Every year, 37 billion dollars are wasted in unproductive meetings. With an average of 11 million face-to-face and virtual meetings going on daily in the United States, chances are you have experienced one that feels like the humorous enactment below.
But death by virtual meeting doesn’t have to be your fate.
Today I’m not here to talk about the technology behind video conference calls. I’m here to tell you that choosing reliable technology is only one chapter of your next virtual meeting success story.
At the end of the day, the story behind any successful meeting is in the preparation and attention to the small details that yield big dividends.
Once you have reliable technology support in place, the following strategies will help your meeting shine, stand above the noise, and deliver big ROI.
1. Start and Finish with ONE End in Mind
What is the ONE objective you want to accomplish with your meeting? The most effective conference calls (or any meeting for that matter) focus their attention on accomplishing one goal. Every item on the agenda is designed to accomplish this one objective.
I can assure you that single focus, shorter meetings are infinitely more productive than long winded ones. This is not always possible. However, you can increase the meeting’s ROI by keeping the agenda simple (3 to 4 main points that support the key objective are enough to provide structure and leave room for creative input), connecting the dots throughout the meeting, and tying loose ends before everyone signs off.
Tip: Communicate expectations, logistics, and the brief agenda ahead of time. Follow up and communicate action items immediately after the meeting is over.
2. Remove Distractions
Consider your surroundings and ambient noise. What may have become familiar to you can be very distracting for your participants. Remove as many visual and auditory distractions as you can or attendees won’t be able to focus.
Turn off technology alerts. Minimize office traffic and outdoor noise. Consider what elements of your appearance or mannerisms can be distracting. The best way to become more self-aware is to ask for feedback from a colleague or trusted mentor.
Tip: If you connect from home, your live cat or his portrait sitting on the shelf behind you may be stealing the show.
3. Create a Winning Experience
Don’t just be concerned with the content you want to discuss. Consider the experience you provide for participants. Set ground rules ahead of time. For example, set settings to “Audio Off” and “Video Off” when participants enter the meeting, so they don’t disrupt the flow if they’re late or aren’t ready for a close-up.
Ask them to mute their lines when they aren’t actively participating and to use the chat or “raise hand” feature when they want to speak, so you can yield the floor.
Affirm attendees by referencing their names and helping connect dots between speakers. Then, summarize key points at the end of the meeting to provide fruitful closure.
Tip: A meeting experience that invigorates and inspires can be both a pleasant surprise for everyone involved and also your competitive advantage.
4. Interrupt Patterns and Constantly Re-engage
Video conference has pluses and minuses. When used effectively, it adds a human touch to the conversation and makes everyone feel more connected.
On the flip side, talking heads and distracted faces can send the wrong message, considering that non-verbal communication can vary from 60% to 93%.
Interrupt the “talking head” pattern by switching things up: Share your screen to illustrate a point with engaging slides that will lure them back. Ask questions. Check for understanding. Facilitate helpful transitions that keep the conversation on point: “Jeff, connect the dots for us…”
Tip: Listen to understand, not just to respond. Remember that slight delays may lead to people talking over each other. Take a breath before you jump into the conversation.
5. Prevent Death by Slides
If you aren’t using your visuals to support your story… if they aren’t your ally to keep participants engaged, you can start today.
Simple, uncluttered, and out-of-the-box slides don’t need to be costly or put together by a professional slide designer.
If you think your content can’t be simplified, it’s probably because you’re too close to the information. Involve someone else in the process. As a rule of thumb, keep slides simple and clean. One main point per slide.
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
Although fewer slides are best during face to face meetings, the opposite is true for virtual meetings.
Tip: Think of each visual as an opportunity to lure attendees back to the conversation and inspire “Oh, I need to pay attention to this…” moments.
6. Bring Your Executive Presence
Lack of eye contact is still a huge hurdle to overcome in video conferencing. Until we get closer to duplicating a face-to-face experience, show up ready to make an impact.
Sit up straight. Dress for success. Smile. Pump up your inner confidence and the odds your confidence will come across by adopting one of Amy Cuddy’s now famous two minute Power Poses—before the meeting begins.
When it’s your time to speak, look into the camera, not the thumbnails of participants’ faces. Use a sticky note with an arrow next to the camera to remind you where to look.
Tip: For high stakes meetings, practice before the meeting to see how you are coming across to your audience. Get feedback. Practice. Practice. Practice.
7. Bring Reinforcements
A professional facilitator can be your secret weapon.
A facilitator can help you and everyone else be fully present by keeping an eye on the chat section, addressing technology issues, keeping the conversation on point, and moving the conversation seamlessly from one participant to the next.
Tip: When the outcome and ROI of the meeting matter most, don’t leave the results to change. Be fully present and let a someone else do the heavy lifting.
Bringing it all together
Designing and facilitating a successful virtual meeting is both an art and a science—a balancing act that ultimately yields creativity when needed, value at every level, and forward movement that continues beyond the meeting. Bottom line: the story behind successful virtual meetings is about intentional attention to preparation and the little details.
- Starting and Closing with ONE end in mind
- Remove distractions
- Create a winning experience
- Interrupt patterns and constantly re-engage
- Prevent death by slides
- Bring in your executive presence
- Bring reinforcements
What did I miss? Which of the above strategies will you implement to take your virtual meeting to the next level?