How to Run Effective Online Meetings

In our post-COVID-19 world, many people have participated in online meetings. Some people have run such meetings. Some people run them like the professionals that they are, while others end up wasting huge amounts of time. A poorly run meeting may feel like it’s effective, but oftentimes, it’s just a bunch of people talking about stuff, with no clear objectives or outcomes. In this guide, I’ll give you several ideas that will make your virtual meetings more effective and more efficient.

1. Include a Meaningful Title and Agenda in Your Calendar Invite

Many people make the mistake of booking online meetings with no agenda. Participants will receive an obscure calendar invite with a title like, “meeting” and a link. While that will get people into your virtual room, it leaves people wondering how best to participate, and the end result is often a disorganized conversation that goes nowhere. Instead, when you send out your calendar invites, use a meaningful title that communicates the overall objective to everyone involved.

If it’s a kick-off call for ABC and XYZ to collaborate on a press release, then title your meeting as, “ABC / XYZ Press Release Collab Kick-off.” This will give people some sense of what to expect in the meeting. Then, go into some details in the meeting description to create a framework for the conversation that people can begin to think about before the meeting actually starts. Include an agenda and action items. Be careful though. If you go into too much detail, no one will read it. Instead, be concise, and purposeful.

2. Set a Friendly, Open Tone for the Meeting

First, if you plan to record the meeting, then start by getting affirmed consent from all of the participants in advance. Some people do not like to be recorded, and seeing that red dot in the corner of the screen can feel off-putting. Furthermore, it may cause people to be less honest about their true feelings about important topics of discussion. The result is guarded language and less meaningful communications.

When you’re ready to begin, spend the first 2 or 3 minutes making everyone feel welcome. Help people to release their initial jitters by asking them to do brief introductions if it is their first time communicating with one another. If the group is familiar, then ask a non-invasive question about one of their interesting characteristics. It breaks the ice so that people feel like you’re easy to talk to. Let people know that you want to have open communications, and that they should feel free to interject with their thoughts to move the meeting along. That said, you also need to be clear about the rules.

Let people know that they should mute their devices if they are not speaking, in order to minimize distractions. Set time constraints and objectives of the meeting. Remind your meeting participants that there is in fact a hard stop at the scheduled end of the meeting, and warn them that you may need to interrupt at times in order to cover all of the topics. This makes it easier to interrupt people when they do go off the rails, where it feels less personal to the individual.

Review the agenda and objectives if you think it will help with pacing, and consider a screen share. Just make sure you keep it engaging. Nobody wants to sit through an hour-long meeting staring at PowerPoint slides and listening to a narration. People want to be part of the conversation, so make that easy to do.

3. Maintain Control of the Conversation

While it is important to set a friendly and open tone for your online meeting, it’s also important to maintain control of the conversation. You may at times want to move things along when one of your participants goes on a monologue that eats up valuable time without satisfying any of your objectives. When this happens, you need to politely but firmly regain control of the conversation. As the moderator, it is your job to move the conversation through each of its objectives. Participants understand this, and often, people who are wordy know that they talk a lot, and they’ll let you interject if you are charismatic about your approach. For example, you could start with a compliment and summarize their thoughts so that they felt heard. Interrupt with something like, “I really enjoy hearing about your pet, Fido and would love to hear more. You bring up some thought-provoking ideas to consider when it comes to selecting wet or dry dog food. For the sake of time, I do need to move to the next point on our agenda.”

Regaining control of the conversation with polite interruptions will be easier to accomplish, and will feel less personal if you set the right tone in your introduction with a mention of the time constraints.

4. Listen to People and Encourage Participation

One of the biggest mistakes that meeting moderators make is that they feel like the goal is to put on a show for the other participants. It’s great to be entertaining, as it can keep people engaged. But, be sure to encourage participation, too. If somebody on the call has been mostly silent, then ask them an open-ended question by name. Say something like, “Hey Letitia, what do you think about that?” And, when people speak, listen to them. Really listen, and think about what they may be saying that’s beyond their words. Imagine that Letitia responds to your question with something like, “Well, that list of 12 action items seems really long.” What she might be thinking is, “You’ve just given me a ton of work that I won’t have the time to complete.” This might tell you that you either need to shorten your list, or find some help for her. If that’s the case, then ask her directly. Let her know that you are thinking about her concerns, and not just your own. Make people feel important, and they will want to help you more.

5. End With Action Items

If you’ve ever written marketing content, then you know that a call-to-action is extremely important. Don’t just review a bunch of information in your meeting. That isn’t going to move you closer to your goals. Instead, give people clear action items that they can follow through with after the meeting. Agree on deliverables and deadlines with your virtual meeting participants, and follow up with them by phone or email. Make sure that everybody knows what they need to do when they get off the call. Not only will it help you with achieving your objectives, but it will also create the impression that the meeting was purposeful and productive. People will feel better about the time they spent in your meeting, and they’ll likely be even more engaged in subsequent meetings.

6. Share Meeting Notes in a Follow-Up EMail

After the meeting, send an email to all of your participants. Thank them for their valuable contributions to the meeting, and summarize the key points. Include the list of action items and deadlines, and end on a positive note. Many people tend not to take meaningful notes, and they’ll appreciate any tools you give them to make it easier to deliver on their action items. If you find it difficult to both run a meeting and take notes, then consider hiring a virtual assistant to perform that task. You could record the meeting and take your notes later, but that tends to require time that you may not have.

Get Started With Your Online Meeting Now!

Follow these pointers and you’re well on your way to setting up an effective online meeting. Give it a shot, and don’t beat yourself up too badly if it doesn’t go exactly as intended. If you find that you couldn’t get through your entire agenda in the allotted time, then aim for a more concise list in your next meeting. As you gain experience, you’ll get better at pacing your meetings.

If you haven’t already signed up for your free business networking profile on Staunch.Biz, then please sign up now! We’ve got lots of amazing tools that you can utilize to make your meetings much more productive and purposeful. Good luck!

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