If you were inviting a group of people to your office for a face-to-face meeting, you would do certain things to make sure that it was successful. For an online meeting, you also want to plan ahead to be sure that your time together is productive. Here are 6 tips to help you get the most out of your next online meeting:
1. Choose the right system for your online meeting
For hosting an online meeting, you need a good web conferencing system that will meet both your attendees’ needs and support your brand goals.
For your attendees, though some members of the meeting may be comfortable with technology, others may not be. If they are not tech savvy and the system requires a download - or it only works with Chrome but not Firefox - it might not be the best system for your meeting. Since the point of most meetings is to work collaboratively and share information, it should be easy for participants to share their documents or screen - and to know who is speaking. If you do have any concerns - or you think one or more of your meeting invitees may need some extra help - circulate written instructions for how to access the meeting with your invitation. And let them know you’ll be on a few minutes early, if they are concerned and want some help.
For brand continuity and controlling the experience, nothing beats having a video conferencing system that can be embedded into your own site and branded with your “look and feel.”
2. Determine if you need to record your online meeting
Are there folks who can’t attend but need to see and hear what occurred? You may want to record the meeting. Be sure you let your invitees know of your intention to record in the initial invitation and in the agenda. Remind your participants at the kick-off of the meeting that you will be recording for others to experience later - and do this before you turn on the recording. If a long meeting - and the conversation starts to wander - take charge and refocus back on topic. If needed, remind everyone that this is recorded.
3. Create an agenda
As important as an agenda is for a face-to-face meeting, it is even more important for an online one to insure focus and productivity. Note in your agenda:
- Who is leading/responsible for a specific topic area.
- Where decisions are expected and need to be made.
- Use time estimates for each agenda item to help frame and set expectations. You’ll want to be flexible, but this also helps your attendees and topic leaders stay on track.
- Links to files or information resources that will be needed for your discussion.
You’ll want to distribute the agenda in advance to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can prepare any additional materials.
4. Preparation of materials
You are calling this meeting to accomplish specific goals. Prepare an overview presentation and materials to illustrate your concepts and to inform the participants. Keep it relevant to the goals and topic. Plan ahead with questions to invoke your attendees to engage in the conversation. Determine if/how you or another attendee will jot notes about the conversation and decisions made - and make them visible for the attendees. If you work in an open concept office, identify and appropriate space to conduct the meeting and schedule it in advance.
5. Conducting the actual online meeting
You’ll want to get ready early for your meeting. Be sure the space where you will be is quiet and clean (especially if you are using the video conferencing/web camera and your attendees can see you and your space.) Have only those things open on your computer that you need - the conferencing system, the specific materials you will be sharing and/or referencing; etc. - and that things you don’t need, like chat or system notifications are turned off completely. Initiate your actual online meeting a few minutes early. This will allow you test your audio settings/volume to insure your attendees can hear you, but not feel shouted at. You’ll have time to queue up any elements (like a powerpoint presentation) and note taking screen. This also gives your attendees who might need a little help an opportunity to have you walk through using the system. Start your meeting with a quick round of introductions, if this is not a team that has worked together before or there are new members in the mix. Remind everyone that occasionally there may be a slight delay in what they are seeing or hearing - so be sure to not rush through. Take a breath between thoughts and don’t get too frenetic with clicking between visual materials. To close the meeting, thank everyone and confirm decisions and any next steps.
6. Follow through
Just like a good golf swing, follow through helps insure a successful online meeting. After your meeting, research any questions that arose and weren’t answered during the meeting. Compile your note plus the identified next steps - including who is responsible with deadlines - and send out to all the invitees. Include the recording, if applicable. This is also your opportunity to survey or ask a couple of questions about what they thought worked well and/or what could be better next time. You want your meetings to always meet - or exceed - expectations, and we should all look to make each meeting worth the time spent.