Running an effective online meeting

While face-to-face communication is the easiest way to share an idea or ensure an action is taken, it’s simply not possible to conduct business this way all the time. Where time and geographical distance is an issue, face to face meetings need to be supplemented with virtual meetings.

Online meetings — webinars, video and conference calling — are therefore a key part of social and business communication. This article looks to help explain how to run and participate in online meetings.

As you’ll see below, running any meeting follows core principles of preparation and follow-up. This is even more important when you’re online and you can’t always get clear visual clues that the other participants understand what’s needed of them.

The following are our top tips for conducting or participating in online meetings.

1) Preparing for the meeting. Just as for a face-to-face meeting, it is critical you are prepared for an online meeting: be clear on the purpose, send out an agenda in advance and make sure all those participating are aware of their role and what is expected of them.

Send out invitations (and reminders) to the meeting well in advance and make sure you know who will be attending and where they are based. Most calendar tools (e.g. outlook) make it easy to send invitations via email and provide dial-in or log-in details.

Prepare and send out suitable materials in advance. Online meetings, in particular, work well when accompanied with creative material to keep people engaged. Think about visual slides, video clips, links to articles etc that are relevant to the subject.

Online meetings, just like a face-to-face meetings work best when there is active involvement from the participants, rather than one person giving a lecture. Plan an agenda that encourages involvement through periodic polls, through asking different participants to lead on a particular issue (just make sure they prepared in advance) or stopping to check if there are any questions or issues others want to raise.

2) Know how to use the technology. Online meetings will use some form of technology interface such as your phone, computer or video calling system. You therefore need to know how to set it up, use it properly and resolve any problems that may occur. If you’re not familiar with the technology, it might be worth connecting to the call 10–15 minutes early in case you need to download any software.

Remember that if your meeting involves screen sharing, remember to turn off chat or messaging services operating on your computer as these will be visible to other users. You may also want to shut down any other programs that may interfere with the web- or video-conferencing software.

There are some great technology tips here.

3) Stay focused during the meeting. It is tempting in an online meeting to multi-task, especially if the format is a conference call. Even in video calls some people forget they are being watched and therefore reads their emails or do other work. Don’t. You need to stay engaged, participate where possible and get involved in the debate. This is not just good business practice; culturally it can be considered offensive not to show your undivided attention.

A top tip is never to attend a meeting where you’re unclear about the value you add or the purpose of the meeting. If you don’t believe you should be prioritizing this meeting over other work you have, let the chairperson know or decline the meeting, perhaps asking for the actions and output notes so you’re aware of what actions resulted.

Avoid external distraction — this is a business meeting, so if you work from home you need to make sure the family does not interrupt you and that you cut out distracting external noise and put mobile phones to silent.

4) Keep to time. An online meeting works best if it lasts a maximum of one hour. The organiser or chairman’s role is to cover the topics in that time and to ensure that the meeting ends when expected. If the meeting looks like it will overrun, either clarify that people are able to continue for 10–15 minutes or suggest that a further meeting is scheduled to cover the remaining issues.

5) Post meeting follow up. As with any good meeting, the follow up is critical, especially when actions have been agreed. After your meeting, e-mail the participants highlighting the main discussion points, the actions agreed, who is responsible for implementation and by when. This email should also include the day and time of the next meeting, if appropriate.

Online meetings in the form or webinars, conference call and video calls are a key part of global business interaction today especially where geographic distance and time are and issue.

Proper preparation is required especially with regards set up and use of the technology and good meeting practice needs to be maintained in terms of preparation, active participation and staying focused and following up after the meeting.

At BuzzMeetings, we are dedicated to providing a service that removes the hassle of organising and participating a conference call, which enables you to concentrate on what is important; engaging your audience and delivering value to your business.

We understand, however, that part of this is also to understand when conference calls are relevant — there are times when you’ll not be able to achieve your goal over the phone. Our next article talks a little more about what formats meetings can take and how you can chose which one is best for you.