The 5 Virtual Meeting Revolutions

by Phil Waknell —

What are you going to do today? For many typical office workers, the answer is: too many meetings, and not enough time to work. It’s rare that meetings and productivity coincide.

At the time of writing, many of us are required to work from home, so physical meetings have become virtual meetings, and they’re not always an improvement. Online meetings present their own set of challenges, principally because unless everyone has their camera switched on, one participant won’t know whether another is paying attention, or is checking Instagram, or has gone to walk his dog, aiming to return at the end of the meeting in time to say goodbye and pick up as few actions as possible.

So here are the 5 main revolutions our virtual meetings need to become real successes:

1. Match the people with the purpose.

Ensure the right people are there to achieve your purpose - and only the right people - while ensuring your stated purpose suits the people. Sometimes you’ll choose the meeting objective based on the people who should attend - for example a defined team - and sometimes you’ll choose the participants based on the objective. Always first understand the context, and then ensure the people match the purpose.

2. Don’t pollute meetings with unnecessary presentations.

Of course, at Ideas on Stage, we live and breathe presentations - but we’ll be the first to say when you shouldn’t be presenting. We like the Jeff Bezos approach: in a meeting aimed at decision or collaboration, there should never be any presentations. Not just no slides, but no presentations. Give people a document to read that includes any information they need, then focus the time on discussion and interaction, with strong facilitation (see #5). If you’re giving a webinar or webcast, that’s when a presentation can work well. In other meetings, plan to spend time on the other possible ingredients of a successful meeting: discussion, interaction, brainstorming and quiet reading (see #4), and only use short presentations when necessary.

3. Aim for attention and interaction.

Attention is the currency of leaders - and in online meetings, it is all too rare. Plan your virtual meeting to ensure people can find nothing more interesting to do… because the meeting is the most interesting thing they could do. It’s not up to the participants to make an effort to pay attention: it’s up to the meeting leader, facilitator and any presenters to make an effort to deserve their attention at all times. Planning for interaction is a great way to keep people engaged.

4. Use documents for information, slides for attention.

People forget what they hear very quickly. They remember far more from what they read - as long as they are allowed to focus on reading, without disturbances. This is why Bezos has everyone read a 6-page document in silence at the start of a meeting. By the time everyone has finished, they are literally on the same page - and can then discuss and take decisions. In an online meeting, it’s also a good idea to share documents your participants can read - even if it means they are reading in silence during the first ten minutes of the meeting. At first it seems odd, but it’s extremely efficient. Where you decide to use slides, ensure they are aimed at keeping or focusing everyone’s attention rather than delivering information.

5. Facilitate online meetings - before, during, and after.

A meeting without a facilitator is like an orchestra without a conductor: a lot of talented people making an awful noise. The facilitator may not - and ideally should not - speak for more than half of the time, unless they are also the main presenter in a webinar or webcast. But their role is key. Before the meeting, the facilitator sets the meeting purpose, invites the right people, reminds them, sets up the technology for the meeting, prepares and shares any pre-read documents, and plans the meeting agenda, remembering the first 4 revolutions. During the meeting, the facilitator keeps time – or assigns someone else to be the timekeeper – while ensuring everyone has a chance to contribute, making the agenda flow, and ensuring the meeting objectives are reached. It’s also very important for the facilitator, and any other speakers, to speak clearly and engagingly, so everybody wants to listen and can easily understand. After the meeting, the facilitator should ensure proper meeting minutes or outcomes are shared with participants as well as stakeholders, so that even people who weren’t there will know what happened and what was decided. (This means people won’t feel compelled to attend just to stay in the loop – and fewer participants make for a more productive meeting.)

There is much we can improve about virtual meetings, and we have 5 webinars on the subject - our first webinar is live on YouTube - all of which are simply a condensed version of what we have to share in our Virtual Meeting Revolution course. If you’d like more details about that, please let us know using the form below.

We hope this helps you to turn your next virtual meeting into a real success.