Running Effective VIRTUAL Meetings
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn
If there was ever a time to find out which meetings could be emails, it’s when a pandemic is knocking at your door (literally) and the global workforce is on a work-from-home mandate!
However, for managers and sales and customer success executives, connection and efficiency have never been more important!
The world is dealing with anxiety, grief, loss, and homes full of children and partners. Daily routines have been thrown out the window, and parents are attempting to home-school their children while millions of educators are learning how to teach online.
More than 3 million Americans lost their jobs last week, retirement savings disappeared overnight: we’re disconnected and isolated.
You know what they say, when the going gets tough the tough get selling! (they say that right?) I don’t mean used-car selling; I mean selling a vision of the future, an idea, a new pathway forward, a service or product that will help someone make progress in their life or business.
After all, that’s what selling means: To help someone make progress in their life or business.
How can we, as leaders, account managers, sellers, service providers, consultants– whatever your professional role is–be a reliable, grounded source of comfort and calm for the individuals we serve amidst the storm?
First things first: shift your perspective!
When meetings are held with the purpose of “doing the work” they become ineffective and appear to waste time.
Shifting your perspective to view meetings as a pause in the action of work will allow you to host effective meetings where people come together to discuss the work that has been done, make crucial decisions and prepare for the work that is to be done.
When meetings are designed as a “break” or pause in the work and used to recalibrate and prepare for coordinated action, they can be very productive.
They help us make progress, achieve alignment, gain forward momentum, anticipate and avoid issues, and reach our goals.
As an analogy, meetings are the structure or the “box” inside which conversations and decisions should happen, but the actual work happens outside of the box, between meetings. Meetings are like coordination checkpoints.
So, what are the expert moves of running an effective virtual meeting?
1. Prepare an agenda with a clear purpose and benefit for every meeting
Meetings should not exist unless they have a clear purpose, which represents why you are gathering and what you hope to achieve during the meeting itself.
Expertly framing the purpose helps attendees view the meeting as an exciting opportunity to produce a result and gain something!
For every meeting purpose, there should be a matching benefit, which represents what attendees will get out of the meeting when the purpose is achieved. Creating a compelling benefit will help attendees see “what’s in it for them”, which will get them engaged and excited to participate.
If, for some reason, they’re not interested in the purpose or benefit as stated, they should be free to leave the meeting or to suggest a different purpose and benefit.
One way Habits at Work has managed this during the remote work environment imposed by the coronavirus is to allow attendees to hop on and off the conference call, especially since our meetings are now making up for time not being spent in normal contact with one another and not all aspects of the meeting are relevant to all our roles.
Life’s too short for pointless, low impact meetings! Especially when home-life and work-life are one-in-the-same these days!
A best practice for both virtual, and once we can return to our offices, for in-person meetings is to put the purpose and benefit into the calendar invitation or detailed agenda that is circulated prior to the meeting date.
Speaking of…. Agendas are to a meeting as peanut butter is to PB&Js or orange juice is to mimosas. They are a key ingredient, and you can’t have a complete or effective meeting without one!
Every detail of your meeting should be clear and easy to access, which is why you need to create and socialize a detailed agenda before the meeting begins.
A detailed agenda will include the following components: a specific time and date, including a link to the phone or video conference; a clearly articulated purpose and benefit; an itemized, time-boxed agenda with cues to prompt specific actions, such as Asking for Feedback; space at the end to record any decisions, action items, feedback, and notes from the meeting.
Then, STICK TO THE AGENDA! This is easier said than done, I admit, especially during this strange time. I’ve not attended a single meeting in the last 3 weeks that didn’t kick-off with at least 5 minutes of COVID-19 talk, which is entirely appropriate!
Jumping straight to business lacks empathy and humanity, and just feels wrong when we’re all struggling with a common problem. The expert move is to include time on your agenda to connect with attendees before you officially begin.
This is a great time to deepen your relationship by asking Connection Questions like, “What are you most excited about today?” Connection Questions are a great tool for opening virtual meetings since they can serve as “icebreakers” and informal check-ins to ensure your team can socialize and everyone feels included and cared for.
