“What can I do better?”
If you are someone responsible for running and leading remote meetings, this is a question you have probably asked yourself. I believe the world is still a newborn if a virtual meeting is a human being, we’re still new to this and we are all learning how to be better.
So I definitely have thought about this question, and I know the value of curating information from the best people.
Even before COVID-19 hit us, my team and I at Toasty started speaking to virtual meeting experts to understand their strategies to optimize and execute effectively the meetings they conduct, and up to today, we’ve talked to 200+ of them.
Putting their experience and advice together, here are their top tips to run better virtual meetings.
#1: Break the (remote) Ice
I know – many have talked about this already, but it is worth mentioning because it is important … and most people forget after a while.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Long (or short) meetings are exhausting, and since the pandemic hit, we’ve been on more video calls than ever before, which is compounding our exhaustion, and causing us all to experience video call fatigue.
Starting your session with an icebreaker about something personal is crucial. Why does it have to be personal? A better understanding of each other on that level helps you collaborate further!
So get people to jump in and start chatting about familiar things.
“ditching dull, generic, irrelevant questions for specific, intriguing ones.”
What are the dull ones?
The ones that seem fun on purpose but don’t really improve your relationships.
- Have you ever met anyone famous?
- Would you rather live on the sun or the moon?
- What’s the first place you want to travel to once restrictions are relaxed?
- How do you like to eat your eggs?
Then what are the good ones?
The ones that are simple and work every single time.
- What are you most grateful for in the last week?
- What got you excited recently?
- Tell us something that you really look forward to right now.
#2 Optimize Breakout Rooms
Breakouts are always kind of awkward – is it?
But they don’t have to be, depends on how you set them up.
In my own experience as a virtual meeting leader and an attendee, you can never get something good when there is a huge group together in the same room, which is why I highly recommend you pair people up, whether you have a whole group of six people or twenty.
Of course, you can choose to have groups of three or four, but these experts suggest two-people pairs, because it allows everyone to actively participate as a listener or a speaker.
Two-people pairs can also get down to discussions a lot faster, unlike a three-four people group where there is … way too much … chit-chat to break the ice, which can take up more time on your schedule.
“break into pairs because it creates a more intimate space for contribution”
One concept that came up a lot in our conversations was Harrison Owen’s The Law of Two Feet. It basically means that if you aren’t contributing to a meeting, use your two feet, and find a place where you are valuable.
Give participants the autonomy to move around within breakout areas without restrictions, and see where they can make a difference without restrictions.
#3 Set a Focused Agenda
This seems straightforward, but a lot of people don’t do it – which is scary.
Of all the people we talked to, we all agreed on one thing:
The most successful virtual meetings have a set agenda that is shared with attendees beforehand.
It is important that the people you are leading have a sense of what you are trying to accomplish with the session. Your schedule and plan, therefore, becomes vital. But your planning shouldn’t only be about discussion topics. There is much more to it!
“Also focus on the structure of the meetings and ground rules”
- Structure of the meeting – any group or individual exercise? Which one first?
- Meeting ground rules – how do you want people to behave?
Plan the schedule in detail so that you know precisely when to prompt a question, when you would like to initiate a breakout, and when to use a survey or a poll. Determining the tiny details of the meeting can help you encourage learning, participation, and input.
#4 Be Spontaneous
First structured, now spontaneous? Am I confusing you? Probably!
But I’m sure you’ll agree with this. Structure alone can be tedious; spontaneity brings in an element of fun. And that’s usually how people get down to great meeting outcomes, believe it or not.
A successful remote meeting requires both structure and spontaneity. The kicker is, being uninhibited requires not just a careful plan, but also preparation and practice.
In my conversations with meeting facilitators, they pointed out that it is dangerous to sacrifice natural collaboration just because you want to follow the structure.
“Watch out for the following to find a balance between the two”
- When the group embraces a positively heated discussion, do you want to stop them or get them to go further? Are you willing to skip the next thing planned?
- Will the participants be muted or unmuted? The former adds quite a huge barrier to collaboration by adding an extra step for people to speak up. My personal fine line is that if you have less than 8 people, stay unmuted. If you have more, muted.
- If you get pretty good at this, maybe it is time to get people to push the boundaries of the structure of the meeting. Let attendees propose relevant, adjacent interests and ideas for the group. Sessions can benefit from an organic flow of conversations that leads them into unplanned territory.
#5 Keep It Simple
Thanks to technology, there are so many tools at our disposal. I have met many meeting leaders, new to the remote working set-up, who first started using more tools than necessary, and ended up going back to basic.
Remote meetings can already be more exhausting compared to in-person experiences. Adding more tools means a steeper learning curve, especially for non-digital natives.
As a meeting leader, for each tool that you introduce, you have to take time out of the virtual meeting to get people set up, and there are always technical issues that rise up. “Oh my!” you say.
“Focus on the outcome and do it without introducing new tools”
And of course, it would be awesome if one single platform offers you various ways to engage people. Overall, the rule of thumb is (including the video meeting platform):
- If you’re running a one-hour session, use one platform at most (a platform that can do video + engagement).
- In a half-day session, you can use two platforms.
- Running a 2-3 days session? You could use three platforms.
#6 Have a Back-up Plan for Late Joiners
You start a virtual meeting. 15-20 mins in, you see a couple of people who just join.
In a virtual set-up, tardiness is a little more difficult to counteract. People are alwayssss late. It has been a huge challenge for meeting leaders to deal with these people.
Then you’re thinking – how do you bring them up to speed? How do you help them catch up yet keep the rest of the group happy and going?
I find using a collaborative meeting doc that’s shared with everyone the easiest way, as anyone can revisit it at any time.
“Find your favorite way to capture notes from the meeting”
- Sharing the agenda of the meeting/workshop with attendees so that they know what to expect
- Maintaining meeting logs that can summarize the session and bring participants up to speed asynchronously
- Using a whiteboard like Miro for your meeting which allows attendees easy access to everything on the board
#7 Get Physical
I know what you are thinking.
Isn’t this counterintuitive when we are talking about doing things virtually?
Yes, but alternating between online and offline is actually beneficial because it replenishes peoples’ energy.
So, what can you do?
“Make it a fun activity. And always, stay simple.”
- Play music and get everyone to do a quick jig
- If the session could be mentally taxing, see if anyone on the organizing team can lead participants through a simple meditation or gentle stretching. Advanced version: get them to hold hands with the next person.
- Could you have a quick doodle session? Ask people to sketch something they see in front of them in a notebook.
The idea is to get people to take a conscious break from the virtual meeting so that they can come back re-energized.
Okay … so sum it up.
The struggle to organize an effective remote meeting is real.
I say – start small, start here, with these tips and best practices from experts who have done the hard work figuring these things out.
Even if something doesn’t seem doable at the moment, it may just work for you in the future, and that could just be the game-changer.
Did any of these tips resonate with you? What are you most excited to try out? What do you think will work best for you?
🍄 After learning from these virtual experts, we can totally see that the future of virtual meetings being totally different from what we’re doing today. So we at Toasty are excited to streamline the meeting flow from planning to collaborating, to summarizing the meeting. This way everyone (even if you’re no expert in this) can run a productive virtual meeting. Check out more about Toasty through our website.