5 Tips for Being a Virtual Meetings Virtuoso

    Mike Song

    Tim Burress

    Vicky Halsey

    By Mike Song,
    Tim Burress, and Vicki Halsey
    August 6, 2009

    These days, virtual meetings make a lot of sense. Meeting on the Web is a great way to slash travel costs, tighten the fiscal belt, go green, avoid the problems of foreign travel (illness, crime, etc.), and boost productivity. In theory, that is.

    In reality, many of us have no idea how to run online meetings that are engaging and highly effective. In fact, new research from www.infoexcellence.com found that two-thirds of all workers believe virtual meetings are boring and plagued by technical difficulties. As a result, attendees tune out, surf the Web, do e-mail, or play with their BlackBerries-”and productivity plummets.

    The good news is that you can transform unproductive, uninspiring meetings into riveting, energized, high-value events. Well-run virtual meetings can boost productivity as well as your bottom line.

    Here are five new ideas you can implement today to keep your virtual meeting attendees engaged and contributing.

    Meet in Color
    A teleconference is like meeting in black and white. No visuals = boring! Upgrade dismal phone meetings to colorful Web conferences using charts, slide presentations, and compelling photos to build interest and make your point.

    Quick Tip: Look for ways to incorporate team photos into your virtual meetings. Participants bond better when they can connect to a face. For example, place a headshot of yourself on the cover slide of your next virtual presentation.

    Go Ahead and Chat
    Invite participants to make frequent use of the public chat feature to provide insights, feedback and even jokes. But won’t this distract people, you’re wondering? Just the opposite. Tech-savvy Gen-Yers use chat to communicate. Chat also cuts meeting time because the speaker doesn’t have to be interrupted every time someone wants to make a point. In your next meeting, use chat early to send the message that the participants’ focus, contributions and opinions matter.

    Quick Tip: Use the chat feature as a rapid polling tool and idea generator. For example, ask participants to list the number-one obstacle to getting more done on the job.

    Screen Write
    Your audience will be more engaged if the screen is alive with movement and color. Practice using Web conferencing tools that allow you to draw or type on the Web meeting screen to highlight key points.

    Quick Tip: The next time you display a document reflecting a co-worker’s great work, draw an exclamation point to show your enthusiasm and approval.

    Survey the Group
    Web meeting surveys are easy to create and yield useful information to boot. During your next virtual meeting, impress participants with some interesting survey questions. For instance:

    What would make our meetings more effective?
    a) Hard start and stop times
    b) Better preparation
    c) Staying on-topic
    d) Completing action items

    Quick Tip: Create an open ended ice-breaker question to use with early participants to test the survey tool and get people interested, such as: “Who will win best actress on the Oscars tonight?”

    Avoid Tech Disasters
    Preparation is the key to avoiding annoying technical glitches. Create a “Tech Glitch Cheat Sheet” that lists key features, simple fixes, and support and account information for all virtual meeting technology. For example, include instructions on how to mute all phone lines. This is useful when a thoughtless participant puts you on hold and everyone is forced to listen to his endless on-hold music.

    Keep your cheat sheet readily accessible whenever you launch a virtual meeting and you’ll be able to sidestep technical glitches easily.

    Quick Tip: Download a free cheat sheet template at www.infoexcellence.com/icfreelessons.htm

    Become a virtual meeting virtuoso, and your coworkers, colleagues, and clients will be happy-”and even inspired-”to participate at a higher and more meaningful level.

    Mike Song, Tim Burress, and Vicki Halsey are coauthors of The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done (Berrett-Koehler, 2009, $19.95). Mike Song can be contacted at [email protected].