Virtual meetings are here to stay. Leaders can make them more engaging and less draining by ensuring they address four essential criteria: preparation, participation, productivity and appreciation.
First, create the expectation of coming prepared for a stimulating discussion. Design a timed agenda with input from team members, circulating it ahead of time and keeping it to an hour or less if possible. Identify the primary objective for the meeting and put it right at the top of the agenda. Ask selected team members to take responsibility for certain portions. To encourage broad involvement, include 1-2 questions for all participants to consider so they can be ready to offer thoughtful input.
Send pertinent background materials in advance and ask that questions be directed to the appropriate person beforehand. Provide electronic updates on progress so meeting time is not wasted by excessive reporting. And of course if there’s no compelling reason to hold a regularly scheduled meeting, show trust and respect by giving your people the gift of time to spend on more important work.
Now it’s time for your meeting. Get set up early, checking your technology to be sure all is in order. If using slides, simple and uncluttered is easier on the eyes. The next part is the secret sauce that makes team members feel valued and creates the vital sense of connection and belonging that often go missing in virtual meetings. Have everyone check in. If introductions are needed, limit them to 10 seconds. Demonstrate what is to be included by introducing yourself first. When there are few or no opportunities for team members to interact in an office setting, it’s good to warm up meetings with a brief icebreaker. If there are too many in the meeting and not enough time to answer verbally, participants can use the chat box. Try non-threatening open-ended questions like these to pique interest:
What is your favorite childhood memory?
What was your biggest highlight this past month?
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
Following a warm-up, establish or briefly review meeting protocols that each team or group should have in place to govern their work together. Monitor the time flow of the agenda and be ready to step in if one participant is a conversation dominator. "Thanks for making that point, Chris. Now we need to hear from others. Who has another idea to add?” Notice which team members may not readily share their thoughts unless invited. Encourage their input.
To keep the team fresh and creative, especially in longer meetings, plan to interject a short physical activity or music break to clear brain fog and inertia. Have participants stand up, stretch, and walk around. Or ask them to look out a window or at a picture and ask what it evokes. The same can be done with music.
Build productivity into every meeting. Leave time at the end of the agenda for next steps and assignment of responsibilities. Create an efficient meeting summary that captures key decisions, action items, and accountabilities. Note any parking lot issues which were deferred for future consideration.
Wrap up by acknowledging the team’s progress, citing examples of how they’ve overcome challenges in the past and emphasizing the significance of their work as it relates to mission and meeting the needs of clients and customers. With planning, participation, productivity and appreciation as benchmarks, you’ll be known as the leader whose meetings are energizing and well-run.