18 Actions To Optimise your Virtual Meetings

Doing a virtual presentation can feel like talking to air.

You can’t sense the body language in the room, it’s hard to gauge how your presentation is being received, and in some cases you might not be able to see people at all.

Even before the pandemic, Zoom, Skype and Teams meetings were gaining popularity as people reduced their carbon footprint and used time more effectively by minimising face-to-face meetings to only what was absolutely necessary.  However, not only is it all too easy for participants to switch off or to hide in virtual meetings but with numerous windows on a screen, it can be especially challenging for someone’s voice to be heard, technically and metaphorically.

Here’s a situation you may recognise….

The Situation: most of the participants will not be in the room and some won’t even be able to see you.  All except two are in different continents.

The Challenge: to include everyone, ensure they maintain their attention and, no matter which medium they’re using, they need to be involved with the whole conversation.

The Solution: do what so many others do: talk at the ones you can see and ignore those you can’t.

Result: a total waste of time.

Presentation skills training is as applicable to online meetings as formal face to face situations.

Communications skills are even more layered when you’re speaking virtually across countries and continents.

Here are a few tips to make sure virtual meetings are more useful. These have been split into three sections; before, during and after the call.

In preparation for the call

  1. Who’s attending: ensure everyone has a list of who’s attending the call, including names, roles and locations with contact information so that people can reach each other for further information after the call, if they need to. You also need to decide whether the attendees need to attend all or part of the meeting. If you’re presenting on a subject only relevant to half the listeners then accommodate for that.  It’s vital to determine what kind of meeting you’re having.  For example, is it a presentation, brainstorming gathering or decision-making meeting?  If it’s the latter, consider that the more people present, the less likely you are to arrive at a conclusion.  Eight is the maximum generally for these types of gathering.
  2. Decide who’s going to do what: the meeting will have more structure and a better flow if you decide who will lead each section.
  3. Test the IT: make sufficient time to test the IT. In each room, where there’s a video conference, have one person responsible for making the IT work and a back-up plan if it doesn’t.  You don’t want tech problems eating into precious time, so allow 15 mins at the start to test vision and audio.
  4. Availability: consider participant availability as you would for any other meeting, scheduling the call to optimise attendance and convenience.
  5. Time zones: take into account time zones when scheduling. It may be impossible to totally please everyone, but be aware and sympathetic to where in their day specific people are as this could affect their participation levels. You might need to stimulate more participation from your callers who are just starting their day, and while you’re on your post-lunch slump, and you’ll need to keep the energy up for those who are the end of a long, tiring day.  Here are some very easy and creative ways to optimise the energy for virtual meetings and presentations, which I have used in presentation skills training.
  6. Local times: communicate start-times in local time for all participants, or how to calculate local time, when sending the meeting announcement. This reduces confusion and increases participation.
  7. Distribute: make sure you distribute supporting documents/files well before the call start, so that people have them to hand and can make themselves familiar with the contents. This can save vital time, giving participants a better chance of understanding the meeting and adding valuable contributions, especially if the meeting is not in their native language.
  8. Inform: in the meeting agenda inform participants if they need to have a file or website open on their computer desktop to refer to as the meeting progresses.
  9. Record the call: it’s useful to record the call for those who can’t make the meeting. It’s also a useful record for actions, reports or to refer back to for information.

During the call

  1. Review and adjust: keep an eye on time and how the meeting progresses. If needed adjust the agenda to ensure the most important items are suitably discussed.  Inform participants at the beginning if you’ve changed the agenda.
  2. Time constraints: find out if there are any individual time constraints. The reason why some people don’t put their cameras on is that they need to leave early but if you ask the ‘room’ beforehand whether anyone needs to check out early, you’re more likely to see some of those cameras suddenly switch on. Adjust the agenda if necessary so that early leavers achieve the goals of the call.
  3. Greetings: have a round of greetings at the beginning of the call. This is an established etiquette anyway, but for teleconferences, as opposed to those on Teams or Zoom etc. , it’s particularly important to familiarise yourself with whose name belongs to which voice, although if there are more than eight people, this may be too time-consuming.
  4. Late arrivals: if someone’s joining the call later, the earlier arrivals need to introduce themselves to this latter one. Bear in mind, though, that this is more pertinent to teleconferences as the name’s already displayed on visual conferencing.
  5. Use names and often: ‘Say my name, say my name’, as the song goes. Using the names of participants during a meeting or presentation is the easiest way to engage them quickly. There are four specific situations where you can use names with immediate impact on calls and they’re here.
  6. Encourage full engagement: it’s easy for people to hide in virtual meetings. Help the less engaged people in the meeting become more involved in the call by using phrases such as:
  • How do you see this, xxxx?
  • What’s your experience of this, xxxx?
  • Does this sound like what you’re looking for, xxxx?
  • Would you like to add anything to this, xxxx?

Even with cameras off, your listeners can still be encouraged to actively participate. Here is a host of ideas that work.

  1. Enthusiasm: be enthusiastic and use a tone appropriate to the group. A good first impression where your listeners feel a positive connection with you will set you on the right path for a virtual presentation. That confidence will encourage more engagement from your participants,
  2. Vary voice tone: people will switch off if your presentation becomes monotonous or robotic,. Using a range of vocal pitch will have you sounding more convinced and convincing. If this doesn’t come naturally to you or your vocal tone falls flat in certain situations, watch this five minute video to be less robot.

After the Call

  1. Call to action: ensure the meeting ends with a clear and concise list of actions. This should be borne in mind from the start.

Everyone invited to this meeting needs to be part of the objective: it doesn’t mean they all need to have an action at the end but they do need, at least, to be part of shaping this.

Remember to state in writing who does what and by when the action is expected to be completed.

And make sure the action isn’t to have another meeting.

With virtual calls so much the norm in companies these days, using the format above will mean that you achieve a more productive use of time, better decision-making and more possibility to use other virtual interactive tools effectively.

Participants will, therefore, feel more involved in the process. Virtual meetings form part of both my communication skills training as well as presentation skills training. If you think you or your teams could benefit from these courses, then get in touch for a free 15 minute Discovery Call.

This article was originally published in October 2011 and was updated in August 2023.

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