Meetings are difficult enough, but remote meetings present their own unique challenges. Yet in most organizations, conference calls and virtual meetings are standard business practice. Whether it’s on a conference call or a shared screen, here are the 6 hacks to help make your next remote meeting a success.
When planning a remote meeting, ask: “What are we trying to accomplish?” “What are the required logistics of the meeting participants?” Then, choose the right format. If you need to brainstorm, weigh an idea’s pros and cons, problem solve, or discuss complex issues, hold a virtual meeting with the visual benefit of a shared screen on which you write the points people make. This lets people see all factors and not polarize on one. Insist everyone uses and logs in visually by using software such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom or Adobe Connect. If you just need an update to understand and interact on that information, a conference call may do. Once you’ve chosen the format, inform all attendees.
For a successful meeting, you need an agenda. Send it to participants 3 days ahead, and request they have it in front of them at the meeting. Include realistic timeframes so items aren’t cut short to end on time, and statements of purpose and focus for each agenda item to stay on course and avoid tangents. A statement of purpose is 1-2 sentences on why the agenda item is more important than the 10 million other things everyone knows they have to do. A statement of focus clarifies what you need from participants; i.e. their ideas, considerations, etc.
3. Speaking Order
In conference calls people can’t raise their hands. In virtual meetings it’s too easy to talk over each other, or be too polite and say nothing. A circular order (around the room) gives everyone airtime. Unless the meeting is informal, include this on the agenda. For more accountability, establish a random order, in which you as organizer call on everyone in no particular pattern — when it’s their turn, they had better be ready. Stick to the speaking order when it’s time for the meeting. When it’s their turn, people can either speak, pass, or say “Come back to me.” If the conference call mixes people in the same room with those in remote locations, let the remote people go first to help them feel more included.
4. “Call in by” or “Log in by” Time
Set a “call in by” or “log in by” time that’s about four to five minutes before the meeting starts. Otherwise attendees may be late — whether they lose the log-in information, have a computer glitch, just habitually wait until the last minute to dial in, get an e-mail or wind up talking to a coworker.
5. Unusual Start and End Times
For example: “Log in between 8:53 a.m. and 8:57 a.m. The meeting will start promptly at 9:02 a.m.” Weird times are memorable, and force people to calculate: (“At 8:45 I’ll be on that side of the building. To get to my computer, it will take…”). The net result will be a greater likelihood of people calling in and logging in on time. As the call organizer, stick to unusual times for each agenda item as well (i.e., 9:02 a.m. – 9:17 a.m. Questions on the new policy). This shows you are paying attention to and respecting time.
6. Punctual Start
Start on time, period. Otherwise, you train people to come late. Even better, block latecomers. True, some agenda items may suffer without the “right” people there. But you only have to do this once or twice before everyone gets the message you are serious about starting on time. In the future, they’ll make sure they do.
Stay tuned for 6 more epic hacks for successful remote meetings in next month’s blog post!
Dr. Rick Brinkman is a communications expert who teaches Conscious Communication® for leadership, teamwork, customer service, and effective meetings. Since 1987 he’s performed more than 4,000 programs in 17 countries, sharing his insights on human behavior and strategies for practical communication. Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst has been translated into 25 languages. His newest book is Dealing With Meetings You Can’t Stand: Meet Less and Do More.