How to run an effective virtual meeting

Cassy Aite
August 18, 2021
How to run an effective virtual meeting

Virtual meetings have emerged as an indispensable fixture at most organizations. This shift became more apparent over the last year when the average number of meetings per person went up by 12.9%, and the number of attendees per meeting increased by 13.5%.

Although virtual meetings have become commonplace, they are far from perfect. The virtual element introduces a variety of complications. Technical difficulties, communication, and meeting overkill are the major issues organizations grapple with.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into virtual meetings and look at how to run a virtual meeting, avoid common mistakes, and make the event more engaging. Let’s dive in!

What is a virtual meeting?

A virtual meeting is an online interaction that allows people across the world to join via a video conferencing platform, chat application, and similar collaboration tools.

Virtual meetings offer a time-efficient alternative to in-person meetings as team members or clients can quickly join the session — no need to get dressed up or do a long commute.

Although virtual meetings used to be impromptu and unstructured, the pandemic-led transformation of the workplace means that organizations are looking to design their virtual meetings more deliberately. After all, they are the most sophisticated meeting mechanism we currently have.

How to run a successful virtual meeting

Running online meetings is radically different from face-to-face meetings. Factors like your video conferencing platform, the number of participants, and the participants' time zones influence planning, scheduling, and even meeting outcomes.

In this section, we'll look at five steps you can take to run successful virtual meetings.

1. Pick the right virtual meeting tools

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to picking the right set of virtual meeting tools. Here are three key considerations to keep in mind when shortlisting tools:

  • How many people are attending? If there are only a handful of people, you can go for a simpler meeting platform. For larger meetings, pick a robust platform that can scale with your team's headcount.
  • What features would you need? Consider whether your meetings would benefit from features like session recording, breakout rooms, live chat, screen sharing, whiteboards, and gamification when evaluating tools.
  • Will you be collaborating during the meeting? If the meeting consists of brainstorming or a session where multiple people will be contributing simultaneously, it helps to pick a collaboration tool or suite like Google Workspace.

2. Create a meeting agenda

There are few things as inefficient as an unplanned meeting.

The agenda gives a structure to the meeting and ensures that the meeting serves its purpose. Ask yourself these questions to design the agenda for your next meeting:

  • What is the purpose? Define the goals and objectives of the meeting. Clearly state whether you are going to brainstorm, discuss a problem, announce an update, or just learn what everyone is up to.
  • What is the structure? Decide how long the meeting will last, who will speak at the meeting, who will attend, what the discussion topics are, and how long each speaker will spend presenting. Don’t forget to factor in breaks, Q&As, and — if the meeting involves clients or prospects — a networking session.
  • Are there any time zone considerations? For global or distributed teams and clientele, take into account various time zones to avoid scheduling conflicts.

3. Define virtual meeting etiquette

Meeting etiquette refers to ground rules that help you ensure smooth execution of the virtual meeting. Here are a few etiquette rules you can ask your participants to follow:

  • Log in five minutes early and test their equipment (such as their mic, camera, internet access, and meeting tools) to ensure everything works well.
  • Turn off mobile notifications or put their phones on silent. The rings-dings of mobile notifications can distract everyone during the meeting.
  • Mention their name before they speak or ask a question.
  • Turn off their mic when they're not speaking. This will eliminate the unnecessary background chatter and noise. Participants can also use the chat section to add questions or suggestions so that the moderator or presenter can take note of them.
  • Read the meeting agenda thoroughly before the meeting begins.

Tip: When sending out the meeting agenda to participants, mention the software apps and tools required to attend the meeting, along with the instructions on how to install, use, and troubleshoot basic issues. It also helps to send reference material to allow attendees to prepare for the meeting.

4. Run the meeting

You've planned the virtual meeting meticulously, set the agenda, and invited everyone. Now, it’s time to run the meeting. Here are a few things to keep in mind as the meeting is in progress:

  • Invite the attendees to introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting. You can also begin with a small icebreaker if it fits the theme or context.
  • If the meeting requires everyone’s participation, plan it so everyone gets a chance to speak. In an organizational setup, you’re bound to have silent participants — people who are generally introverts or aren’t fans of large meetings. Ask for their thoughts, suggestions, or ideas so they feel comfortable participating.
  • Stick to the meeting agenda. Ping presenters for time checks so the meeting runs smoothly.
  • Dedicate time to answer questions so that the sessions don’t become too long from answering impromptu questions. Depending on the context, you can also add time for a networking session for clients.

5. Post-meeting roundup

After the meeting, send everyone the meeting summary, action items, and next steps. It's always helpful to have the minutes recorded, either manually or through a smart assistant. If the meeting requires a follow-up, discuss it during the meeting and mention it in the roundup.

You can collect feedback from participants after the meeting via one-on-one conversations or surveys. This will help you understand the meeting experience.

5 common virtual meeting mistakes to avoid

A virtual meeting bingo card

Running a virtual meeting the same way you would run a face-to-face meeting is a surefire way to sabotage the meeting. The lack of in-person interaction is the biggest hindrance to virtual meetings as you can’t read the attendees’ expressions and body language to tweak your presentation.

Here are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid when running a virtual meeting.

