The most common complaint about online meetings is that they are a colossal waste of time. People log on and promptly put their phones on mute and pay attention to something else. If your first thought when you're invited to a webmeeting or virtual conference is "well, at least I'll catch up on email", there may be problems with the way your team operates.
These things aren't supposed to suck the life, oxygen, and the will to live out of you. Often, though, that's their major accomplishment.
Since our mission here is to give you practical tips to make managing your remote teams easier, here are three simple (not to be confused with easy!) tips for getting attention at the start of a webmeeting. Don't be shy about using the comments section to share your best practices as well!
Make sure everyone knows why they're there and what's expected of them before they even show up.
Whether it's via WebEx or in the conference room over doughnuts, a good meeting has a purpose, a desired outcome, does whatever is necessary to reach that outcome and ends—on time if not early. The best way for that to happen is to have an explicit agenda that allows people to come focused on the outcome, prepared to participate and willing to help the team reach its objectives.
Finding out what will be covered in an email that arrives just before the call is NOT an agenda.
An agenda is an actual document with links to all the relevant documents, easy ways to enter the meeting into people's calendars so they don't forget, and enough information that only the most obtuse can claim they didn't know what's going to happen. Telling people what to expect, delivering on that promise, then holding people accountable for their actions and input is the way to build a culture over time that makes great use of everyone's time.
Start with the most critical items.
Many meeting leaders like to get the "administrivia", logistics and minor items out of the way so people can then focus on what's really critical. The problem is that by the time you get around to the good stuff, people have mentally checked out and gotten lost in the email vortex.
Start with the important items. Those things that require input, careful thought and collaboration should be done while people are fresh and not worried about the meeting ending on time so they can make their next phone call.
If it can be said in an email, don't waste everyone's time with it online.
A lot of meetings, especially project status meetings, are spent on sharing information that is nothing more than items on a checklist or spreadsheet. As the meeting leader, your time will be better spent if you make the information available prior to the meeting and spend that precious time onwhat it means and next steps (things that require people to be engaged) than just delivering information that anyone can read- and probably already has.
One idea for keeping data sharing to a minimum and useful conversation to a maximum is to use a shared file site like Sharepoint or a Google Docs file to make sure the latest versions of everything are available 24 hours before the meeting. Make sure people have the links and hold them accountable for being prepared.
A little peer pressure can go a long way to making sure if they're not ready for this meeting, they darned sure will be for the next one. You can also use the file sharing feature to push information out of the meeting itself to people who don't have what they need.
So there are three things leaders need to consider when holding meetings online. You'll notice that they aren't necessarily dependent on technology. These tips will work on a webmeeting, a simple conference call or a good old-fashioned meeting.
So what about you? What are your best practices? Let's take the collective wisdom of this global audience and help each other excel. Heaven knows nobody else is going to help us out.