Despite the current ubiquity of video conferences and webmeetings, all too often they still feel like a bit of a train wreck. And that’s because they tend to get off to a bad start. There are at least five things that can derail virtual meetings before they’ve even begun: here’s what they are and how to avoid them.
If there were simple things we could do to make our lives simpler, wouldn’t we do them? No. Human beings are very good at knowing what they should do and doing quite the opposite. Knowing what to do is seldom an indication that we’ll do it.
With conference calls, video conferences and webmeetings, too many people arrive late, run roughshod over the leader or create technical problems. The bad news is that those behaviors are all too common. The good news is that there are some simple things a meeting leader can do at the beginning of a meeting to keep things a bit more orderly and productive. We just don’t often do them.
So if you want your meetings to continue to be unproductive, that’s entirely up to you. But I will tell you that there are at least five things that happen at the beginning of virtual meetings that mean you'll end up frustrated. Knock it off. (Or not, I’m not your mother.)
Setting up the meeting while people are logging in.
In a traditional meeting, that few minutes before you get down to business actually serves a number of purposes. People need to give you important information, or double check their assumptions. They ask important questions that might otherwise delay the proceedings.
But if you’re so busy loading PowerPoint slides, setting up white boards or making sure you are connected properly, you can’t pay attention to your team members. If you can set up the meeting well in advance (and in some platforms you can) it’s always a good idea. If not, log on early enough that your head will be in the game when it’s time to begin. Identifying potential meeting de-railers in advance gives you a chance to get proactive.
Getting “down to business’ without setting ground rules.
If you want people to talk over each other, demand attention for their particular agenda item at the cost of everyone else, or not participate at all because it’s too frustrating, this is the way to accomplish your goal. By setting ground rules, you set expectations for behavior. Once people know explicitly what’s expected of them, you can actually hold them accountable and coach them for the future. Just getting people to agree to a set of behaviors will actually go a long way to creating team cohesion.
Making sure that the technology gets in the way as much as possible.
Many meetings get off to a crummy start because you are constantly interrupted by people arriving late. Most web platforms and conference call tools allow you to mute people on entering. At the very least you can get rid of the “beeps” and other notifications when someone joins. Coach your people to enter quietly and perhaps announce their entry by chat when they’re in. The people speaking shouldn’t have to deal with interruptions and distractions.
Not telling everyone your objectives for the meeting.
When a meeting has a specific objective, keeping participants focused is easy. If what’s happening at that moment drives towards the objective, it’s fine. If it’s off topic or not moving things forward it’s not. In a truly functional team the members are comfortable holding each other to task. If you choose not to be specific about what the meeting is supposed to achieve, it’s a lot harder to manage. It’s up to you.
Not planning your opening statements.
This will almost guarantee that you forget to say something important. Or that you will jump right in without taking a deep, calming, focusing breath. People form their opinions of you and your meeting in the first few seconds. Why would you want to take an extra second or two to make sure that people hear you being confident and in control, and that they’re in good hands. Just wing it. What could go wrong?
None of us want our meetings to be exercises in frustration and dysfunction. It just sometimes seems like it.
Each of these behaviors can be easily flipped on its end to create good meeting and leadership habits. We just have to make it happen.