1. Not considering Zoom fatigue

The excess of virtual meetings has led to a phenomenon known as Zoom fatigue. Stanford researchers have identified the following four main reasons for the phenomenon:

  • Staring continuously into everyone’s eyes through the screen is intense.
  • Seeing yourself constantly in the meeting window is fatiguing.
  • Virtual meetings contribute to our sedentary lifestyle.
  • Virtual meetings are mentally taxing.

The easiest fix to this is to have fewer meetings, but that’s not always possible. Especially when you’re working with a virtual team.

Instead, you can batch the meeting so attendees can take small breaks, turn off their camera, and walk away from their desks after each session. You can also make attendance voluntary for teams and individuals when their presence would be helpful but not required. In such cases, you can ask for their input via email or other communication channels before the meeting.

2. Relying too much on rich media

Using GIFs, videos, or other similar motion graphics in presentations can make it difficult to render them correctly and lead to technical issues. This directly impacts the meeting experience.

It’s better to stick to a basic presentation format with a slide deck. You can standardize it by creating a template that everyone can follow.

Share the rich media files or an alternate presentation containing rich media before or after the meeting so participants can view them without any barriers to comprehension.

3. Lack of personalization

Virtual meetings can be drag. Especially larger, company-wide or department-wide meetings.

Instead of using the platform as a way to communicate information, use it to interact with the attendees. Shy people are hesitant to speak up or don’t use the opportunity to express themselves. To ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak, you can specifically ask for their insights or opinions. This act will also create an environment where everyone will feel confident to share without hesitation.

4. Poorly planned meeting agendas

Certain topics can spark arguments or disagreements due to their polarizing nature. Politics, sports, or even the movies could invite a lot of disagreements among employees. It's best to avoid these topics.

Similarly, scheduling a major announcement later in the meeting can cause participants to disengage earlier in the meeting because of the anticipation.

Considering how you want the topics to flow can help you plan effective meetings. So, in an ideal scenario, all big announcements should be made at the start, and topics that are likely to cause arguments or a lot of back and forth should be planned for a standalone meeting.

5. Passively engaged participants

Staring at the screen for a long duration without any activity is yawn-inducing. Rather than involving only a few people, you can have multiple moderators to encourage employee participation. For example, the group chat can get flooded with questions or random input. Assign a moderator for each session so attendees can chat with them to ask questions. You can also assign a notetaker and get more people engaged by having these responsibilities rotate with each meeting.

Making virtual meetings more collaborative leads to engaged participants.

5 virtual meeting best practices to boost engagement

Now that we know how to run a virtual meeting and avoid the most common mistakes, here are five ways to make your meetings more engaging.

1. Gamify learning

Gamification improves communication and engagement by rewarding active participation. Schedule a quiz at the end of every session to enhance comprehension and knowledge retention. Attendees with the highest scores get various rewards. You can implement similar ideas to collect feedback or improve brainstorming sessions.

Gamifying the meeting de-stresses the participants and reorients them for the next part of the meeting.

2. Bring in experiential elements

A virtual meeting experience that allows attendees to order food

Experiential elements such as virtual lunches or live performances provide a personalized experience for the attendees. Regardless of whether you are organizing an internal or external meeting, introducing an experiential aspect can significantly boost engagement. One way to do this is by giving out virtual credit cards to your attendees.

A virtual credit card to use as an incentive for virtual meeting participation

You can customize these cards by selecting vendors (restaurants, cafes, delivery partners, etc.), setting spending limits, and setting a card deactivation date so meeting attendees know where, how much, and when they can spend their funds. This way, everyone can order food and beverages from their favorite places and enjoy the break together.

Vendors that meeting attendees can shop with using their virtual credit card

The unspent money is deposited back into your account, so you save money compared to traditional gift cards or catering options.

3. Warm-up during breaks

We touched upon how virtual meetings can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle in an earlier section. A simple antidote to this is to get moving. Simple exercises such as desk yoga can improve breathing, stretch the neck, shoulders, and elbows, and re-energize the spine.

If you are presenting, you can do some vocal exercises such as tongue trills, hums, and lip rolls to warm-up your voice. A warmed-up voice sounds confident and engages the audience better.

4. Have a dress code for the meeting

This suggestion may seem out of place, but hear us out! The reason why regular runners and gym enthusiasts recommend using a dedicated set of workout clothes is because they prepare your mind for the workout session when you wear them.

The intention of introducing a dress code for the virtual meeting is the same. A dress code primes your brain to get it in the zone for the meeting. Of course, when we say dress code, it doesn’t have to be all suits and pressed collared shirts. For internal team meetings, you can keep an informal dress code and get creative with it!

5. Schedule time to unwind after the meeting

After every in-person meeting or conference room discussion, you probably head out for a small break or gather at the water cooler and discuss what happened.

You can use breakout rooms to replicate the water cooler break. At the end of the virtual meeting, you can split attendees into small groups to encourage discussion and brainstorming.

Alternatively, you can open the floor to let them share what they think, ask questions, and express disagreements at the end of the meeting, which you can address in the meeting or in the post-meeting email.

Let’s Meet!

Organizing and running virtual meetings can feel daunting as you look to improve engagement. The best way to run an effective virtual meeting is to onboard a team and assign specific tasks to people.

To get closer to virtual meeting zen, check out our extensive suite of event experience solutions. With Hoppier, no two meetings are the same.

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