Top tips for running an online meeting

Over the past few months, I’ve increasingly started using Zoom for conference calls and online meetings in my senior leadership role for Toastmasters International. Yesterday, I facilitated an online meeting followed by a series of virtual workshops. Online meetings are a powerful tool to add to your leadership and communication arsenal. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few months.

A successful online meeting requires preparation

Even if you are only taking part in an online meeting as a contributor. Prepare for this meeting in the same way as you would for a normal meeting. Make sure that you know the materials that you’re presenting and rehearse them if you wish. Be ready to answer any questions and comments too. My observation is that people tend to ask more questions during an online meeting than would otherwise be the case. This is especially the case if questions are asked via a chat feature as there are fewer barriers to entry. Oh, and don’t forget to check your appearance and what’s in your background if you’ll be using video. You may not want to be caught on video wearing your pyjamas.

If you are facilitating an online meeting, here are some of the things that you’ll need to consider before the meeting takes place:

  • How many people will be attending?
  • Do you have an agenda for the meeting that you can share with everybody?
  • Will you be able to see your slides/agenda while you present and still easily use the meeting controls?
  • Will multiple people be presenting information or just yourself?
  • How can you get participants to actively engage with the meeting and contents presented?

Lastly, make sure that you’re somewhere quiet and with high-speed internet access. My suggestion would be to use a laptop or desktop computer over a smartphone or tablet. You may need to access more information while you talk and doing so from a laptop will be easier.

Sadly virtual handshakes are still not possible with today’s technology. No matter how much you prepare.

Get to know the tool you’ll be using

Very often facilitators of online meetings don’t familiarise themselves fully with the tool they’re using. A casual look at the ‘settings’ tab of Zoom shows that almost everything can be customised and personalised to meet one’s preferences. If you’re planning to run an online meeting, take some time to get to know the software you’ll be using. Knowing how to share your screen quickly can make a big difference on the day. Here are a few other questions you may want to ask yourself as you research the tool, you’ll be using to run your online meeting.

  • Do you know how to mute everybody on the call quickly?
  • Is there an option to prevent people from unmuting themselves? This is a crucial one in a large online meeting!
  • How easy will it be to transfer control of the meeting to someone else?
  • How can you create and run polls to engage with your audience? Can you amend these on the fly during the meeting?
  • If you are running an online workshop, can you create virtual breakout rooms to stimulate discussion?

I strongly recommend doing a test-run of the software beforehand, ideally with a couple of people. Aim to break things during the test and try to learn what’s the worst that can happen.

What works in a live meeting also work in an online meeting

When it comes to the mechanics of the meeting itself, most of the things that make an in-person meeting successful will also make an online meeting successful. Some of them are even more impactful in an online setting.

  • Have an agenda and stick to timings as much as possible.
  • Make sure that any slides that you present are engaging to your audience. This is even more crucial in an online setting as you have fewer ways to engage your audience.
  • Have a clear purpose and clear outcomes in mind for the meeting.
  • Set clear rules of engagement, especially the protocol that attendees should follow to ask questions. This one is crucial as more questions tend to be asked in online meetings than in in-person meetings.
  • Familiarise yourself with the makeup and composition of the audience. Will it be a friendly audience or a potentially hostile one?

Use these tips wisely to plan your next online meeting. Running online meetings confidently takes time and practice but isn’t that different from facilitating an in-person meeting. If hiccups happen, aim to limit them to test meetings run before the big one. If a mistake happens during a meeting, my experience is that audiences tend to be very supportive. Online meetings are still new to most people after all, which is why mastering them can give you an edge in the professional world.

Need help to prepare for your next online or in-person meeting? Get in touch with me and tap into my experience.

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