How to Have Virtual Meetings

Kristie Lorette McCauley
virtual meeting

Hold a meeting with a client or work colleagues that are scattered throughout the world by hosting a virtual meeting. A virtual meeting allows everyone to connect live online and conduct the business that you would normally have to do face-to-face.

Hosting Virtual Meetings

Hosting a virtual meeting takes a certain amount of preparation on the part of the host.

Identify Needs

Before launching into execution mode, assess the needs you have for conducting the meeting. A needs list comes in handy when you are deciding the platform to use to launch the meeting. Decide if you want to have a video option or simply an audio option. It is possible that you do not need any audio options at all, but simply need a way to visually share information at the meeting.

Choose a Platform

You can narrow down the options available for hosting the meeting using the list of needs you create. Numerous meeting delivery platforms exist-both free and paid versions. Choose the platform that meets all or the majority of your needs. Some sample platforms include:

  • WebEx: WebEx provides a platform where meeting attendees can come together using various forms of interaction. The WebEx platform tends to work for meetings where presentation slides, documents, files and handouts need to be shared among the attendees. WebEx works on a cloud platform where all of these documents are accessible by meeting attendees. In addition to document sharing, WebEx offers an audio component so the host can talk and lead the attendees through the meeting. A chat option is available so that attendees can interact with each other via chat while in the "meeting room."
  • Google Hangout: Google Hangout combines a video and audio option along with Google Docs sharing. The catch is that you can only host up to 10 people using this option. Google Hangout also allows you to create an audio-only version of your meeting, so you and the other participants do not have to use the webcam for a video component. Domestic calls are free through Google Hangout, but there is a charge for International calls.
  • GoToMeeting: GoToMeeting provides a comprehensive package to accomplish almost anything during your meeting. Features range from video and audio options to chat, email and instant messaging. Additionally, GoToMeeting has the option to record and playback the audio portion of the meeting for future reference or to share with attendees that were unable to attend the live meeting.

Prepare Materials

Gather the information you need to share at the meeting so you can prepare your meeting materials. Create the memos, documents, presentation slides and any files you need to share or use as your guide to conduct the meeting. Once you prepare the materials you need, you can upload them to the platform you use for the meeting.

Create an Agenda

Create an agenda for the meeting. Distribute the agenda to attendees before the meeting, upload it to the platform you're using for the meeting and share the agenda again at the start of the virtual meeting, so everyone knows what the plan is for the meeting.

Invite/Manage Attendees

Each platform permits you to invite attendees and manage their attendance. Prepare and distribute the invitation. Some platforms require attendees to log in, so make sure you send any log on names or passwords the attendees require to access the meeting.

Interact With Attendees

When the meeting time comes, log on to the platform as the host. Try to be on the webcam, chat or audio version of the meeting first, before attendees start to log on to the platform. Have your materials ready to go and start interacting with attendees as soon as they log on. Engage with the attendees so that you are not talking or typing the entire time, but that they have time to respond, ask questions and address the group as well.

Gather Feedback

When the meeting concludes, ask for feedback from attendees. Have them complete a short survey to share their thoughts and experiences with the virtual meeting. Find out what they liked best about the virtual meeting and what they liked least about it. You can use their feedback to make adjustments for future virtual meetings.

Mediums

One of the biggest questions about hosting virtual meetings is whether it is necessary to use video or even to use audio.

  • Video: According to the Harvard Business Review, adding a video component to the meeting helps to hold the attention of the attendees. Attendees tend to pay better attention when they can focus on the face of the person speaking to them. In essence, a video component makes the virtual meeting seem more like a face-to-face meeting.
  • Audio: The second best medium for virtual meetings is an audio component. The audio component of a virtual meeting allows attendees to hear what the speakers are saying during the meeting. It even permits them to interact with others at the meeting by stating their opinions or updating the group on the topic at hand.
  • Chat: Offering a chat option in lieu of -or in addition to- video or audio is a viable option for virtual meetings. Chat offers another avenue for meeting attendees to interact with the host and the other attendees at the meeting.

Tips, Advice and Etiquette

While attendees know not to have side chats or interrupt the speaker at a face-to-face meeting, virtual meetings offer a different venue for meetings. To avoid confusion on how the host and meeting attendees should conduct themselves, there are some simple tips and etiquette that accompany virtual meetings.

  • Stay focused: Avoid doing anything on the side while attending the meeting. Keep your email shut, do not answer your phone and do not eat or drink while attending the meeting. You can become easily distracted and lose track of what is happening when you try to multi-task instead of focusing on the meeting agenda.
  • Look into the camera: When using video, meeting participants and attendees should look directly into the camera when speaking. This is equivalent to making eye contact with someone that you are having a conversation with in a face-to-face setting. It helps you to focus on the meeting and for those looking at you to focus on what you are saying.
  • Set the pace: Videos can have a delay when using webcams. For this reason, conduct a video virtual meeting at a slightly slower pace than a face-to-face meeting. This helps to make up for the delay that attendees might be experiencing on their end.
  • Avoid side conversations: On an audio or video virtual meeting, side conversations among participants distracts away from the speaker who has the "floor." Use the chat option for your side conversations or avoid having side conversations at all.
  • Prepare ahead of time: Speakers, hosts and attendees should all prepare ahead of time for the meeting. Read documents, notes or materials before the meeting starts. Test equipment, such as the computer or webcam prior to the meeting to make sure it works. Log on and be ready to start the meeting at least five minutes before the scheduled time.

Final Thoughts

Proper planning can help ensure the success of a virtual meeting. Hosting a virtual meeting can save time and money for everyone involved.

How to Have Virtual Meetings