If attendees do not know each other, be sure to include time in the agenda for a quick round of introductions. Acknowledge all meeting attendees by name and company (if appropriate).
When it is your turn to introduce yourself, it is an expert move, even in virtual meetings, to stand up. This is especially true if you’re giving a presentation, hosting a webinar, or conducting a sales call. If there is time, deliver your origin story after stating your name.
Don’t stick to hourly meetings or let Microsoft and Google Calendar define your life! Set a meeting for the amount of time that you’ll need to achieve your purpose and benefit. Not every meeting needs 30 or 60 minutes! In the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, live UNTAMED!
Include an appendix in your meeting agenda that houses all the material and information that will be referenced in the meeting so that it’s easily accessible.
Attach the agenda to the calendar invite to make it easily accessible.
2. Use Your Video Capabilities
I’m always surprised by the number of sales and customer success people that opt-out of using video while communicating virtually. Video is the greatest gift you have at our disposal when selling and servicing virtually and we still choose to dial-in, despite the overwhelming amount of research on the positive impacts of visual communication.
It’s like being thrown in the ocean with an anchor tied to your foot and, when offered a knife to cut the rope, you say, “Nah, I’m good!”
Here’s why you should consider having your video on:
In 1974 Albert Mehrabian studied the impacts of the three vectors of communication:
- The words you say (verbal)
- How you say it (vocal)
- What you say with your body (visual)
He found that a meager 7% of our communication is affected by the words we say, 38% is impacted by HOW we say the words and a whopping 55% of our communication is impacted by our body language, facial expressions and gestures!
How can you not only use but ENHANCE your visual communication during a virtual meeting?
We run an extremely uncomfortable exercise with our customers while teaching Empathic Listening. We ask the cohort to find a partner, face them and stare into their eyes for 2 minutes without saying a word. Reliably, at that moment, the entire group of fully grown professionals is teleported back to their middle school selves and crumple to the ground in agony. The horror of staring at another human being in the eye!
It’s only after the exercise do they discover the extraordinary power of eye contact on human connectedness: every single individual feels MORE.
Pro Tip: If using Zoom, switch to Gallery View and exit full screen. Move the window to the top of your screen just below your camera, so the person’s face is directly below the camera. This is the closest way to make eye contact virtually!
Hack Your Mood
Some of our team’s favorite “pregame” moves to keep up energy are standing and stretching, doing some jumping jacks or pushups, and listening to upbeat music while singing or dancing. Personally, I’m a fan of anything from the Hamilton soundtrack!
If you have excess energy during a meeting, keep a minimally distracting fidget toy on hand to remain focused (we call this one the Andrew Sykes!)
You can also use movement to boost your energy on calls or meetings by rotating to different rooms or parts of your house, rather than having every virtual interaction from the same spot.
If you need a trick to stay positive, warm and friendly in a virtual meeting or on a phone call, place a mirror in front of you and pay attention to your facial expressions. Smiling while talking can help keep you in a positive frame of mind, which comes through in how you speak.
Pro Tip: Keep your video on EVEN IF other attendees refuse to participate in the video. Not only do you get the benefits of your client or teammates seeing your VISUAL communication, but you also have a built-in reminder to smile and remain focused during the meeting.
3. Close Like a Boss
There are six steps to closing a meeting like a boss!
- Next Steps & Commitments
- Next Meeting
- Purpose Benefit Check
- Ask for Feedback
- Acknowledge Contributions
How you close a meeting is perhaps the most important part of running an effective meeting as this is where everything comes together or remains as a set of loose ends.
Include generous time at the end of your meeting to summarize the conversation, get agreement on all decisions and action items, and to provide time to chit-chat and connect again.
Virtual meetings may require even more time than you would normally plan because you will need to account for the “lag-time” that occurs between people speaking and the technology picking up the audio.
