Ultimate Virtual Meeting Guide
A virtual meeting can be one of the most effective tools in an organization’s arsenal, or it could be a colossal waste of time for all involved. Organizing a virtual meeting can be anything from getting all the stakeholders on a small call, all the way up to a massive call with 20,000 attendees. Virtual meetings open the door for increased communication with your audiences. In our ultimate virtual meeting guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about hosting a successful virtual meeting or event.
Why Use a Virtual Meeting?
So why use a virtual meeting? You could send out a mass email. You could arrange an all-hands meeting face-to-face. What is so good about a virtual meeting?
Streamlining Business Communication
When you get everyone in your team, your department, or your company together in a virtual meeting, everyone is getting the same message. There’s no worry about one person hearing one thing and another hearing something different. Everyone stays on the same page. Plus virtual meetings make room for keeping detailed records via recording tools, so not only will people be on the same page, but they can refer back to that page again and again. Questions can be reviewed, concerns won’t be overlooked. The attendees can relisten to the vital information that comes from their leaders and leadership can listen to the points brought up during the Q & A to make sure that they have their finger on the pulse of the company.
Flexible Work Environment
Scheduling meetings is so much easier when virtual meetings are being used because you don’t have to wait for everyone to be at the same place at the same time. You don’t even need to be in the same city–or the same hemisphere. Plus, having more virtual meetings means that more of your employees can work from home, something that was of vital importance in 2020 but which, studies suggest, will continue to be more and more commonplace moving forward.
Messaging tools and email are good, but they involve a lot of back-and-forths, and often they don’t have the right people copied in the messages to get the right answers. Teams waste a lot of time getting feedback from different people and departments because they have to consult each one individually. Virtual meetings allow for all necessary parties to be in the same virtual room at the same time and to hash out the important details with everyone necessary to make decisions and execute them.
Hire Top Talent with Remote Teams
If you have an organization that relies on virtual meetings, then you don’t need to hire people who are within driving distance of your home office. You can be based in San Francisco, and with virtual meetings, there’s no reason why your VP can’t be living in Boston or your account managers in Tulsa, Miami, and Phoenix. Your hiring pool has just opened up to attract the very best talent–talent who may not want to relocate due to family or cost of living or other factors–and you can get that talent working for you, all remotely, through virtual meetings.
Save on Expenses
Virtual meetings save on expenses because when it’s time to gather the team together you don’t need to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms and per diems to get them all in the same room at your headquarters. Time is money, and the time they spend traveling is time that could be better spent doing something else.
So now we know why we want virtual meetings. How do we go about them?
Step #1 in our Virtual Meeting Guide: Planning
Our virtual meeting guide kicks off with one of the most important steps: planning. Large or small, every good virtual meeting starts with a good planning session. This helps you to assess all the needs of the meeting: who needs to be there, what they need to hear, how it can all be organized, what needs to happen to make it a reality, and more.
Connex Meeting Facilitators
Meeting facilitators are truly the differentiator when it comes to Connex and other webcast companies. We have staff who will walk you through large (and medium and small) meetings to help you plan every facet of the meeting, make sure the technology is there, make sure that there is staff online and present to resolve any technical glitches as they happen, so there’s never any lag time for your important meetings, and make sure that you have an ideal meeting experience.
Predetermine Audience Needs
In order to get a meeting running smoothly, especially a virtual meeting, you need to make sure that you’re meeting the needs of your audience. If you’re not, if you’re veering into the dreaded territory of boredom, then your audience is going to start multitasking. They’ll be checking emails and working on projects and while you may see their faces in front of you, you won’t be getting through to them. So, assess why everyone who is in the meeting is there (do they all need to be there? Who is essential?) and make sure that the information and conversation are pertinent to all parties involved. Most of all make sure that when the meeting is over, everyone in the audience knows what they are now expected to know and do.
