10 Tips to Host a Successful Virtual Meeting

Mackenzie Bruins

In the wake of COVID-19, traditional in-person meetings are shifting to virtual platforms with individuals and organizations adapting the way they prepare for, host or participate in, and follow up from these meetings. Prior to COVID-19, the Berlineaton team had been delivering virtually in approximately 20% of our engagements.  Since mid-March 2020, we have been delivering workshops exclusively in this virtual environment – to groups of up to 40 individuals and up to 2 days in length.  

Here are 10 tips you might find helpful when hosting or attending a virtual meeting:

Before Your Meeting… 

  1. Connect with session participants in advance of the meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page about the purpose of the meeting and to understand their expectations. Then design the agenda to meet their needs.

Depending on the time you have available, make use of brief 1:1 interviews or surveys to allow participants to share questions or concerns, provide input, and gain clarity.  Get a feel for what success looks like and use these insights to design an appropriate agenda and set yourself and participants up for a successful meeting.

  1. Develop and circulate the meeting invitation, agenda, and pre-reading materials well in advance of the meeting, including technology links and downloads. 

Sending relevant meeting information in advance and giving participants time to digest it will mean that in-session time is spent more productively.  For material that is lengthy or complex, consider asking participants to review it in advance and spend in-session time facilitating a discussion or fielding questions. This prevents disengagement and increases active participation. 

  1. Help participants test their technology. 

Schedule “tech check” meetings in advance of the meeting (even if it’s just a few minutes before the official start time) to allow participants to test the technology platform including any features (e.g. polling, chatting, and screen sharing). This ensures your meeting will start on time and run without interruptions. 

  1. Set yourself up for optimal video presentation. 

Use these best practices for video conferencing to put your best foot forward: 

  • Use an organized bookcase or a solid, neutral coloured wall as a background 
  • Wear solid, neutral coloured clothing
  • Keep your webcam slightly above or at eye level 
  • Ensure your light source is in front of or slightly to the side of you to prevent shadows.

During Your Meeting… 

  1. Set expectations for video, audio, dialogue, and disruptions. 

Ask participants to leave their cameras on throughout the meeting and turn their audio on mute when they are not speaking. Set out how participants can signal that they wish to speak if this is not a built-in feature of the platform you are using for the meeting.  Ask participants to turn off their cameras if they need to attend to a disruption. Have participants notify you (the Meeting Host) via the chat function if they must step away and to let you know when they will return. 

  1. Identify who is taking notes and ensure that you capture real-time feedback.

Ideally, a note-taker for the meeting should be identified in advance of the meeting.  If no one has been assigned, ask one of the participants to capture key discussion points, feedback, decisions, actions, and next steps. 

  1. Build breaks into the agenda.

Ensure that you build in breaks throughout the meeting.  Our rule of thumb is to schedule 15-minute breaks for every 2 hours of virtual meeting time.  Check-in regularly with participants about engagement and fatigue. Generally, the more people at the meeting and the longer the length, the more breaks are required.

  1. Allow everyone to participate and be heard. 

To ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, balance the agenda with time for individual reflection, small group work, and large group discussion.  Capture key feedback from all these sources via polls, votes, chat box comments, whiteboard notes, and report outs.  The more variability you can offer the less participants will feel the fatigue often cited about online meetings.

After Your Meeting…

  1. Follow-up each meeting with next steps. 

Distribute meeting notes with next steps – including accountabilities and timelines – after each meeting. 

  1. Ask for feedback about meeting and use the feedback to improve your next meeting.

Distribute a brief online survey of participants and ask: what worked well, what didn’t, and what should be done differently the next time.  Summarize this feedback and include it in the session notes.

As with everything else, there is no shortcut to hosting an effective virtual meeting – invest in appropriate preparation, thoughtful in-session facilitation, and timely post-session follow up and evaluation to make your next virtual meeting a success!

Want more tips? Check out our blog on how to lead great virtual meetings.

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