Virtual meetings have become a staple in the professional workplace, allowing for a simulated face-to-face experience that serves as a viable substitute for the real thing.

With recent events surrounding COVID-19, many businesses find themselves utterly dependent on virtual meetings to conduct business, keep projects moving forward and communicate with remote staff and clients. And while nothing can fully replace an in-person meeting, taking the right approach can ensure a successful outcome. Here are 9 tips for running a great virtual business meeting.

1. Use a solid video conference solution and work out technical glitches beforehand

Every virtual meeting requires technology to make it possible. And there are numerous video conferencing solutions available today, with Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype and WebEx being just a few of the most popular. Most solutions share a similar feature set, with subtle differences in their options and interface. As you find your company more dependent on video conferencing software than ever before, you made need to reevaluate the solution that is right for your needs.

Once you’ve adopted the right solution, it’s important to work through all the kinks and glitches to ensure that all meetings run as smoothly and issue-free as possible. Take the time to learn how to use any and all features and learn the nuances of operating the software. Leverage glitches on internal meetings as learning opportunities to ensure a more glitch-free experience during client meetings.  

2. Adopt a mandatory video-on policy

There’s no getting around the fact that virtual meetings are better when video cameras are being used. Remember, one of your goals should be to make virtual meetings feel as much like an in-person meeting as possible. So being able to see the other people “in the meeting” plays an important role in maximizing communication. Communication is simply more effective when non-verbal clues can be picked up on and when faces are visible and facial expressions and body language are on display. All attendees (unless a client declined your request) should have their camera on for every virtual meeting and each participant should sit close to their webcam in order to simulate the intimacy of an in-person meeting.

Make virtual meetings feel as much like an in-person meeting as possible.

3. Follow face-to-face meeting etiquette

One of the most important rules to follow for virtual meetings is to make sure everyone follows face-to-face meeting etiquette even though you are in a virtual environment. In other words, if it’s not acceptable in an in-person meeting, it shouldn’t be acceptable in a virtual meeting. Unless it’s a working lunch, you shouldn’t be chowing down on food. You don’t get up and walk around the room. You don’t check out. You don’t take phone calls. You turn off audible notifications from email, slack and text messages. Everyone’s approach to a virtual meeting should be the same approach to an in-person meeting.

4. Don’t allow multitasking

Along the lines of the previous point, multitasking should not be allowed or tolerated. Attentiveness and engagement are crucial to a great meeting, so all attendees should be singularly focused on the meeting at hand, not responding to emails, slack or text messages. While there is great temptation to multitask during a virtual meeting, the rules of engagement should be respected and enforced. In fact, research shows that multitasking harms your performance and negatively impacts the effectiveness of a virtual meeting.

5. Acknowledge everyone in the virtual room

Just as everyone is greeted by name as they join an in-person meeting, the same should apply in a virtual environment. It may seem like an insignificant thing, but simply saying hello and acknowledging every participant by name will do wonders to enhance collaboration, unity and meeting success. If there are participants that don’t know one another, brief introductions are essential to get the meeting started off right. 

6. Share the mic—get everyone involved

While this is true of in-person meetings as well, virtual meetings by nature can be dominated by the more dominate personalities and the extroverts on the call. It’s easier to shrink back in a virtual meeting and fly under the proverbial radar. But meeting leaders should not allow this to take place. Every participant should have a voice and it is the duty of those running the meeting to get everyone involved.

It’s the duty of those running the meeting to get everyone involved.

So what are some ways to get the quieter, more introverted participants involved? It starts by intentionally seeking out their input and giving them “screen time” by asking them probing questions that allow the opportunity for their voice to be heard. Here are some questions to consider asking:

  • Ask for their opinions on specific tasks/projects—even if they aren’t part of the project team
  • Ask for quick updates about their priorities, challenges, successes, etc.
  • Ask if they have anything to add to viewpoints that have already been shared by others
  • Ask if they need any help with their workload or if they have capacity to give 

7. Focus on what’s most important

During a time when people are participating in more virtual meetings than ever before, it remains essential to keep each meeting focused on what is most important. Every virtual meeting should have an agenda and a clear objective. Be sensitive to everyone’s time and cognizant of the abundance of virtual meetings that are taking place throughout the day. Stick to the agenda, avoid rabbit trails and take minor issues and other conversations that don’t impact the entire group, offline.

Every virtual meeting should have an agenda and a clear objective.

8. Keep them short and sweet

With the sheer abundance of virtual meetings taking place these days, keeping these meetings as short and efficient as possible should be an objective. It’s best to try to keep your meetings at one hour or less, ideally between 15 to 45 minutes to make optimum use of the time and so that every participant can stay focused. If an hour or less isn’t sufficient to cover all that you need to cover, consider breaking the meeting up into two separate meetings, or plan a 15 minute “bio break” to allow your team a chance to get up and  stretch, respond to emails and or personal things that may be required of them. Long meetings—especially virtual meetings—provide challenges for participants to stay focused and not become bored or lose interest. Short and sweet meetings are the recipe for increased productivity and meeting success.

9. Make sure you actually need a virtual meeting

There are now a plethora of virtual meetings taking place throughout the day for each and every one of your staff, partners and clients, which can lead to screen fatigue. While regular communication and video “face time” is necessary in a virtual work environment, it’s also important to stop and consider in each instance whether a virtual meeting is required. Over-communicating can be as unhelpful as under communicating. We need to make sure that we allow people the space to get deep work done and focus on the tasks at hand.

Adapt to the nuances of virtual meetings

While virtual business meetings share similarities to their in-person counterparts, it’s important to identify and adapt to the differences. A great virtual meeting doesn’t happen without intentionality and effort. But by following these and other principles, you can ensure a more effective meeting and successful outcomes.