Meetings completely changed after the pandemic struck, challenging us to keep the normal office feel and expectations, but also upgrading our ability to connect with anyone anywhere.
Here are some of our top tips for how to get the best from your meetings.
The basics: Platforms and Internet
A myriad of communication platforms have attempted to fill the needs of digitising companies, but finding the one for you can be a trial and error process. Whichever platform you choose, thoroughly test the software before the start of a meeting, for example by checking your audio input and output settings correspond with your microphone and speaker/headphone setup. Update your platform to the latest version, as this can often cause issues such as being unable to hear or see someone in a call, especially if calls take place across devices, e.g. computer to phone.
Make sure you are positioned in a location that has a reliable bandwidth, not too far from your router. If this is not possible the use of an ethernet cable, plugged into your router and computer/laptop, will give the most stable connection. If you get incredibly unlucky and experience an internet outage, it is also possible to create a wireless hotspot on your phone and connect your laptop to that for the duration of your meeting.
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Once you have a reliable tech setup in place it’s time to think about organisation. Just as with any meeting virtual or otherwise, good planning is key. Use a digital calendar to plan meetings effectively, well in advance of the proposed date. This will help everyone to organise themselves accordingly. Send a calendar invite to everyone involved and ensure they will receive a notification at least 10-15 minutes before the start time. It is easy to miss something in our busy work lives so notifications are key to avoid people being late, missing or unprepared for a meeting.
Create a meeting agenda ahead of time to allow everyone to prepare for the meeting. This will also give your meeting structure allowing participants to plan questions or comments. Every discussion should have a clear objective that is relevant to those whom you have invited. So coordinate based on these key topics, to maintain an effective and efficient dialogue. Objectives should also be worth meeting over, if one of your key topics could have been resolved with a google search, it should not be brought up at a meeting. The length of a meeting should generally be 15-45 minutes so that it is easier to schedule and so everyone stays focussed. At the end of a meeting reserve 5 or 10 minutes to summarise and distribute work as required. You can also take the time to plan a follow up meeting to assess and review.
Audio only meetings just aren’t as effective as video in most situations. Video allows more natural conversation to take place and includes non-verbal cues that enhance communication. It allows everyone to put a face to a voice, particularly important for lockdown hires, who may never have met their team in person. Humanising communication is also an advantage in terms of professionalism and effort. It can feel unpleasant if participants don’t show video, as if they aren’t paying attention. A video meeting forces everyone to be groomed, dressed, and engaged with a meeting. The speaker can track whether their audience is actually listening to them, and listeners can resist the temptation to multitask, improving quality of interaction.
At the beginning of the meeting it is polite to acknowledge everyone in the room and if necessary take appropriate steps to make introductions. Show you appreciate everyone making the effort to attend as scheduling is not always straight forward. Although the organiser may be the main speaker, every effort should be made to include everyone in the discussion at hand. Some team members may be more introverted, meaning they are less likely to contribute to a discussion unless prompted with leading questions.
Remind your team that meetings are a place of collaboration and mutual respect, designed to build trust and motivation. It is easier to cause offence to someone online than in person because it is an unnatural way to interact. This makes it easy to misinterpret the meaning vs implied meaning of what someone is saying. Every effort should be made to use clear unambiguous language and tone when trying to communicate effectively with team members. If meetings become heated, suggest a cool off period, or consider rescheduling. Virtual meetings have become our new normal, presenting a whole host of new and unexpected challenges, advice such as ‘check your technology’ may sound redundant, but how many times have you had tech issues affect your meetings? Similarly, introduction of clear structure and organisation along with digitally minded courtesy will enhance and smooth communication, leading to greater success for all. And finally, be mindful you don’t need to call up a meeting where an email will do!
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