How to run better digital meetings

By David Donaldson

Wednesday April 29, 2020

Adobe

So many things can go wrong in a digital meeting, but preparation can minimise the chance of derailment.

The coronavirus has pushed workplaces across the country into remote working, even where organisations were not fully prepared to make the shift.

For many this has meant digital meetings with colleagues who forget to put microphones on mute, or multiple people trying to speak at the same time.

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Some struggle to even get into the meeting in the first place, with temperamental technology creating problems at the first hurdle.

Adjusting to this new reality takes time — and will prove especially difficult if you’re one of the many Australians on a poor-quality internet connection.

Sacha Connor has some tips on what you can do to make digital meetings more successful. She is founder of Virtual Work Insider, and previously worked remotely as a senior employee at Clorox for eight years.

She breaks up her advice into pre-meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting.

Pre-meeting

“You need to be really deliberate with your planning,” says Connor.

Think about the objectives of your meeting, and where your team and audience are located, when choosing which software is most appropriate to use.

If you’re using new tools, set up the software and test it out before the meeting. You might need to ask others to do so as well, or even send out information on how to use the new system. You don’t want to lose the first ten minutes and your colleagues’ concentration to tech problems.

It’s useful to make sure attendees have access to the meeting material in advance — and are aware what the meeting is about. Having page numbers on any documents makes it easier for everyone to follow what’s being discussed.

“Lastly, but most importantly, have a backup plan. Think about what you’re going to do if your first choice of technology tools does not work,” Connor advises.

“So think about, in advance, what are you going to do? Are you going to move the meeting to a conference call? Are you going to move the meeting to a different kind of web conferencing? Have that backup information available at your fingertips so that if something goes wrong at the beginning of the meeting, you can easily pivot.”

And if you’re speaking to people in different jurisdictions, don’t forget to schedule the meeting when it’s convenient across time zones.

During the meeting

If you’re the host, log on a few minutes ahead of the start time to double check the tools are working, and switch to the backup plan if need be.

The host should also set expectations at the start about how to communicate — talk about the agenda and the backup plan, as well as expectations around multi-tasking and being present in the meeting.

Note that people should be on mute when they’re not talking — but make sure this doesn’t become a barrier to people speaking, either.

“Also think about having an ice-breaker. To overcome the virtual distance, get people comfortable with talking early in the meeting. That will enable people to better contribute during the rest of the meeting,” Connor argues. This might be a couple of minutes at the very start for a casual catch-up chat — a normal part of office life that colleagues will be missing out on if they’re stuck at home.

If the meeting involves a mix of people working in the office and remotely — what Connor calls a “hybrid” setup — it helps to have someone in the office who is the go-to person for addressing on-site tech issues, or who can take photos of information and send it through to remote staff, as well as ensuring remote workers are fully included in conversations.

Screen sharing helps keep people engaged in what’s being discussed.

There should be an instant messaging back-channel for people off-site to communicate if they’re having tech problems, or to centralise questions if there are a lot of people in a video conference.

“I find video really important to have during the meeting, because it allows you to see much more than what a typical conference call would allow you to see. Not only being able to see the emotions of the team members in your group, but also to see what’s happening, especially if you’re in a hybrid situation where you have a lot of people co-located in one room.

“I’ve had situations before where I’ve had senior leaders walk into a room and be there to listen and I would have had no idea that person entered the room had I not been on video.”

Think about how to ensure everyone has a chance to speak — create the space and time for people to be able to interject. Asking people directly if they want to speak might also be necessary for some.

After the meeting

Recap any agreements and next steps from the meeting so there’s a record of what was discussed — but also to ensure everyone is on the same page.

And ask for feedback, Connor suggests — hearing from participants can help improve the conduct of meetings for next time.

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