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Everyone in the business world will agree that meetings are a natural part of professional life. But recently, COVID changed the flow of these meetings, forcing teams to adapt and meet in a virtual landscape. This poses new challenges for most workplaces as this is uncharted territory. Hosting and staying productive in a remote meeting may be difficult at first, but it can get easier with these tips.

Proper Tools

The tools you use for online meetings will differ depending on your needs. For meetings only requiring audio and video, almost any team conference call will work. Popular choices are Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, and Google Meet. Lesser talked about tools for meetings would be scheduling tools. With a more robust scheduling or organizational tool, meetings are easier to schedule and plan. A calendar or organizational tool that lets you see the schedule of your teammates will allow you to schedule a meeting when all participants are available.  At their core, you need tools that allow for reliable communication and collaboration as, without those, meetings may not accomplish their purpose.

Create a Goal

Having a goal is necessary for being productive. This goes for all things, not just meetings. Knowing where to go and how to get there is crucial when dealing with multiple participants who have their own workload. Goal setting saves time and takes out all of the guesswork from meetings. Depending on the attendees, meetings will sometimes split off into tangents, but with a goal in mind, realigning the meeting is simple. Have a plan, stick to it, and no one will feel like their time was wasted.

Have a Backup Plan

Having a contingency plan is always a must in business. No one likes the feeling of scrambling to put something together at the last minute because the original plan couldn’t be executed. In the event that your primary communication tool fails, always have a designated backup to use. For example, if Zoom is your primary tool and it fails, having a Google Meet link already prepped is a great way to eliminate downtime. In regards to the actual meeting, having a backup plan in the event of absences is important. If a key speaker is gone, the presentation slot should have a replacement, or in a worst-case scenario, must be skipped. Setting up a meeting where the order of information presented won’t affect the impact of the meeting helps the meeting stay agile. Flexible meetings don’t have trouble when problems such as broken slides, broken links, or videos that won’t buffer occur, as they can easily be fixed while moving on to the next topic.

Encourage Pre-Meeting Chats

People love small talk, it helps foster relationships and keeps people social. Encourage small talks before the meeting as they aren’t helpful during the main discussion. If the Zoom call is at 10 am, encourage people to join the room 15 minutes before to test their connection, set up, and start chatting. These pre-meeting chats give everyone a chance to prepare and will allow them to actively converse with each other, which may or may not be an option during the meeting depending on the topic.

Create an Inclusive Environment

Whenever possible, make sure to create an inclusive environment. This topic is heavily tied into company culture and will lead to a healthy and collaborative working environment. Always encourage inclusion, not just during meetings. Actively inviting people to company events, outings, team gatherings, or something as simple as lunch will get people accustomed to being included and will encourage active participation.

Engage with the Attendees

Engaging with your audience is critical if you want people to pay attention, especially for longer meetings. If you have to hold a meeting that runs long, chances are anyone not actively participating isn’t going to be paying attention the entire time. Especially if the topic at hand isn’t meaningful or interesting to them. An easy way to keep everyone engaged is to make the meeting interactive. This could involve introducing everyone at the start of the meeting or asking questions and inviting people to answer. Asking open-ended questions allows a multitude of people to participate while having the group brainstorm. The only caveat is to not let the brainstorming session get out of hand and take over the meeting. Getting the room talking is a great way to have everyone alert and retain the information given during the meeting.

Summarize the Meeting

Oftentimes the end of the meeting is the only part that anyone remembers, especially if the meeting runs for an extended period of time. Taking a moment to quickly review the key items discussed during the meeting will help reaffirm. If there was one main takeaway from the entire meeting, make sure to drive that point home by rephrasing it into an easily digestible phrase or saying.

The Wrap Up

Being prepared is the first step in holding productive meetings. This includes having an overall plan, selecting the right tools to use, and encouraging a collaborative or inclusive environment. Getting everyone acclimated to the environment also helps keep everyone alert during the meeting. This is easily accomplished by encouraging casual conversation before the meeting and involving everyone as best you can. When applicable, try to include everyone in the meeting. Ask open-ended questions that get all attendees talking and sharing ideas. Make sure that you close out strong. End the meeting with any information you’d like everyone to remember, but present it in a concise manner.