Since Covid and Lockdown there has been a huge increase in virtual sessions and ongoing it’s a way of working that has become the norm! The question is – how do we make the most of these sessions? And the answer is…..you work out what’s right for you (having first read through our top ten tips).
Virtual meetings have been around for some time for us, even before the pandemic. We’ve approached them from every conceivable angle and that’s why our experience might just come in handy. We’ve decided to offer our hard-earned first-hand knowledge in the form of a top ten rundown in the style of Top of the Pops just because we can: (younger readers may have to ask their parents about Top of the Pops!)
10: ‘Help, I need somebody...’
Never forget that the organiser of any virtual meeting may be on the same learning curve as you, so the more you help them to organise, the more they’ll help you to get what you need from the meeting. Instead of sitting back passively, engage with the process, starting with pre-meeting small talk and moving on through offering suggestions like using a white board. Joining in helps to shape a meeting you want to be attending.
9: ‘You’re so vain, you probably think this article’s about you…’
Are you ready for your close-up? First of all, work out if you even need to be on camera, because if you don’t then everything from the time you spend getting ready to where you actually attend the meeting could change. If you do, then check everything from the background (not too distracting) to the camera angle (not looking right up your nose) to an outfit that won’t strobe and pop on camera.
8: ‘(Avoiding) The Sound of Silence’
Getting the microphone and the headphones right isn’t just a question of the technology (although be warned, the standard iPhone microphone will pick up every sound in the radius of approximately a mile and a half)*, it’s more a question of consideration. Make sure your microphone is good enough for people to hear what you’re saying. A good noise cancelling headset will mean you don’t have to keep going on mute (and forgetting to come off mute) because of the building work happening in the next room.
*This may be a slight exaggeration
7: ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’
If you’re doing a live interview with Sky News then by all means encourage your child to barge into the room and you’ll become an internet sensation. If you want a successful meeting, on the other hand, then focus by minimising the chance of any possible distractions. There’s a reason why ‘Never work with animals or children’ was a saying long before virtual meetings became a thing, but the same goes for gazing out of the window and scrolling through the messages on your phone. One more heard-earned bit of advice? If you’re wearing reflective glasses, everyone will be able to tell when you zone out and do a bit of cheeky email checking.
6: ‘Where Are We Now?’
You know when meetings aren’t fun? When every meeting is exactly the same as the one before and the one after. Keep things engaging and hold the attention of everyone else by changing things up. Do you need to be able to look at the screen and work with tools like PowerPoint and spread sheets? If not, why not trying a walking meeting (the humble ‘phone call’)? Communicating while on the move, or maybe even sitting in the garden (the feasibility of this tip will vary depending on the weather gods) will freshen up everything from the view your other team members enjoy to the impact of your contributions. Staying in one place can easily become a habit, but even a shift a few feet to one side or through ninety degrees can give people something new to look at, and more of an incentive to pay attention.
Meetings can be hard work, virtual meetings can be even harder work and engaging in a stream of back to back virtual meetings is no fun at all. Shape your schedule so that you have a buffer of at least five minutes between meetings so you can get up, move around, and refocus. During the actual meeting don’t be afraid to put up your hand (literally, since visual symbols cut through more effectively) and ask for a quick break, because being respectful of your team and the meeting in general starts with being respectful of yourself.
4: ‘You’ll Sometimes Walk Alone’
Why am I here? It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, often in the middle of the kind of meeting that has you praying for the broadband to go down. It’s better to pose this one before the meeting starts though – what is your intended role in the eyes of the organiser, and does this role mean you have to be chained to your desk? Could you engage while walking (as above) or maybe even while walking your dog? If you can supply the level of input expected of you, pretty much anything goes.
3: ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’
Call it guilt, call it a strong work ethic or call it bad time management, but we have a tendency to say ‘Yes’ to every meeting invitation that gets sent to us. Curb this tendency by sitting down at the end of the week and reflecting back on the meetings you’ve attended. Ask yourself which went well and which were not so successful, and in the week after concentrate on attending the former and weeding out the latter. Engage with other members of the team via the same process – there’s every chance a consensus on meeting formats, types and topics will emerge.
2: ‘Oops!...I Did it Again’
Some meetings matter more than others, and for the most important meetings it makes sense – for your own stress levels if nothing else – to have a plan B in place. If your internet connection goes down (it has been known to happen) do you have a phone number to hand so you can let the organiser know? Would it be a good idea to have important decks in a shared location or even pre-shared before the meeting starts? One virtual meeting error which often goes without comment involves important people not being invited to the meeting. It pays to say something if you think that a critical individual is absent, since keeping quiet may well mean the whole meeting has to happen again with the right people present.
1: ‘Second That Emotion’
We often assume that other people in your meetings will resent you for being less than your 100% sparkling best or, indeed, even notice that you’re upset or distracted. If you assume they have positive intent, you become free to call out your emotions and share how you’re feeling. There’s every chance that people will be relieved because it gives them the chance to open up a little as well.
Whilst these tips apply to individuals taking part in virtual meetings, it is also important to consider (link to other blogs) the wider topics of running engaging meetings and avoiding the newly emerging phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue’. In combination, these approaches can be used to build a sturdy foundation for post pandemic world of remote working and virtual meetings – minimising the disruption while maximising what can be achieved.