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20 ways to have more effective virtual meetings

by Randall Craig on August 26, 2016

Filed in: Blog, Engagement, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Presentations

Tagged as: , ,

One of the biggest drivers of efficiency (and cost-savings) over the last decade has been the growth of virtual team meetings. Who hasn’t received a request to join one, using a technology from Webex, Gotomeeting, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or one of the dozens of other systems that allow remote connection, screen sharing, and video.

Yet, despite their promise, virtual meetings do have their problems:

  • Disengagement:  Attendees are often distracted, splitting their attention with other activities while pretending to be present at the meeting. (Have you ever heard the click-click-click of others typing during the meeting?)
  • Technology gets in the way: Poor sound, plugins that don’t work, too-slow internet connections, and corporate firewalls can distract from the meeting itself.  (Or maybe everything was working, but the presenter was unfamiliar with the platform.)
  • Remote noise:  Often attendees “participate” remotely themselves… from Starbucks, while driving, walking the dog, etc. Beyond the issues of noise, many of these venues are not conducive to real participation as attention is divided, or they can’t refer to their notes.
  • Used for wrong purpose:  There are times when in-person meetings are better than their virtual cousins; examples include new staff orientation, project kick-offs, interactive workshops, and strategic planning meetings. Generally speaking, when the meeting objectives include building new relationships, require significant interaction, or are just too long, in-person is more effective.

With this as backdrop, here are 20 ways to improve the effectiveness of your virtual meetings:

  1. Put the meeting login information within the calendar and your meeting request.
  2. If a person is unfamiliar with the meeting platform, use the platform to have a one-on-one meeting with them beforehand, to make sure they are ready.
  3. If you aren’t that familiar with the technology yourself, do a dry run.
  4. Record the meeting if it is for training-oriented sessions, but be mindful that recording other types of meetings may stifle open conversation.
  5. Send out an agenda that requires each attendee to “own” a section.
  6. Require participants to do some preparation.
  7. Let participants know the materials they should have with them during the meeting.
  8. Speak to key participants about your expectations re participation.
  9. Share a Google document so that everyone can see the minutes and add back-channel comments live.
  10. Ask one of the participants to take minutes. They can even do it within the shared Google Doc.
  11. Start the meeting early, both to iron out the technology, and to allow for any pre-meeting conversations to take place.
  12. Use video so attendees can see each other.
  13. If you are using video conferencing, zoom in to the speaker so that that remote attendees can see who is actually speaking.
  14. Actively facilitate the meeting by pulling feedback from those who are quieter.
  15. Use a headset so that your hands can be free.
  16. If one participant’s line contains background noise, ask them to mute themselves when they are listening, and un-mute while talking.  If they can’t do this, do it for them.
  17. Use the chat functionality to encourage back-channel conversations.
  18. As the moderator, use chat functionality to prompt specific attendees to address an issue that is being discussed.
  19. Use online polling for straw polls and increased interactivity.
  20. Summarize the action points and next steps, gaining agreement.

Great virtual meetings are just like great in-person meetings – they only are effective if planned and executed well.

This week’s action plan:  While being “virtually effective” doesn’t sound like a compliment, it is.  At your next virtual meeting, choose 2-3 items from the above list; when you do, you will be more successful changing your attendees to participants.

Meetings Insight:  These tips aren’t just for virtual meetings: how many do you incorporate into EVERY one of your meetings?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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