Many companies now have employees from several different offices working on the same projects, making collaborative working more important than ever. This is not to mention all of the employees who are currently telecommuting. Online meetings play a large role in this kind of environment, so it’s important for employees who want to excel in the modern workplace to know how to host and present an online meeting.
Each online meeting tool (such as GoToMeeting, WebEx or even Skype) is different, but all allow for the quick and easy creation of meetings, helping participants share screens, slides and even create polls.
Regardless of the software you choose, there are some guidelines that should be followed when hosting an online meeting.
1. Learn how to use your chosen tool before the first meeting. Your provider will be more than happy to give you a detailed tutorial on all the features that will be available to you during your meetings. Take advantage of that, so you know how to use the software before you schedule your first meeting. On the day of the meeting, log into it at least 15 minutes in advance so you can ensure that there are no problems with the tool and also to prepare all the materials that you will be presenting. Also keep in mind that participants could have questions about the meeting software, and it’s better to answer them before the meeting to avoid disruptions.
2. Decide on the subject of the meeting, and communicate it to participants. This follows the logic of in-person meetings, and allows your colleagues to not only ensure that the meeting is relevant to them, but to prepare themselves for it in advance. Whether the meeting is online or not, nothing is more frustrating than an employee who clearly hasn’t prepared for a meeting and can’t participate in the discussion. This is even more aggravating during an online meeting, because it’ll seem like the person is doing something else on their computer. So it's a good idea to always prepare an agenda and share it with those invited well before the meeting.
3. Send invitations ahead of the meeting. Chances are that whatever online meeting tool you have chosen will let you easily send invitations to the participants. Invitations should include the meeting’s time and date and also the link that will let people log in to the meeting. Phone-in details for the meeting are also useful, in case headsets don’t work. And because many people live by their Outlook calendars, it’s also wise to ensure that invitations can be saved in those.
4. Prepare your meeting material ahead. Online meetings need a visual element in order to engage the audience and stay interesting throughout. So you should use the meeting’s format to your advantage and share not only the traditional PowerPoint presentation, but also take this as an opportunity to share interesting links – these can be news articles, pictures or even videos. The more creative you get, the more interesting your meeting will become. Just remember to keep all materials relevant and professional.
5. Consider interactive tools such as polls or questionnaires. There’s nothing less interesting than a one-way online meeting, where the host just talks the entire time, but never asks for any sort of input. This makes it more of a lecture than a meeting. Avoid this situation by not only constantly planning breaks in your presentation to ask for input, but also by using polls and short questionnaires to get people participating. Also plan enough time for a question and answer (Q&A) or further discussion section.
6. Do a follow up post-meeting. During the meeting, you should announce that you will be both sending the meeting’s minutes and also following up on what’s been discussed the next day, or at most week. This way, you can ensure that anything that needs to be done after the meeting is clarified and has been assigned to someone. But you shouldn’t make this follow-up only about actions. Also ask for input on the meeting’s online format, so your team can come up with solutions that will work to make these meetings more efficient and effective.
As you can see, running an online meeting isn’t that different from a face-to-face one. All you need is familiarity with the tool together with careful planning ahead so you can be sure that the meeting will be relevant, interactive and interesting. And don’t forget to follow-up, otherwise everything discussed could easily be lowered in the priorities list or even forgotten.