Some things have to be suffered through. Filing your taxes, for instance. Or watching your friend’s kid’s middle school talent show.
Your next virtual meeting doesn’t have to be one of them.
Meetings have a bad rep, but they can be incredibly useful tools. Meetings can help teams:
- Share ideas
- Make decisions
- Keep everyone informed
- Agree on a strategy
- Solve problems
- Build relationships
- Celebrate wins
So meeting malalignment is a case of wasted potential. In a survey of senior managers, 65% of respondents said that meetings could bring their teams closer together, but that badly-run or -planned meetings missed that opportunity.
In fact, 71% thought meetings were unproductive and inefficient.
So, having a plan to make the most of virtual meetings is especially important now, with remote and hybrid work clearly here to stay. In a 2022 study of 3.1 million people in 16 cities around the world, Harvard Business School found that workdays have increased by 48.5 minutes and that people are attending 13% more meetings.
So how can you run a virtual meeting that people enjoy showing up to? A meeting that’s worth the time it takes up on their calendar? One they treasure, not just tolerate?
By following these 10 steps, you’ll find yourself with everything you need to plan a flawless virtual meeting, from the agenda to the audience.
Step #1: Have a purpose.
32% of people always or often sit in meetings and think, “This really could’ve been an email.”
Avoid that dreading sense of having your time wasted by making sure that your meeting has an actual goal. Don’t get sucked into the siren call of using a meeting as a first resort for anything that needs to get done.
Keep in mind that meetings are best for work that requires real-time coordination, discussion, or problem-solving, like:
- Finalizing strategies
- Solving issues
- Addressing sensitive topics like giving constructive feedback or discussing HR issues
- Getting to know each other and bonding as a team
On the other hand, you probably don’t need meetings for things like:
- Status updates (these can be an email)
- Trainings (these can be recorded with software like Loom and sent out for people to watch on their own time)
- Gathering input (these can be sent as polls for people to fill out when it’s convenient)
Keep a high standard for recurring meetings. Just because it made sense to do a strategy review meeting last week doesn’t mean you need one this week — make sure you have a purpose behind every block of time.
Step #2: Be a considerate scheduler.
Working in remote or hybrid environments gives people a chance to have slightly more control over their schedules than in an in-person environment.
Maybe that means they’re taking a mid-morning yoga class, spending an hour in the afternoon picking up their kids from school, or popping out on the early side to make it to the grocery store.
Don’t assume that everyone is working the same hours as you, or that they’re available at the same time. Consider these best practices:
- Look for “focus time” or “DNS” (“do not schedule”) blocks and respect them.
- Keep your own calendar updated with your availability to set an example.
- Offer multiple potential meeting times, when possible.
- Consider time zones (and include them in your outreach / messaging about your meeting)
- Take advantage of calendar apps like Calendly to share availability, send schedule links, and cut down on the amount of back-and-forth needed to secure a meeting time.
And when you’re deciding how long to schedule your meeting, err on the shorter side. Research suggests 25 minutes is the best meeting length time, since that’s how long people can focus for. Don’t schedule an hour-long block unless you really need the time.
Bonus tip: Ask people what their meeting preferences are and try to meet them. Some people prefer to have standups in the afternoon but brainstorms in the morning, for instance.
Step #3: Share an agenda and expectations ahead of time.
You wouldn’t have people show up to a party without knowing the theme, or if they could expect to be fed dinner. Give your meeting invitees the same kind of heads-up.
Sending your meeting agenda ahead of time ensures that:
- Presenters are ready
- Attendees are prepped
- And intended outcomes are clear
Beyond sharing the agenda, also consider communicating expectations clearly and in advance. In planning emails, or the body of the meeting invite, answer questions like:
- Are there materials people should read ahead of time?
- Do attendees need to come prepared with questions?
- Is everyone expected to be on-camera?
- Do you want everyone to be off-microphone unless they’re speaking?
Step #4: Choose the right platform.
Whether the community you’re trying to bring together via a virtual meeting is a work team or a writers’ group, the video engagement platform you use matters. You want something that includes:
- One-click access, without the need for participants to download software or register in order to join
- Customization, so that your meeting stands out from the pack with bespoke backgrounds and personalized logos
- Production tools for managing speakers, moderating the chat, and ensuring a seamless flow
- Engagement tools like polls, chat, emojis, Q&As, timers, and other add-ons
- Security features like password-secured links and guest speaker control
- Analytics, so that you know how your meeting met your goals and what you can do better next time
Step #5: Test your tech ahead of time.