Map Desired Outcomes
You may think you know what the meeting is for, but are you sure what problem you want to solve? Are you sure you know why everyone is there and what their purpose in the meeting is? Are there things that you need to know before the meeting ever begins? Identifying the reason for the meeting, and clearly explaining that to the people who are spending their time there, will be crucial in making the meeting effective.
Make Sure Audience Knows How to Use Tools
We’re going to talk more about tools later on in this article, but part of the planning process is not only determining what tools you need to use for the meeting but making sure that everyone who is going to be accessing the meeting will be able to use those tools. If participants are having more concerns with the interface than they are with the content, then you know you’ve got trouble on your hands. If you’re using a new tool, make sure that they have plenty of time to install anything (if it requires it), understand the interface, and be able to participate fully.
Get Help Running the Meeting
There’s no reason why you have to go it alone in a virtual meeting. A coordinator-assisted conference call includes a professional meeting coordinator who handles all of the grunt work. Some of the tasks of an expert coordinator include:
- Answering calls and greeting participants
- Providing necessary instructions
- Monitoring call quality
- Assisting if things go wrong
- Introducing different speakers
- Managing any Q&A sessions
- Recording your meeting
- Compiling a list of participants
If you’re worried about handling the logistics of the call then it’s an ideal time to look into a conference coordinator. If you want to have a consistent structure to the meeting, these coordinators are not just troubleshooters but are people-oriented meeting facilitators. If the meeting is especially important and you can’t afford for technical issues to derail you, you need a coordinator. And if you want to make a good impression, these extroverted, energetic, and intelligent professionals will set the tone for the meeting and make it a success.
Step #2. Coordinate Schedules
Next in our virtual meeting guide, let’s talk about coordinating schedules. Anyone who has ever tried to set up a virtual meeting (or any meeting with more than a handful of people) knows that coordinating schedules is a difficult task in the best of times. But here are some hints to help you make your virtual meeting a success.
Be Aware of Time Zones
In the current climate with so many working remotely, there is a big reason to worry about time zones, but if you’re hosting a big meeting—a call that encompasses offices in Australia and Brazil and New York and London—you need to make sure that your call is as mindful of timezones as is necessary.
Use Our Productivity Tools to Set Times
There’s nothing more annoying than getting a message from someone in Phoenix saying that the meeting is at 10:00 am Pacific. Then you have to open your phone and try to figure out what that translates to you in Berlin or in Dubai. Plus, doesn’t Phoenix ignore Daylight Savings Time? How do you calculate that? It’s all a mess.
The better solution is to use productivity tools from the very start, and Connex can get you on the right track with these productivity tools. If you’re inviting a large number of people, we can handle the notifications and reservations.
Step #3. Set Etiquette Expectations
Just as there are etiquette expectations in a face-to-face meeting, there is etiquette that you need to follow in a virtual meeting. You might think this is a no-brainer: you’re a nice person; no one will be offended. But that’s not what etiquette is about. It’s about making sure that not only is everyone treated well, but their time is respected and never wasted. It’s about caring about not only their comfort during the meeting but in making the meeting worth their valuable time.
Etiquette is different for smaller meetings than it is for larger meetings, obviously. We’ll address both below:
See Each Other When Possible
When possible, meet face-to-face. Have people turn their cameras on. (Obviously, this can’t work in large webinars with hundreds of participants, but in smaller groups it’s important.) 55% of communication is body language. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed a time when someone told a sarcastic joke and the recipient didn’t realize it was supposed to be funny. The same is true of personal communication on a virtual call: being able to see peoples’ faces is important to understanding the message that they’re trying to present. It helps even with little things, like differentiating between when someone is taking a pause to think of the right words or whether they’re turning over their speaking time to someone else.
And if you’re in a large meeting, get your primary speakers in front of a camera that everyone in attendance can see. Research shows that when we see the person speaking to us we’re more willing and ready to engage and listen.
