Facilitating an online meeting has never been easy, but it’s especially challenging while working from home and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But well-run meetings can be very productive and even enjoyable. Below are a few tips I’ve learned over the past few months to make the most of online meetings.
Choose your online meeting platform well in advance. Be sure you are comfortable with the control panel. Learn how to:
- Mute/unmute yourself, other participants individually, and all the participants at once
- Turn the recording system on and off
- Turn your camera on and off
- Work other features on the platform, such as:
- Screen sharing
- The bulletin board or chat system
- The “applause” and “raise your hand” buttons
Run a few “test” meetings with a family member or friend to get the hang of how the system works.
Consider who will attend your meeting. Are provisions made for those who are not native speakers? Do you need close captioning for hearing impaired? Is there anyone who is visually impaired or with a color vision deficiency? Remember, font sizes and colors matter! Also, prior to the meeting, ask attendees about the pronouns they use. Your goal is to help everyone feel as comfortable as possible.
Scheduling Your Online Meeting
Schedule your meeting at least several days in advance so people have time to prepare and can contribute to the topic. Remember that many families are doing double or triple duty. Parents are figuring out how to do their jobs with their kids at home, and some people are responsible for eldercare. Giving people plenty of notice allows them to make arrangements to attend your meeting.
Consider using Doodle Online Meeting Scheduler (free!) to determine the best meeting date. It will allow you to create a poll and send it to attendees to let them choose their preferred meeting date and time. It is complete with time zone support–no more guessing what time the meeting is in your area.
Communicate in Advance
Send the meeting agenda in advance. Not only does the agenda define the schedule of the meeting, it defines the goals, encourages participation, and results in an action plan.
When you send the agenda, include instructions on how to join the meeting. Add the username and password to the meeting room, the minimum computer requirements to attend (e.g. it won’t work on smartphones), and a link to the help section of the online meeting platform. Ask participants to ensure they have downloaded or updated the software before the meeting date.
Specifying the allotted time to cover each topic on the agenda will remind participants they are expected to stay on track. One tip that I learned from my time in Toastmasters was to allot a specific amount of time per person per meeting topic. For example, each person gets two minutes to express their thoughts about the marketing strategy. When everyone has contributed, summarize the points, make a decision, then move to the next topic.
Prepare your own space. Make sure you have good lighting and attendees can see your face. Make ergonomic adjustments so you are comfortable during the entire meeting. Have a glass of water, tissues, notepad and pen handy.
Gather all of your documents and resource in one space. Create a shortcut on your computer desktop to have easy access to everything you need. If your questions and comments pre-typed, you can copy and paste them into the chat window to speed things along.
If you are chairing the meeting, decide how to address passive-aggressive mannerisms (eye-rolling, shaking head, shoulder shrug), the “over contributors,” people who speak in jargon, or anyone who makes inappropriate comments.
Create a back-up plan in case your system crashes or your internet or electricity fails. For example, arrange to text a colleague attending the meeting to inform the participants of the back-up plan on your behalf.
Online Meeting Etiquette
Spend the first five minutes of the meeting reviewing the meeting system dashboard. Explain how the participants can and when they should mute and unmute themselves. Let them know that their cameras can be on or off (not everyone wants you to see them or their environment).
Introduce everyone in the meeting if attendees don’t already know each other. If you are hosting a large group, just introduce key roles and responsibilities. For example, “I’d like to introduce Jane. She will monitor the chat window.”
If you are recording the meeting or planning to take a screenshot to post to social media, announce it in advance. Give people the option to turn off their camera before the recording starts or the screenshot taken.
During the meeting, indicate where you are on the agenda. Tell attendees verbally and type it into the chat window.
Remind attendees that courtesy and grace are important. Because we cannot see body language and facial expressions, we can misinterpret the nuances of communication. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Also, recommend using “I” language (not “we” language) since everyone will be speaking only for themselves. Encourage patience. Not everyone has high-speed internet or high-speed typing skills.
In-person communication can be intimidating, but at home, where family members or roommates can hear, some people don’t feel safe or empowered to ask questions, share ideas, or speak up. Remind attendees that you will wait for them to type into the chat window during the meeting.
Concluding the Meeting
Closing the meeting is a critical agenda item. To conclude your meeting, summarize each agenda item. Highlight the accomplishments, acknowledge key contributors, and point out actions that need to take place.
Schedule the next meeting or, if it is already in the calendar, remind everyone of the date and time. Tell participants when to expect the meeting summary. Then, thank everyone for attending and let them know they can log out. It’s a good idea for the host to remain on the line to confirm that everyone has signed off to ensure the online meeting platform is closed.