As most of life’s activities come to a halt in the face of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), virtual meetings and events have overnight gone from a convenient technological tool to a necessity to keep business moving forward. At Avant Healthcare, we’ve been executing virtual meetings, advisory boards, and other programming types for more than 14 years. We know that although virtual meetings are a convenient way to connect, they do require some forethought and prework to be successful.
For Virtual Meeting Hosts
When hosting a virtual meeting, consider all scheduling nuances—time zones, conflicts, other events. Time zones are especially crucial to keep top of mind since virtual meeting participants can be spread out across many states or countries, a problem you simply don’t have with face-to-face meetings. Another thing to do before the meeting starts is to prepare virtual handouts—agenda, presentation, background documents—and share them with the participants beforehand in case of a software or connection failure.
Choose the right platform for the needs of the meeting. There are many options out there and not everything is a one-size-fits all. A strong meeting plan or agenda can help drive to the correct platform choice.
Speaking of system failures, it is essential to test all connections before executing a virtual meeting. This includes the software and the Internet connection. You’ll also want to test all equipment: speakers, headphones, microphones (it’s good idea to get professional equipment rather than relying solely on what’s built into your computer). Additionally, you’ll want to designate a technology troubleshooter before the meeting, someone who can be relied upon to take care of any tech issues that arise. Have a backup plan in place and communicate this out to all presenters and hosts.
Lastly, you’ll want to plan to make the meeting engaging. Build in time for chitchat and let attendees get to know each other better before the meeting. Have a moderator who can engage and connect with the attendees. This will result in a stronger relationship among attendees and potentially a more fruitful discussion. You’ll also want to use collaborative tools (polling questions, white board, or other note-taking tools) and set aside time to solicit feedback from participants. Finally, let remote participants engage in smaller groups that will foster deeper conversation and designate a leader for each group to keep the conversation going.
For Virtual Meeting Attendees
Treat virtual meetings like you would a live one. You should find a space (preferably an in-home office) where you can focus solely on the meeting. This space should have a good Internet connection and before the meeting starts you should check the lighting (bright windows behind you should be avoided) and ensure that everyone in the meeting can clearly see you.
Much like the advice I gave for virtual meeting hosts, attendees should consider investing in speakers, headphones, and a microphone, for a better virtual meeting experience. All equipment (as well the Internet connection and software) should be tested beforehand. Additionally, attendees and presenters alike should get rid of distractions by turning off their phones and email alerts and limit interruptions by muting their microphones and informing attendees of any breaks they need to take during the meetings.
Taking It to the Next Level
A few final suggestions for both attendees and hosts: you should also keep in mind that it’s important to repeat any questions or comments so that all participants live and virtual have a clear understanding of what is being asked. Periodic repeating/rephrasing key points, particularly those made by the virtual participants, can enhance mutual understanding and a sense of inclusivity. Also, when the virtual participant is speaking, look in the direction of the camera that is transmitting video to the participant; this is good to do periodically even when the participant is not speaking.
Given that we don’t know how long the Coronavirus is going to last, its more important than ever to ensure that your virtual meetings are seamless, engaging, fruitful, and as close to a live meeting as possible. But beyond our current situation, I anticipate that executing high-quality virtual meetings will set you up for success now and well into the future as virtual meetings become the norm across all industries.