People have less patience for clumsy meeting etiquette than they did a few years ago. Faulty wifi? Didn’t realize you’re still on mute? Grainy stream? That’s not going to cut it.
To create a flawless meeting experience for your attendees, make sure you check the following before it’s go time:
- Your internet strength, with a speed test (consider going for a wired Ethernet connection if you need top-notch signal)
- Any audio/visual aids like microphones, headphones, webcams, and more
- The browser you’re using to access your video platform of choice
- Specific controls for things like screen sharing, sending polls, and pinning chats, amongst other features you’re likely to use when it comes time
Step #6: Use your environment to your advantage.
Lights. Camera. A background that everyone’s definitely looking at.
If you’re not using a virtual background, online meetings invite people into your space. Use that to your advantage by conveying the kind of ambiance that fits your meeting. For a professional gathering, consider:
- Facing a light source and avoiding backlighting, so everyone can see you
- Staying away from noisy appliances or windows
- Ensuring a clear sightline from your camera to your face
- Being comfortable with any objects visible in your background, like family photos, degrees, plants, or art
You don’t need to drop thousands of dollars on an interior decorator. But if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your digital office, you may want to play around with free tools like InteriorAI to get inspired to make the most of your space.
And remember that people appreciate authenticity — so if a pup pops up while you’re on-camera or your kid wants to say hi, embrace it!
Step #7: Start and end on time.
Even though the transit time from one conference room to another is approximately 0.5 seconds for a virtual meeting — as long as it takes to click “X” and then “Join Meeting” — you should still respect your attendees’ time and stick to the schedule.
Consider scheduling the first five minutes of your meeting for catch-up time or icebreakers. This will get everyone comfortable with each other, while also providing a buffer for anyone running late to join. If you have time, you can try a fun virtual game, or for a quicker start, can simply can ask questions like:
- What’s something you’re looking forward to this week?
- What’s the last book you read or movie you watched that you loved?
- What’s something you did in high school that you’re proud of?
- What’s the last new skill you learned?
- Who’s your hero?
After your scheduled warm-up time is over, jump right into your agenda. If someone’s still not there, go ahead and catch them up later — everyone who did show up on time deserves to have their time respected.
Try to end a bit early to give attendees a few minutes back at the end of your meeting block. They’ll appreciate the chance to stretch their legs, use the bathroom, and reset before their next call.
Step #8: Manage speakers smoothly.
If your meeting doesn’t require participation, it could probably be an email.
So if you are asking attendees to get involved, make sure you’re ready to manage that process.
Will you be asking people to raise their hands? Will you be calling on people one by one to share?
Having a clear vision (and, per point #3, sharing it ahead of time!) will help you avoid the awkward feeling that settles over a meeting when it’s eerily quiet, or the frenetic confusion of multiple people trying to talk at the same time.
Video engagement platforms can help by letting you queue up speakers, open up a green room for them to wait in, and control who can share their mic, camera, or screen.
Step #9: Take advantage of apps.
Whatever you want to do in your meeting, there’s probably an app for that.
- Looking to share ideas on a digital whiteboard? There’s Miro.
- Ready to review a product design? Fire up Figma.
- Seeking to quiz your attendees on what they know? Try Kahoot.
- Want live translation or interpretation? You’ve got Kudo.
One of the major benefits of hosting a virtual meeting is that you have access to tons of technology quite literally at your fingertips.
Step #10: Share recording, notes, and next steps.
Only 56% of meeting attendees come away with clear action items — which means that almost half of the people in meetings maybe didn’t need to be there.
Make the most of your attendees’ time by sending out the following after every meeting:
- A video recording for anyone who missed it, arrived late, or wants to review
- A copy of any materials referenced during the meeting
- A written meeting summary for record-keeping
- A clear list of takeaways, including who is responsible for what and any timelines that were agreed to
Make your next virtual event a success
Planning and running a meeting is hard. Give yourself a leg up by choosing a video meeting platform that makes your life as easy as possible.
Session is easy to use, simple to set up, and helpful at every stage, from setting up an inviting virtual space before your meeting to automatically analyzing attendee data afterwards.
Sign up for Session today for free (no credit card required) to see how you can transform your virtual meeting.