Online meetings are transforming the way long-distance business takes place. You no longer need to travel to connect with participants from around the globe, and outstanding presentations are now available to everyone with a computer and Internet connection. Thanks to web conferencing, you can connect with remote and on-site employees at once, or share your knowledge with clients all over the country in a single presentation. The rules for running a meeting (PDF) are well-known but web conferencing poses special challenges. Boost the effectiveness of your online meetings with these smart strategies for how to run a meeting in a virtual space.
1. Prep Your Attendees in Advance
Every online meeting platform is different. Help your participants successfully navigate the features of yours by sending detailed instructions well in advance. This will include everything from the basics of how to dial in to more advanced notes on the proper etiquette for your online event. Some platforms can accommodate as many as 2,000 participants. If you’re catering to a crowd, it’s important for participants to understand how you will handle questions or open discussions.
You should also prep your participants on things like the hold button. Those who are new to the online landscape may not realize the hazards of putting a teleconference on hold while they handle a pressing matter in the office. Many phone systems will play the user’s hold music to everyone in the meeting, creating a highly disruptive atmosphere. Introduce your attendees to these facts and features ahead of time to streamline your meeting.
2. Choose the Right Features for Your Event
Not only do you have numerous platforms to choose from for your online meetings, you’ll also find that most platforms offer unique online meeting tools and customizable features. Carefully consider the goals for your online meeting and set up a system that will help you achieve them. This may include:
- A Q&A session
- Private speaker discussion after the public meeting is closed
- Conference recordings
3. Define Everyone’s Role
Many online meeting platforms have a staff of their own so you’ll have an operator to assist with the mechanics of the call while you act as moderator. Make sure you understand what tasks each of you will perform, such as who will introduce speakers or coordinate question and answer sessions.
If you’re hosting the meeting with other moderators, give yourselves plenty of time to prep beforehand. Nothing is worse for participants than listening as you negotiate who will take questions or who will speak first. If you’re having special speakers conference in, you may want to schedule a separate meeting with them after the online event so you can review how the conference went or thank them privately for their participation.
4. Keep Everyone Engaged
It’s dangerously easy to multitask in an online meeting. Since others can’t see you when you’re web conferencing, participants often feel there’s no harm in checking their email or taking care of other tasks while they listen to the meeting with one ear.
Battle multitasking and keep your participants engaged by regularly involving them in the conversation. Build your meeting agenda with a question or activity every 15 minutes, or after approximately three slides. Avoid yes or no questions and instead challenge participants with open-ended questions. If you have too many people to allow them all to speak, have them write down their answers and send them to you for review and private discussion later.
If your meeting is small enough, it’s important to give everyone a turn to speak. Don’t open the floor to all participants at once, though, as this just creates chaos. It is the moderator or operator's job to call on each person in turn, making it clear when it’s the attendee’s time to speak.
5. Narrate Nonverbal Activities
If you’re running a meeting that combines live participants with online attendees, you need to be particularly mindful of visual activities that your virtual participants can’t see. Narrate anything that’s happening in the room, even if it’s just another participant looking through his report for a particular statistic. Keep in mind also that the voices of other participants may not carry to your online guests. Restate questions before you answer and repeat any comments that take place far from the microphone.
With mindful planning and careful organization, you can streamline your online events and give your participants a stellar experience with every event.