How to Lead an Effective Virtual Meeting

Holding a virtual meeting on a tablet with four coworkers

Gathering your team for a meeting can be one of the most valuable, effective ways to solve problems and plan goals. 

But a meeting can also be a waste of time and money if no one contributes and nothing is accomplished. Plus, when employees are working from home, there are even more distractions to take their focus away from the discussion at hand.

That’s why applying effective preparation and leadership techniques is crucial: They can inject new life into dead meetings. Read on for ways to get more accomplished during your virtual (and even in-person)  meetings.

Sign On to the Meeting Positive and Focused

Few things can ruin a meeting as quickly as attendees with a bad attitude, especially from the person leading the meeting. As a manager, going into a meeting with a positive mindset sets the tone for the gathering and impacts how your team will respond.

According to Dan McCarthy of The Balance Careers, having a positive attitude about the meeting itself, what’s being discussed, what the outcome could be and who is attending is the most important thing a manager can do to lay the foundation for a successful meeting.

When running a virtual meeting, there are distractions all around, including pets, kids, and outside noise. Encourage your participants to use headphones or attend in a quiet environment as free of interruptions as possible. That way, it’s easier for everyone attending the meeting to stay on task.

Above all, lighten up and enjoy meeting with your team. Chances are, they will reciprocate with optimism and enthusiasm.

Staying focused is key for small-business owners. See why here.

Start By Stating the Goal of the Virtual Meeting

A useful, productive meeting begins with an idea of what you’d like the goal of the meeting to be, and potentially even the outcome. That doesn’t mean you should coerce or manipulate discussion to arrive at certain conclusions.

What it does involve, according to Forbes, is laying out a clear, understandable and achievable objective at the beginning of the meeting. That way, everyone involved can direct their input toward achieving that target. 

Find a way to set aside inessential tangents so they can be discussed later at a different time or venue. Forbes suggests creating a “parking lot” that keeps track of such items so you don’t forget these, but also don’t let them take over your meeting. 

(Bonus tip: Designating a meeting facilitator beforehand is another way to control discussions and keep everyone on-agenda.)

Prepare an Agenda Before Your Meeting

A productive meeting needs a clear, detailed plan prepared beforehand. Knowing what will be discussed and how long it should take will help you keep the discussion on-track. And if you share the agenda with attendees, they will also know what to expect and will be ready to follow it. 

(Bonus tip: When inviting virtual participants to your meeting, attach a timed agenda and name someone to keep track of the time.)

Although it’s the organizer’s responsibility to create the agenda, McCarthy suggests getting input from attendees. If they have ideas of relevant additions or discussions to contribute, incorporate their suggestions so the meeting is more beneficial for everyone.

Avoid Getting Stuck in a Rut

Although following an agenda can help everyone use the meeting time efficiently, it can also squelch creative spontaneity if you adhere to it too closely or use the same agenda time after time. 

McCarthy suggests a list of ways to “spice up” your meetings and catch people’s attention, such as changing the location or tool (or even Zoom background) every so often, inviting guest speakers, eating lunch together or performing an ice-breaker.

During the meeting, allow for scheduled creativity by giving people time to chew on and toss around ideas before making decisions and responding. In other words, don’t steamroll over conversation but then demand immediate answers for the sake of “sticking to the schedule.”

Related: Save money on business travel with these tips. >>

Empower Attendees to Participate in Your Virtual Meeting

Just because you’re leading the meeting doesn’t mean other attendees can’t have a hand in running it. Share the chores of facilitating the meeting with some team members by delegating responsibilities. 

Lisa Quast of Forbes suggests giving some attendees tasks to execute during the meeting or prepare beforehand, such as being the note-taker, time-keeper, devil’s advocate or keeper of the “parking lot.”

This takes some of the work off your shoulders and simultaneously encourages attendees to take an active role in making the meeting successful.

Let People Talk

Being a successful meeting conductor requires being a good listener as much as it does being a good speaker — perhaps more so. 

Give everyone the time and opportunity to contribute thoughts, respond to each other and verbally collaborate. Don’t interrupt attendees when they have something pertinent to say or have a question for you. Remember that meetings are most productive when you’re talking with your team, not at them.

When running virtual meetings, encourage participants to have their webcams on so you can see their faces. This way, you can gauge how attentive the participants are and also see their facial expressions and movements (like nods) you wouldn’t get from an audio-only session.

Could This Meeting Have Been an Email?

If you need to communicate information without engaging in a conversation, save everyone time and send an email. According to Jeff Haden of CBS News, you should never use a meeting merely to share information. 

Send any relevant documents and data ahead of time, and designate the in-person gathering for the discussion of said information.

(Bonus tip: Include relevant documents in the meeting invitation so your participants are prepared beforehand.)

Get More Tips on Running a Successful Business

Apply these principles to see how running an effective virtual (or in-person) meeting can keep your attendees engaged and save your business time and money in the long run.

For more tips on running your business and saving money, check out a few of our other business finance blogs.

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