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5 Best Practices to Improve Your Virtual Meetings

Leslie Ciborowski
President Of TrainSmart, Inc.
5 Best Practices To Improve Virtual Meetings

Are Virtual Meetings The New Business Activity You Love to Hate?

In 1969, a television program debuted with an OPENING theme that would ironically become the precursor of our current virtual work life.  The show was the Brady Bunch, and the iconic opening showed three rows of video panels with the headshots of all the Bradys and their housekeeper Alice.

The Zoom Gallery View has taken over pop culture with the vengeance of the macarena and beanie babies. It’s shown up in Saturday Night Live skits, mentions by late-night talk hosts, and in advertising campaigns that are attempting to be Au Courant.

The problem is that virtual meetings are like eating ice cream. A half-cup serving is delightful, but today’s virtual meeting schedules are more like bingeing on ice cream all day long until you finished an entire gallon. It’s going to cause a brain freeze of mammoth proportions.

If you had surveyed workers in a pre-CORVID 19 world and asked them to rate workplace meetings, the majority would have said that meetings are a barrier to productivity. In a November 2019 survey by Korn Ferry Consulting, “67% of workers say excessive meetings keep them from getting their best work done.”

The Zoom Gallery View has taken over pop culture with the vengeance of the macarena and beanie babies. It’s shown up in Saturday Night Live skits, mentions by late-night talk hosts, and in advertising campaigns that are attempting to be Au Courant.

The problem is that virtual meetings are like eating ice cream. A half-cup serving is delightful, but today’s virtual meeting schedules are more like bingeing on ice cream all day long until you finished an entire gallon. It’s going to cause a brain freeze of mammoth proportions.

If you had surveyed workers in a pre-CORVID 19 world and asked them to rate workplace meetings, the majority would have said that meetings are a barrier to productivity. In a November 2019 survey by Korn Ferry Consulting, “67% of workers say excessive meetings keep them from getting their best work done.”

Camera on or Camera off? That is the Question

The short answer: Both. You want to have your camera on so others can see you – it does increase engagement and plays an important role in filling the need for human connection. However, when we can see ourselves, it’s a bit unnatural. After all, in an in-person meeting, we don’t see ourselves; we just see everyone else. But, in a virtual meeting with all the cameras on, it’s like being in front of a mirror. Instead of looking at everyone else like we would do if we were meeting in person, many of us can’t help sneaking glances at ourselves.  All that self-examination is a significant source of our virtual meeting exhaustion. So, if you have the option (Zoom offers it) to hide “self-view”, you can look at everyone else and not see yourself.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at how much more energy you’ll have by not having to look at yourself all day long. If you work on a platform that doesn’t offer this feature, try having meetings where everyone turns off their video unless they are talking. Again, having the cameras on is a benefit, but like eating ice cream, this feature needs to be used in moderation.

5 Best Practices to Improve Your Virtual Meetings

Best Practice #1. Make Sure You Need to Meet

There are three types of meetings: to share information, to solve a problem, and to brainstorm. In each of the three types, there is a common factor: the need for interaction.  If you don’t need any interaction from the team member to proceed, then don’t hold the meeting.

Best Practice #2. Have One Topic on the Agenda

While this may mean you have to schedule multiple meetings, that is a better solution than having one Virtual meeting with lots of different topics. In the virtual world, a meeting should not exceed 50 minutes.

Best Practice #3 Build Time for Personal Sharing

At the beginning of each meeting, schedule 10 minutes for people just to talk to each other, Ideally, you want to do this in small groups.  If you work on a virtual platform that provides for breakout rooms, use those. You want to do a minimum of two rounds with people being assigned to talk to a variety of people.

While it’s not as easy to do if you don’t have breakout rooms, it is still achievable. You just need multiple conference call numbers and some pre-planning to assign people to the various conference call lines.

To get started, post a slide with the different phone numbers and the names of the people assigned to that conference all number. Instruct people to call into that number and chat for four minutes. At the end of that time, they will be reassigned to another conference call with different people.  You will need another slide with the second-round assignments.

In the virtual world, these small conversations serve a big purpose. It warms people up, it allows them to connect with all those floating heads on screen, and it increases participation and engagement.

Best Practice #4 Virtual Meetings Need to Be Designed

Instead of planning an agenda, think of it as designing the meeting.  You know you want to have engagement, so how are you going to do it? Breakout rooms? What are they going to do in breakout rooms? It needs to be more than chatting. You want them to do activities. A great tool to use is Google slides/docs.  If you send everyone the same URL for the doc, they can work on it simultaneously, and it can simulate working side by side in a room.

One of the most popular brainstorming tools is the post-it note activity.    By clicking on the post-it, participants can write their thoughts about an issue. If they need more post-its, they can easily duplicate them.  People return from this activity with energy and engagement.

Best Practice #5. Create an Action-Item List At the End of the Meeting

When you are designing your meeting, you want to have 10 minutes at the end to recap and assign action items for different groups or individuals. In addition to making sure that the topic moves forward, assigning action items to various groups and individuals communicates that you have achieved the goal of the meeting. Post the Action Item List so all attendees can review it and have people check off the action item they are responsible for when it is completed.

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Leslie Ciborowski
Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.