How to have successful virtual meetings: your questions, my answers
In our new world of working from home, having effective virtual meetings is now critically important for business. But as we’ve all discovered, it’s not quite as easy as we thought. The social dynamic on a virtual call is different to in-person meetings – we’re missing many of the non-verbal cues that prevent us from talking over each other, it’s easy to get bored and lose engagement, and it’s harder to get into our professional persona when we’re tuning in from home.
In this article, I’ll share a few tips on how to have more effective video calls based on the questions I get asked the most…
1. How should I dress for a virtual meeting and what should my background be?
Dress-wise, I always recommend smart-casual. Business wear is overkill, but showing you’ve made an effort to wear actual clothes rather than your jogging suit, for example, shows that you take the meeting seriously. Studies also show that our cognitive abilities improve when we dress more professionally, so it might even help you perform better on the call.
In terms of your background, opt for neutrality - a plain background provides little distraction and insight into your personal life. A full display of your family photos, on the other hand, might be an overshare, and too intriguing to those joining the call if you want them to focus on what you’re saying.
For a more flattering camera shot, position your camera at your eye line or upwards by propping your laptop on books, and face a window to avoid dark shadows on your face. And just in case you’re tempted, avoid joining a video call with your camera switched off. It creates an imbalance of power with some people being exposed and some hidden, and can be considered rude. Avoid muting your audio and leaving the room too – you wouldn’t walk out of a meeting at the office, so aim for the same level of engagement on a virtual call.
2. How can we make our meetings more productive?
If we were talking about in-person meetings, I would recommend that you (1) have a clear agenda and send it out in advance so people can think ahead about their contribution (2) have a meeting chair and (3) start and finish on time to build trust and credibility. When it comes to virtual meetings, this is even more important. Meetings with no structure or no chair will be accidentally over-ruled by the extroverts. If you’re the meeting chair, you can use a technique called signposting to lay out the structure of the meeting, keep it to time and move between speakers. For example, you could open with “Welcome to the meeting everyone. I’m going to start by providing a 5 minute update on X project, then I’ll handover to Sarah to give an update on X. After that, there will be an opportunity for questions, and at that point I’ll invite each person to speak…”.
This structure will ensure you get through the agenda and no one talks over each other, but it doesn’t allow space for people connect at the beginning of the meeting, or post-meeting chat by the water cooler, so you can work these into the agenda too. You could start the meeting by inviting each person to give a one minute update on what’s going on their lives personally and professionally, with you starting first to model the tone (and time limit).
Then at the end of the meeting, you could formalise water cooler chat (usually an opportunity for people to vent their frustrations) by providing an optional invite to each person to speak for one minute on how they feel about what was discussed, or what they would have done differently in the meeting.
3. How can I make sure I get my message across?
It’s easy to drift off in a virtual meeting – a thumbnail video of a person is much less demanding of our attention than a real life person, so if we’re presenting on a virtual call we have to work harder to engage people. Aside from well prepared content, vocal variety is the key to keeping everyone awake, so vary the pitch of your voice as much as possible. Aim to speak 10-20% slower than you normally would to give others time to process what you’re saying, and give yourself more time to think so you can formulate your ideas properly – make it your goal to say fewer words, but with more impact. More tips on how to have gravitas in this video from me.
If you think people are looking bored, try calling on people for their opinions randomly, since no one likes to be caught off guard. (Remember when the teacher used to do that at school?). And since on a video call you don’t have the luxury of assessing people’s body language to gather feedback, it might be worth scheduling in meeting breaks where you ‘check the temperature’ and ask how people are feeling about what is being discussed; although it’s probably worth using the countdown timer on your video conference platform here to make sure no one overtalks, as starting and finishing the meeting on time is critical for maintaining engagement.
4. What should I be doing on a call if I am an introvert/extrovert?
There is difference in our wiring as introverts and extroverts. Apart from extroverts being more comfortable jumping in to speak, introverts process information through their long term memory more than extroverts, which means it can take longer to process information. With that in mind…
It will be easy for you to accidentally dominate a Zoom call and miss out on valuable contributions, so count to 3 seconds before you jump in to give introverts a chance to respond. Avoiding filling silences (something you probably love to do) – instead intentionally create pauses for everyone to have thinking time. Sending an agenda out ahead of the meeting is particularly important for introverts on your team to provide extra thinking time.
Prepare for meetings to feel more comfortable speaking up. If you have to deliver a difficult message, rehearse saying it out loud ahead of the call. Research shows that we are more likely to speak in a meeting if we speak in the first 5-10 minutes, so try and speak early on to warm up. To avoid feeling drained, avoid scheduling back-to-back calls – explain to your boss that need to schedule in alone time to recharge in between virtual calls.
So here are a few ideas to get you started, and there are many more strategies you can use to get better results from your virtual meetings. If you’d like us to work with your team to improve your virtual communication, you can check out on our course on virtual meetings or book one of our webinars for corporate teams.
Carrie Swift, Love Public Speaking
Carrie is the Founder of Love Public Speaking, a London-based training company which trains corporate teams in how to present on virtual channels as well as in face-to-face scenarios. An international conference speaker, Carrie is a NLP practitioner, coach and presentation skills expert. Carrie founded Love Public Speaking in 2016 after spending many years overcoming her own fear of public speaking in the corporate world. Her passion is helping people find confidence in speaking up in order to positively impact their life prospects.