After six months of virtual meetings, I think we can all agree: Trying to recreate live meetings on virtual platforms simply does not work.
It’s tempting to try anyway — we’re familiar with the structure and culture of our meetings. They work for the most part and so we plan to push through a few months of virtual meetings while adhering to our usual formulas.
The results are awkward virtual meetings with no impact. The reason they fall short is remote meetings are not online versions of live meetings. When we treat them as equals, we risk losing our audience and our message.
We don’t have a reason to believe that virtual meetings are going away anytime soon. Rather than attempt to recreate the live environment and producing subpar virtual meetings, we need to take optimize those features unique to the remote environment. Virtual meetings can be an opportunity to redefine stale meeting culture and invigorate your team.
The seven easy tips below can show how to make the most of the virtual experience.
Re-imagine your role as moderator
It’s hard to relinquish your position if you’re accustomed to running meetings. It feels like a direct threat to your status in the hierarchy.
But in the virtual environment, the role of a leader becomes more like that of a moderator or facilitator.
The leader still shares insight and assigns tasks but now they’re also responsible for ensuring equity during the call. The leader’s role expands to not only follow the agenda in a fair way, but have all voices heard while keeping the meeting on track.
This is much harder to do when not all voices are in the room. Being cognizant of this by allowing for pauses between speakers and keeping a lighter agenda are ways leaders can balance these dual roles.
A moderator can be appointed if this balance cannot be struck. Moderators work to follow the agenda and make sure all speakers are heard fairly while preserving the organizational hierarchy.
Even the role of team members who are not leading the meeting expands into a moderator position to some extent. It’s not always possible to see who “has their hand up” and so taking the time to let people speak, not interrupt and be deliberately courteous is a shared responsibility.
Pretend your screen is a picture frame
When you look at the screen, do you look like the professional you’d like to portray?
During the meeting, look into the camera, not your own face. This will feel unnatural but is a skill learned by anyone who has to be on television — you can learn it too!
Make sure that your head is centered on the screen. The audience should be able to see your entire head and the top part of your shoulders.
You should look on the screen as you would on a headshot.
Not everyone has the option of an office to hold these meetings in, but make your background as business-like as possible. Loud posters, objects or noise will distract from your message and limit your effectiveness.
Balance control with organization
Being organized doesn’t mean ruling with an iron fist.
Organization means that an agenda is set and sent out ahead of time. Relevant documents are prepared and accessible. The agenda should be followed to not waste people’s time, keep the team engaged and the meeting moving forward.
The virtual environment is comparatively informal. Trying to control the room via the agenda will frustrate everyone and detract from the goal of the meeting.
Though the meeting should start and end on time, expect conversations to take longer than usual due to unintentional interruption, pauses, and technological failure.
Streamlining an agenda but keeping the same meeting duration permits the lax culture virtual meetings engender. But what’s given up by thinning the agenda is recuperated in task completion. In other words — there may be less stuff assigned, but what’s assigned needs to be completed, every time and on time.
This requires exceptional clarity at the time tasks are assigned. Milestones to be completed during the course, expected outcomes and deadlines are discussed. A verbal summary of the plan is used to close the loop of communication.
Prioritize follow up
Follow up from virtual meetings is crucial.
Checking back in with your maintains accountability. It also helps the group understand that although the meetings may be less formal, the outcomes are still taken seriously.
Set the expectation with your group by following up early and often. When tasks are assigned, circle back with the responsible person to ensure milestones are being achieved.
The milestones established during the meeting set the schedule for follow up.
People’s reaction to a less structured work environment varies. So does the time it takes for them to adjust. As a leader, anticipate that your help may be needed more or in different ways than in the “real life” setting. Expect a new range of questions and be patient with your team as they develop new skills along with you.
Does everyone really need to be here?
Do you really need a meeting in the first place?
Holding a meeting “because that’s what we’ve always done” communicates a lack of respect for people’s time. Instead, ensure that you need a meeting and that the necessary people are invited. Doing so ensures that more people on the call have a role to play. This will help to increase participation and keep attention spans intact.
Virtual meetings can be recorded and watched later by those who may not have an active role in the meeting but need to be aware of its content. Allowing your team to view the meeting on their schedule demonstrates trust and lets them schedule their time better.
Opportunity to try new things
The more we try to make a virtual meeting look like an in-person meeting, the more unnatural they become. This has had the effect of making many not-so-great meetings into even worse meetings.
Instead of recreating what didn’t work to begin with, view the virtual environment as an opportunity to try out new meeting formats. Be creative with the opportunity to make meetings more impactful.
Simple aspects of the meeting (like the time and day, the length, format or order) can be rearranged. New components like introductions and time to reunite can be trialed. Or begin meetings with an exercise to make the meeting more fun and light.
Virtual meetings are a chance to change the meeting culture of your organization — a culture that often needs to be refreshed.
Eyes on the prize
Meetings should have objectives.
The virtual environment changes how we meet these objectives. It represents a new medium through which goals can be achieved and tasks assigned. Virtual meetings are not threat to the status quo, they’re a chance to take a new approach to established goals.
Making those goals the priority redefines how we look at and use meetings, regardless of their delivery. The novelty of virtual meetings is a chance for resilience and growth among leaders and organizations.
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