You may consider using a strategy called “wait time”, which is pausing for at least 30 seconds when you need or want input from attendees. This pause gives people time to process and think before responding, and in virtual spaces can make up for the cues, like facial expressions or body language which indicate someone is about to speak, that can be hard to pick up on, even in a video conference.
Gain Commitments for Action Items
Since meetings are about the work to be done, gaining strong agreement on who will do what, by when and how participants will communicate between now and the next meeting determines how effectively the work will be done and how powerful the meeting will have been in the end.
Go through each action item and ask for a commitment on who will own the item, what they are committed to doing and by when they will have it done. Record this in the notes that will be circulated once the meeting has concluded. Also, include how the owner of each action item will keep everyone updated on progress and what those intervals are.
Set Next Meeting
If a follow-up meeting is required, be sure to set the time and date for the next meeting before you conclude the current one.
Quickly have everyone check their calendars, confirm who should attend and immediately send out a calendar invitation to hold the spot. Include the information about the next meeting in the notes you circulate after the meeting.
Closing Purpose, Benefit, Check
The close of a meeting is a time to leave everyone on a high note, inspired to take action, and feeling like they got what they came for.
Take time to remind attendees of the meeting’s purpose and benefit, and check for consensus that these goals have been achieved. If not, determine whether it is feasible to continue on in order to achieve the goals.
When others cannot continue, include time in the next meeting or schedule a follow-up session to effectively complete the conversation.
Ask for Feedback
During the opening, you asked for permission to gather feedback at the end of the meeting. Now is the time to ask a few key attendees to give you feedback on ONE thing you did well, and ONE thing you could do differently next time to better serve them or to make the meeting more effective.
Respond only with “thank you”, avoiding explaining or offering excuses. Ask questions if you need additional clarity or specific examples and record the feedback you receive.
Pro Tip: Explicitly Integrate Feedback – Include a space in your meeting agenda and notes to ask for and record feedback. Before your next meeting, go back and review the feedback you previously received so you can acknowledge how you are incorporating this feedback into the subsequent meeting. This demonstrates you are actively listening and working to improve the way you perform and the way you serve others. During your next interaction, explicitly calling out how you’re integrating the feedback you’ve received will help build your credibility and will result in others feeling heard and valued for their input.
After you have received feedback, it’s your turn to give a gift to the attendees. One simple way to do this is by acknowledging their contributions during the meeting. A simple “thank you” is fine; however, citing a specific example will show that you’re observant and that you value each individual’s input.
Here’s an example: “Joe, thank you for asking such impactful questions. Your curiosity and fresh perspective bring a lot of value to your team and to our conversations.” Avoid thanking people for their time because this has the connotation that their time is more important than your own.
Acknowledging a specific contribution establishes deeper connections with attendees and can help what may seem like disconnected, remote, virtual work feel more lively, authentic, and inclusive.
In the midst of the stress of a crisis, you can also use this time to ask attendees to name one thing they’re grateful for or happy about in their lives today to help keep spirits up and to shift perspectives towards hopeful and confident optimism.
End Early When Possible
Time is a finite and important resource in our daily lives, yet many meetings tend to expand and fill the time allotted for them. Avoid this common trap by staying on track with your time-boxed agenda.
In today’s environment, it is even more desirable and considerate to have a surplus of time at the end of your meeting, because people may have children, pets, or other responsibilities to attend to now that many services are closed.
It’s also a good idea to give your attendees the gift of time back into their day so they can engage in the self-care and re-energizing strategies we discussed earlier. Even if you can only give 5 minutes back, it makes a big difference for people, especially when their schedules are packed with back-to-back meetings.
One way to meet the diverse needs of all attendees is having the meeting leader offer to stay on the phone or video conference in the extra time for those who need some social interaction, allowing those who don’t to hop off and still end on time.
Pro Tip: Schedule buffer time in your calendar immediately following your meeting, including relevant team members, so you can review the notes and add any insights or important items before you forget them.
Be the magnetic, trusted advisor others need by using these tips as a map to navigate the choppy, murky waters of today’s environment!
Visit TiaPappas.com to learn more about the author of this article.