When was the last time you had an in-person meeting? Let’s face it: today’s work rendezvous are becoming increasingly more electronic. While online or virtual meetings can be convenient, they also detract from participant accountability by providing more room to lose people’s attention. When people are distracted, meetings lose focus and require more time for repetition.
To keep your meetings—and your schedule—on track, consider these six tips and transform your routine.
- Agenda action—Whether your meeting participants are located across the building or the world, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. While formal agendas may not be as in vogue as they once were, reinstate the practice. Include the meeting’s topics in the body of your calendar invite or email out a document 24-48 hours before the designated time. This will provide all parties the chance to set their expectations regarding the meeting goals. And yes—if you’re the recipient of a meeting agenda, read it! Even if you’re familiar with the project or discussion topics, you may learn important information about the perspectives or concerns on the table, and it’s never fun being blindsided.
- Prep your (Ps and) Qs—Whether your meeting has a set agenda or not, make sure you know what your goals are. Before the meeting, compile any notes or background information you may need to reference as well as any questions. Having a prepared list or set of bullet points will relieve the pressure of thinking of any questions on the spot as well as allowing you to engage with the discussion at hand. Feel free to jot down questions on the agenda if there is one, or set up your notes document ahead of time with initial goals or thoughts at the top. No matter your preparation style, following this preparation practice will ensure you’re reminded of your own agenda the day of the meeting.
- Troubleshoot your tech—Whether it’s your first online meeting or your millionth, make sure you know how to use your technology. Confirm how to dial in and that your speakers work. If you need internet to access your conference or your (meeting-related) email or notes, check that Wi-Fi! Initial frustrations often develop when that one person needs one more minute to access the conference line. Don’t be that cause—get to your conference room early and dial in. Even if you set your phone to mute until other people join, at least you can focus on the content of your talk rather than getting there in the first place.
- Sharing is caring—If you are reviewing any information with accompanying visuals or statistics or if you’re referencing external documents, make sure everyone can follow along. Set up a screen share so that you can direct your audience’s attention and keep everyone on the same page. This step may alleviate the “Wait! Where are we?” questions as well as the “Hold on, I have to get to the right page.” Sharing your screen eliminates the need for those pauses and moments of confusion. Just remember: if you’re sharing your screen, make sure to turn off any email, phone or messaging programs or notifications to avoid any uncomfortable announcements.
- Be direct— One of the challenges of online meetings is knowing who is about to speak or who needs to jump in. Based on the meeting participants and their personalities, virtual meetings can range on the spectrum of everyone talking over each other to long pauses after someone’s finished speaking. To avoid indistinct vocal jumbles or empty air time, frame questions specifically to other meeting participants. If people are working together or relying on other steps in the process to move forward, don’t be afraid to ask them specifically if they have anything to add or additional questions. By being direct with turning the conversation, you’ll ensure that you’ve maximized meeting time while allowing everyone to be heard.
- Personality perks—Online, phone or virtual meetings can be a drag—you don’t have body language to read how people are responding or whether they’re following along. To remedy the possibility of losing people’s focus, keep your personality primed. Be as personable as you would be in person—or more so, as the meeting requires. High energy will engage your audience and keep them tuned in to the topics at hand. They wouldn’t want to lose track, especially if you have a habit of asking people directly how they respond to a point. With everyone involved at the top of their meeting game, your meeting points will be addressed quickly, and you’ll cover more material in less time.
No matter the meeting format, there’s no need to get lost in the virtual shuffle. By being prepared and engaging your colleagues, your meetings will be clear and on target with your goals.