There’s nothing wrong at all with sending out a message before the meeting encouraging people to avoid distractions during the virtual call. In fact, it’s encouraged. People are busy, and if they’re not feeling engaged their minds will wander to email and documents and notes and other messages, and soon you’ve lost half the call to distractions. Encourage everyone to shut things down and focus on the meeting as much as they can.
Test All Technology Before the Meeting
This is where the conference coordinator, who we mentioned above, will shine. They’ll make sure that you have the right cameras, that the wi-fi is working well, screen sharing is operable, and all the various widgets in your presentation (polls, chat, Powerpoint) are running flawlessly. We’ll test everything first, and then begin broadcasting the meeting a good ten minutes before it is supposed to officially start. This not only will let you know if you need to fix anything, but it will help participants get the small talk out of the way before the meeting needs to begin.
Minimize Language Barriers
Even if all of your participants speak English that doesn’t mean they’re as fluent as you are, and it doesn’t mean they know every colloquialism. Language barriers can be overcome more if there are distributed materials, agendas, notes, presentations, and other documents ahead of time so people have time to review them.
Also, make an effort to slow down your speaking speed. This is important for both English and non-English-speaking audiences. When people get nervous (public speaking) they tend to speed up and talk much faster than they normally would, and it can get hard for even the most fluent speakers to understand sometimes.
Start On Time
Part of good etiquette is respecting the time of everyone on the call. This applies to you starting on time, but it’s also important for participants to arrive at the call on time, so our organizing software will send them out a reminder before the meeting starts that you want to be prompt and have everything go quickly. They’ll appreciate you valuing their time.
Recording and Playback
For people who do miss part of the call, either because they were late, because they had to take an important phone call, or had some other distraction, it’s important to provide recordings and playbacks of the virtual meetings for anyone who needs them. This can be especially helpful for non-English speakers who may need to hear something repeated to understand it, but it can also help to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Be Culturally Sensitive
Of course, be culturally sensitive. We’re talking about major meetings here among the best and the brightest. You wouldn’t be having these meetings if this were a trivial affair that could have been an email. You may be broadcasting to Mumbai, Shanghai, Honolulu, and Istanbul. Be aware of cultural differences and keep colloquialisms to a minimum.
Step #4. Create Engagement
When you begin the meeting, make sure that you are creating engagement. This means that you’re getting people to participate throughout. In meetings of this size, this is more than just getting to the end and asking “Any questions?” (Though we have tools to help with that.) You should be actively soliciting feedback from everyone in the meeting. Here are a few ways to do that.
There are a lot of tools that you can use to get people engaged.
If you’re in a large meeting, tools like polls are a great way to get audience buy-in. Ask questions and have participants use polls to give real-time feedback, and then address the results, whatever they happen to be. Use the chat feature to get people talking: you could ask a question and ask people to send an answer on chat, and then address them as they roll in. There are virtual whiteboards in some virtual meeting rooms that can be used to brainstorm. All of these tools are ways to get people engaged and away from distractions.
Make Sure the Audience Knows How to Use the Tools
Of course, it’s no good being asked to use a virtual whiteboard if you don’t know how to contribute to it. This is where Connex comes in with our dedicated staff who make everything run smoothly. Any technology that is needed for the call will be addressed in advance, and we will monitor it during the meeting to make sure that it all works just as it should.
Plan the Pace and Flow
A presentation is telling a story, and you should follow all the parts of storytelling: first, you lay out the situation as it is. Then there’s the inciting incident–the thing that sparks someone into action. Then there’s the rising tension as the problems seem to mount. Then finally the climax where the problem is solved. And then, at last, the resolution where we see the results of the solution. By organizing a presentation this way you’re digging deep into the hardwired parts of the human brain that have been honed for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. People crave stories. They respond well to stories.
Understand the Size of Your Audience
Knowing the size of your audience will vastly change your presentation. A small audience, where you’re all looking at each other face-to-face on a web browser, will be a very different meeting than one in which three thousand people across the two continents are tuned in to listen to a training session. You still need to get engagement, but it’s going to be a different kind of engagement. You’ll want different tools. You’ll have a different presentation deck. You’ll have different follow-up and action items.
