Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International June 2013
Meetings are a necessary part of business whether we like it or not. More and more frequently people are meeting via the computer with counterparts who may be spread across the globe. This requires key skills to ensure these are successful virtual meetings. Some are standing meetings that occur every Monday or Friday. Others are ad hoc meetings, scheduled around a specific topic or project.
If you’re a project leader, you may find these tips helpful for holding successful virtual meetings. Many also apply to face-to-face meetings.
- Use video. If possible, engage webcams. This makes it possible for people to see one another and feel like they’re in the same room. Skype premium limits video calls to 10 people at once and all must have a Skype account. Google Hangouts lets you have up to 15 people on a video conference at once. GoToMeeting allows up to 6 to video conference at once. Another option is ooVoo.com which allows you to have up to 9 video participants at once, but the free version comes with ads. Choosing the paid version eliminates this.
- Know why you’re meeting. Having outcomes or a purpose for the meeting ensures that everyone understands why they need to attend or even IF they need to attend. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to hold a meeting just because you always meet on Mondays. If there’s no purpose or reason to meet, cancel the meeting.
- Have a written agenda. Even though you’re meeting virtually and using webcams, it’s still important to have a written agenda and share screens. That way you can stay on track and/or get back on track if someone takes the conversation off topic.
- Put the expected outcomes at the top of the agenda. State the purpose of the meeting at the outset, and make sure everyone understands what that purpose is. You can always refer back to these outcomes if the conversation evolves into something else. And circle back around before you end the meeting to ensure that everyone agrees the outcomes were met.
- Set a specific time limit and stick to it. Everyone will appreciate your sticking to the timeline, and even ending the meeting early. The more frequently you do this, the greater likelihood you have of getting people to show up. They know what to expect and that you will keep the conversation moving. They will also be more willing to stay longer at times when it’s necessary because it’s not the norm.
- Take notes or have someone else take notes. As the meeting organizer, you can choose to take notes while sharing your screen or ask someone else to do so. Letting people see the note taking helps keep them engaged and lets them correct any misunderstandings in the moment. If you assign note-taking to someone whose screen is not being shared, allow time before ending the meeting to review those notes and make any necessary corrections.
- Schedule the next meeting before you end this one. Since you have everyone online already, chances are they have their calendars handy. Get agreement on the next meeting, if one is necessary, and then send out the meeting announcement shortly after this meeting ends. That prevents it from getting lost in their email box during the course of the week. Send out reminders with a link to the online meeting at least once more before the next meeting.
- Agree on who needs to attend. It may not be necessary for everyone on the team to attend every meeting. Depending on the agenda topic, it may only be necessary for IT folks to be present at one meeting, and marketing or operations folks at another. If you do hold meetings with various team members and not the whole team, then schedule periodic meetings with the entire team and have the various team members report on their areas of expertise. This brings everyone up to speed on the whole project rather than just their portion of it, and ensures everyone is still working towards the same outcomes.
- Identify action items and accountabilities. Clearly list the actions that will be taken between meetings, along with the individuals responsible and dates by when they will accomplish them. This helps to move projects along, and gain commitment from team members.
- Follow up. As the team or project leader, you need to follow up with your team through emails and phone conversations to ensure they have the tools they need to complete the actions they’ve been assigned. This is an opportunity for you to also answer any specific questions they may not have asked during the meeting, or to assist with any roadblocks they may have encountered in executing their tasks.
BONUS TIP: Thank everyone for their participation. This one is so often overlooked. When people step up and volunteer to take on specific tasks, thank them for doing so. This helps to build team spirit and make people feel that their time and expertise is valued. Don’t go overboard, and be genuine about it.
Meetings are only successful if the outcomes are accomplished. Holding good meetings, keeping everyone informed, sticking to agendas, and following up with individuals between meetings are important task for the project leader.