April 11, 2021

Rachel Strella

7 Tips for Holding a Productive Virtual Meeting

virtual meeting

As the #Strella business grows, our client and team meetings also expand. It’s not uncommon for me to have two or three meetings a day. 

Each week, I meet one on one with the key members of my team to discuss the status of projects, brainstorm new ideas, and work to solve issues or challenges. We also have weekly or bi-monthly meetings with our clients. It’s beneficial to stay in front of people, especially in a remote business environment.

Most meetings are highly productive. However, occasionally I’ve been pulled into some with little or no purpose. With the ease of just “hopping onto Zoom,” the chances of getting sidetracked by unnecessary meetings has increased—and with it the threat of Zoom fatigue

Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things to help ensure meetings are purposeful and stay on task. I want to share them with you in hopes they will empower you to hold remote meetings that serve you, your team members, and your clients exceptionally well. 

My Top Tips for Making Remote Meetings Worth Everyone’s Time

1. Have an agenda and share it with the other participants in advance.  

For most meetings, I create an agenda using Decisions (Visit This Link to know how it works). I then share it with everyone, giving them permission to edit the document. This helps invited parties to prepare and ask questions for clarification before the meeting. It also allows them to add items they’d like to discuss. I like Google Docs because I can use my agendas as templates and simply alter the discussion points for future meetings. 

2. Start on time. End on time. 

How many meetings have you attended in the past month that went over the allotted time? I suspect it has happened more than you probably care to admit. When I ask my team to commit to our all-hands-on-deck quarterly meetings, I tell them how much time to allocate on their schedules—and I make sure I don’t go over that amount of time. This demonstrates that I respect their time, and it keeps the meetings moving at a good pace. 

I’ve discovered that one effective way to keep meetings on schedule is to assign people to cover specific items on the agenda. Depending on how many attendees will participate, we may set a time allocation for each discussion item. For example, in our full team meetings, we ask each participant to share a helpful tip with the entire group. With 15+ people on the team, this could potentially turn into a never-ending interaction. So, we set a time limit of 45 to 60 seconds per person, and we have a timer buzz them if they run over their time limit. We also have a specific order set for who will speak when, so attendees know when it’s their turn and can jump in without being prompted. That helps to keep our time in check. 

3. Stay on task.

I embed reference documents into my meeting agendas for attendees to read in advance. This streamlines meetings because everyone has (I assume) reviewed background details regarding what we will discuss. I also defer complex questions and issues to the end of the meeting so that we can get through the rest of the agenda before delving into those matters. If time allows, we tackle those items. If not, we either schedule time to meet again or consider solutions and share our thoughts with the team virtually by a specific deadline. 

4. Eliminate distractions. 

Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who is on their phone, looking at email, or otherwise distracted by something? It’s not difficult to tell when someone is not fully present! 

Sadly, that happens far too often. While there are valid reasons (such as a need to look for information relevant to the agenda or an emergency that warrants immediate attention), usually lack of engagement is a conscious choice not to pay attention. 

I don’t recommend calling out someone for this offense, but I suggest gently guiding them back into the conversation or connecting with them later to politely remind them that you value their participation and need them to be tuned in. 

5. Conclude with action items. 

At the end of every meeting, I provide a list of “to-dos” that identifies the name of the person(s) responsible for completing tasks and the target deadlines. At #Strella, we use the project management tool Trello and have individual Trello boards for each team member. After meetings, we create a Trello card on each individual’s board that includes a checklist of that person’s action items and the due dates. 

6. Schedule time for post-meeting follow-up. 

Frequently, I am in back-to-back meetings, which can make time management tricky. The solution that I’ve developed to ensure I don’t miss any of my own post-meeting tasks and other responsibilities is three-fold. 

After meetings conclude, I schedule time for...

  • Checking emails and notifications to catch up on what I missed. 
  • Working on my action items from meetings. (Usually, I add those to-dos on a card within my Trello board.) 
  • Handling essential follow-up and communication. 

7. Try to keep it light when you can! 

Meetings will be far more productive if they’re not a drag for participants. I like to start my meetings with a quick check-in to get individuals involved from the start or a creative introduction featuring something positive to kick off the discussion. This helps people feel relaxed and interested, which is especially important in a remote environment where individuals may feel awkward being on camera. 

Make Your Next Meeting Meaningful

When you plan virtual meetings well—and execute them according to plan—everyone involved will find them valuable. It does take some thought and organization to prepare, but, in my experience, the effort is always worth it. I encourage you to try the seven tips I’ve shared, and let me know how they transform your meetings from mundane to remarkable!

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