Step #5. Use the Proper Tools
Lastly, our virtual meeting guide recommends choosing the right tool. Choosing the right tool for a meeting might seem daunting, but here are some basics to keep in mind.
Think Through the Basics
- Hosting meetings with remote workers without incurring travel costs
- Training employees
- Conducting product or other demonstrations
- Sharing information with small or large groups
- Holding brainstorming or planning sessions
- Providing informational seminars or presentations to large audiences
- Presenting news and updates to investors or other stakeholders
Every presentation should think through the following questions so that they can arrive at an outcome that is good for them and their company.
- What are my goals and desired outcome for the event?
- What audience segments do I hope to target?
- How will I reach my audience and entice members to participate?
- What is the best timing for the event to realize our goals, including accommodations for international participants?
- How will I measure success?
- How will we follow up to ensure our goals have been met?
Choose the Right Format
So now you have to choose the right format: is this a webcast or a web conference? This decision typically comes down to how many people will participate? And, is this a meeting or a presentation.
Web Conference vs Webcast
A webcast is a streaming video that primarily communicates from one or a few to many.
A web conference is a more interactive format that allows participants to interact with each other.
Connex Meeting Coordinators
Our Connex staff is the biggest differentiator, as we are there to make sure that your meetings run as smoothly as possible, and we’re especially good (and important) during webcasts where there could be thousands (or tens of thousands) of participants. Never discount the value of dedicated staff who are there solely to make sure things get off without a hitch.
A web conference is for small, highly interactive meetings where collaboration is important. A webcast is for large-scale presentations and events where sharing the same message with many is critical.
The audience size of a web conference is small to medium, while the size of a webcast is medium to large.
Web conferences are limited by the platform–some platforms can only handle so many people. A webcast has no limit on the number of people who can be involved.
Quality of Video
In a web conference, the video is typically a lower resolution video, from webcams. In a webcast, the video quality is higher and streamed in broadcast quality.
Often, software is required for web conferences through a simple download. Audio is VoIP or via phone. With webcasts, there is typically no software download required as the webcast is broadcast on a browser, both audio and video.
Participants in web conferences engage with each other in real-time and have conversations just as though they were sitting in a room with one another. They can share screens, have dialogue, and brainstorm. On the other hand, in webcasts participants are more passive. There can be interaction through polls and other widgets, but mostly the audience is there to consume information.
Step #6. Recap and Follow-Up
Just because a meeting is wrapping up doesn’t mean that the responsibility of the organizer is over. Now is time to recap and follow up.
Make Clear Assignments with Deadlines
In the meeting, the organizer or leaders should make clear assignments with dates attached as to when they need to be completed, or when they’ll be discussed again. Everyone should leave the meeting knowing why they attended, what they were supposed to get out of it, and what they’re supposed to do now.
Provide Recordings For Playback
The organizer can provide recordings of the meeting for playback so anyone can revisit the content of the meeting and make sure that they understood what was being asked of them and what their responsibilities are. This is also helpful for people with language barriers who need additional time with the material to absorb it.
Follow-Up at Predetermined Schedule
There should be a follow-up meeting planned. Perhaps a specific date doesn’t need to be decided, but a timeframe should be agreed upon by which tasks will be completed and the group will gather again to see what solutions and headway have been made.
A lot goes into a virtual meeting, and in this ultimate virtual meeting guide, we have highlighted the most important parts of organizing a virtual meeting for your organization. These are: planning, coordinating schedules, setting etiquette expectations, creating engagement, using the proper tools, and recap and follow-up. By following these steps you can make your next virtual meetings memorable, efficient, productive, and worthwhile. Whether you are a front-line worker in the medical field or any other business, Connex will help you have productive meetings every time! If you need any extra help, explore the benefits of a managed meeting service to make it even simpler.