Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D., is the Chief Marketing Officer for Simplus.
With the world facing a pandemic, the atmosphere of the workplace transformed almost overnight. Nearly all corporate work has transitioned to an online format, a situation that has been an unexpected boon to many but has also made effective communication and workplace cohesion more challenging to manage for company leaders. Not everyone is an online expert, so if you are feeling lost, here are four tips to keep your online meetings on track.
Make The Purpose Clear
The first step to having an effective virtual meeting is to identify the purpose of your meeting. Research shows that long video chats increase fatigue. Ted.com explains that “people feel like they have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and in the absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on words and sustained eye contact” is cognitively draining.
By coming into your meeting with a clear purpose in mind, you can make sure to keep your discussion short and sweet. In my experience, the standard length of an online meeting should be no longer than 30 minutes, and since humans have short attention spans, the more concise, the better.
Keep The Agenda Flexible
Similar to understanding the purpose, you must know the scope of what you want to meet about. If the purpose is the foundation of what you want to cover, the scope is the breadth and detail of that information. Building on your purpose, you should form an agenda that covers all the essential points you need to convey without going overboard. Paul Axtell, who wrote Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, suggests that as a goal, you should put 20% fewer items on your agenda than you originally intended to. I’ve found a good target for agenda length is about four to five points. Fewer than this and you will have too little to cover in your allotted time, and any more and your colleagues could become overwhelmed.
However, you shouldn’t fixate too much on staying rigidly on schedule. The best meetings often involve collaboration. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, meeting size can impact responsibility. Known as the Ringelmann Effect, “the bigger the group, the less responsibility each individual feels to ensure success.” While they are alone, your teammates will get distracted and distant. If you invite participation, your employees will instead feel valued and included, and you might discover some new strategy you could never have covered on your own.
Know Your Audience
The next step to conducting an effective meeting is to know your audience. In an Experian marketing study, they found that “emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.” That same concept of personalization applies to in-person interactions, as well. For example, you should approach a meeting with your sales team very differently than one with your finance team. While your sales team might appreciate opening the meeting with a few jokes, your marketing team may like statistics. Switch your approaches, and you might end up with some very bored salesmen and a marketing team that is confused and uncomfortable.
The size of the meeting is also important to consider. If the meeting is for a presentation or the audience is very large, it can be a good idea to include several speakers. The variety will help keep your audience engaged and lively over a longer meeting time. The variety can also help encourage participation by fostering a collaborative atmosphere.
Consideration of your audience extends to your appearance, as well. Different settings might require different standards of dress. It is up to you to judge what is appropriate and strike the right balance between businesslike and approachable. A T-shirt and jeans might be just right for some occasions; Talint International surveyed prospective workers and found that 61% of workers surveyed said they would have a negative perception of a company if it enforced a dress code, and the majority felt they would more productive if there wasn’t a dress code. But for more formal meetings, a suit might better encourage the professionalism you need. You should use your best discretion, and you will most likely get it right.
Working online is not easy. With the constant ebb and flow of information, important communications can easily get lost. It is imperative that your employees know what their responsibilities are before and after every meeting. There are several steps you can take to make sure your team is on task.
First, when scheduling meetings, you should try to pick times that are appropriate for all parties on the call. With the pandemic especially, people may have dispersed all over the country to different time zones with no guarantee of returning. Checking in with every individual regarding the time of the meeting will make sure all your employees can be present and will feel valued.
After the meeting is scheduled, remind your employees by sending out a calendar invitation that includes the link to the meeting space. You should also make sure that they accept the invitation. Following up will make it much more likely that they show up to the meeting on time and prepared.
At the end of every meeting, you should clarify the action items for each person or team verbally. This way, you can check in, ask questions and send your colleagues off on the right track. You should also send a follow-up email after the meeting with the same information for reference.
The online workspace can seem intimidating, but with a purpose, the correct scope, knowledge of your audience and clear deadlines, you have nothing to be afraid of. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the best online meetings are collaborative and participatory. Along those lines, you should ask for feedback all the time. Your employees and colleagues know their needs the best. With a little advice from them and these helpful tips, you will be well on the way to being an online meeting expert in no time.
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