grow to $20 billion by 2024.
So with online meetings growing in popularity, we thought we’d take a look at the unique aspects of conducting an online meeting and offer a few tips for how to keep your remote attendees—who you may or may not be able to see—completely engaged.
Here are six tips to help you master the art of engaging online meetings.
1. The importance of preparation
First, avoid any confusion when you kick off the meeting by sending out a clear agenda prior to the call. Make sure you clearly indicate the meeting goals and everyone’s expected contribution, if applicable. If you’re expecting a report on action items in this meeting, let attendees know in advance so they don’t leave it until the meeting starts to read the agenda.
When you send the meeting invite, be sure to include login details for your conference call and arrive five to 10 minutes early to check that they work. Making time for setup prior to the meeting will put a stop to that embarrassing scramble to update the login details and adjust the invite when you realize no one can connect.
Next, decide what accompanying material you’ll be using in the meeting. If you’ll be presenting, it’s a no-brainer, but even if you’re just having a team or project meeting, consider what visual aids might be useful for the remote attendees to feel fully involved. Whatever the format, make sure your online meeting tools are set up for screen sharing and video conferencing. Which brings me to my next tip.
2. Make sure you have the right remote work tools
All of your careful preparation for a virtual meeting will be fruitless unless you have the right online collaboration tools at your disposal. If you find yourself having virtual meetings regularly, make sure you have the software to suit your needs and allow easy screen sharing and clear, crisp video conferencing.
A team messaging solution is a great way to bring virtual teams and individuals together, allowing video calling and screen sharing at the touch of a button.
Screen sharing is a must-have feature for communicating during virtual meetings. By sharing the presentation, visual aids, or even the meeting agenda or notes, everyone can be kept in the loop and will be less likely to get distracted.
But even if screen sharing isn’t a feature you have access to, video conferencing is really where it’s at when you’re looking to keep everyone engaged in a virtual meeting. It’s incredibly difficult to relate to a voice at the end of a telephone line. When you can put a face to the name, the barriers come down, connections can be made more naturally, and contributing to the meeting becomes easier for everyone. Just remember when your video screen is on to avoid being caught off guard!
3. Establish some housekeeping rules and stick to them
Being a remote meeting attendee can often be a frustrating experience. Side chatter, difficulty hearing the speaker, and struggling to get your point across are just some things that can make a virtual meeting a less-than-pleasant experience for remote workers.
By setting some general housekeeping rules for online meetings and video conference calls, everyone will be more inclined to stay tuned-in and more likely to accept your next invite. Here’s some inspiration for your rule book:
- No cross-chat or side conversations in meetings.
- Be clear and concise, always keep remote attendees in mind.
- Give people on the phone a chance to speak. Allow time for them, and be aware that they may have questions at any time, just like everyone in the room.
- Civility and respect should be the norm. Be respectful of people’s time by being punctual and ready to dive in.
4. Make time for a few minutes of introductions
Before you get down to business, make time for introductions and small talk, preferably going beyond just the work chitchat. Make this fun by asking attendees random questions and encouraging some banter. Think: “What did everyone have for breakfast/lunch? What’s been the highlight of your week?”
There’s nothing quite like sharing a laugh to close the distance between people and warm up the conversation. It can be hard enough to develop connections with colleagues when you’re sitting in the same office space, let alone when half a country or continent lies between you. Taking just a short amount of time to build on relationships can do wonders for remote team morale.
5. Keep everyone connected and involved
Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of the meeting. Try to make it a collaborative affair. Avoid doing all the talking yourself. If you’re presenting, pause to ask if everyone is still following or if there are any questions. If these are regular meetings, keep everyone involved by rotating tasks, such as taking minutes and tracking action items.
Whenever there’s a silence looming, encourage some group participation in the meeting. You can also involve remote attendees more by directing questions to each person on the line—only if it makes sense to, of course. This could be as simple as asking for their input and feedback as the meeting comes to a close.
6. Don’t forget your follow-up
As with in-person meetings, make sure that you send clear notes, with action items if applicable, after the meeting. It’s always a good idea to reach out directly to remote attendees to thank them for attending the call and ask if they have any questions they didn’t get to ask during the meeting. Show them you value their input by asking them for feedback on what could be improved next time.
You’ve got this
With our virtual meeting guide up your sleeve, you can confidently say good-bye to the typical online meeting frustrations and keep everyone connected and contributing, whether they’re remote or sitting in the seat next to you. For more on successful remote team communication, check out our post, 6 Best Practices of Effective Remote Team Communication.
Originally published Mar 14, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022