What Is a Virtual Meeting? Planning & Participation Tips

Published March 30, 2020
Woman on a virtual meeting

Virtual meetings provide a convenient way for people to conduct business online rather than having to gather in-person. Properly planned and executed, virtual meetings can be very productive and cost-effective. Whether you're responsible for organizing a technology-mediated meeting or if your role is that of a participant, following these tips can go a long way toward ensuring a successful experience for everyone involved.

Planning a Virtual Meeting

Getting prepared to host a virtual meeting involves many of the same steps as any meeting, with additional considerations specific to technology and the fact that participants won't all be in the same room.

  • Virtual business meetings require the use of a conferencing application, so it's important to choose the best virtual meeting software for your needs.
  • Well in advance of the scheduled meeting, log in to the platform and test it to make sure that you are comfortable working with it.
  • Turn on your webcam during practice sessions so you will be able to see if any background or lighting adjustments might be needed.
  • If others will be presenting during the meeting, offer to hold a practice session with them ahead of time.
  • Decide who will need to attend the meeting.
  • Set a date and time for the meeting, keeping in mind the various time zones of attendees.
  • Prepare an initial meeting agenda that lists topics, presenters, and approximate timeframes for each.
  • Send a 'save the date' message and initial agenda to those who will be invited or required to attend, and give them an opportunity to submit additional agenda items.
  • Gather responses and finalize the meeting agenda.
  • Send an invitation to each attendee, which includes the date, time, agenda, a link to test system readiness for the live event, and how to request technical assistance during the event.
  • If the meeting is mandatory, specify that in the invitation. If not, incorporate other ways to get people to attend business meetings into the announcement.
  • If feasible, send the invitation in the form of a calendar invitation, which will make scheduling and tracking easier for you and the attendees.
  • Send a reminder to people prior to the meeting. The reminder should include the same information as the original invitation. It's a good idea to send a reminder a day ahead of time, and then an hour or so in advance of the session.
  • Send any necessary materials to attendees ahead of time via email. Include instructions specifying if they should print the materials or otherwise have them available during the live session.

Preparing to Lead a Virtual Meeting

  • Recruit a coworker to serve as tech support during the meeting, so another set of eyes will be on the lookout for technical glitches and be available to assist users who may experience technical difficulties.
  • Assign someone to take minutes during the meeting.
  • Decide how you will track attendance during the session, such as doing a roll call using a hand-raise feature, un-muting participants to speak up, or having attendees comment via a chat box upon arrival.
  • If you will be using polls or games to help engage remote meeting participants, set them up ahead of time.
  • Upload any materials to the platform that you want attendees to be able to download during the session.
  • Review virtual meeting best practices and tips for facilitating effective meetings to be sure you're fully prepared to lead this type of gathering.
businesswoman on a conference call

Hosting a Virtual Meeting

Hosting a virtual meeting is the online equivalent of being responsible for leading an in-person meeting. You'll need to call the meeting on order and keep things on track to make sure the agenda is being covered and that the session ends on time.

  • Log in to the meeting event 10 - 15 minutes before the scheduled start time so the meeting room is available for attendees as they begin to join the session.
  • Turn on your webcam once you log in, greet attendees as they join.
  • Periodically announce how much time is left before the meeting start time.
  • If the meeting will be recorded, start the recorder at the scheduled start time.
  • Welcome attendees and call the meeting to order on time.
  • Let attendees know how to get in touch with the dedicated tech support contact outside of the meeting platform, such as via phone, text, or email.
  • If attendees are not accustomed to the meeting platform, walk them through basic functionality, such as mute/un-mute, hand raise, chat feature, etc.
  • Ask attendees to mute their speakers or telephones if that isn't done by default, instructing them to un-mute when they'd like to speak up
  • Preview the agenda.
  • If applicable, transfer speaker control to others who will be presenting during the meeting.
  • Once the various presenters have finished and/or the agenda items have been completed, ask attendees if they have any questions (if there is sufficient time).
  • Let attendees know what to expect as a meeting follow-up, such as when the next meeting will be held, when/how minutes will be available, if a conference report will be sent to attendees, etc.
  • Thank attendees for their participation and dismiss the meeting.
  • Send out any promised or needed follow-up documentation.

Participating in a Virtual Meeting as an Attendee

If you have been invited to participate in a virtual meeting as an attendee, it's important for you to follow appropriate virtual meeting etiquette. Professional communication is key. Devote your time and attention to the event just as you would for a face-to-face meeting.

  • When you receive the meeting invitation, verify the time zone and enter the meeting on your calendar.
  • Respond to the meeting invitation, letting the meeting organizer know if you will be able to attend. If you will be unable to attend, find out what you should do to get the content discussed in the meeting.
  • If there is a test link with the invitation, go ahead and click it so you can be sure your system is compatible and that all necessary drivers are installed.
  • Assuming you receive an agenda before the meeting, review it so you can prepare properly for the items to be discussed.
  • If you have any questions about the agenda or what you should do to prepare for the meeting, ask the person who is hosting the meeting.
  • If there is an option to submit questions or request additional agenda items ahead of time, do so if needed. Be respectful of the host by submitting at least 24 hours before the meeting.
  • If you'll be expected to use a webcam during the meeting, keep that in mind when deciding where to position yourself during the meeting and how to dress for it.
  • Dial in a few minutes before the scheduled start time to allow for any driver updates to install.
  • Wear headphones so as not to disturb others who may be within earshot, as well as to help drown out any ambient noise.
  • If the system doesn't automatically mute attendees upon arrival, mute yourself so that no background noise gets through to disturb other participants.
  • Listen actively throughout the meeting, taking notes on action items as necessary, just as you would in a face-to-face meeting.
  • Submit any questions that come up during the meeting in the manner instructed by the host.

Modern Business Meetings

Virtual meetings are a fact of the modern business world. They provide a powerful communication tool for connecting employees across multiple locations without the expense and disruption of travel. Whether you are a member of a remote team or if your organization is simply looking for ways to maximize productivity and bottom-line results, virtual meetings can be an impactful tool for collaboration and information sharing.

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What Is a Virtual Meeting? Planning & Participation Tips