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How to Participate in an Online Meeting

Do's and Don'ts for web meeting participants

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With so many companies now choosing to conduct crucial meetings online, being an active and valuable online meeting participant has become an important workplace skill. Online meetings create a great opportunity for the exchange of ideas between dispersed employees who might not get to interact in person on a regular basis, establishing them as valuable team members and creating camaraderie amongst employees. The tips below will help you learn more about how to participate in an online meeting:

1. Be on time - If something is preventing you from attending an online meeting on time, let the organizer know. Keep in mind that online meeting software lets the participants know who is logging in, and when. This means that you won't be able to join the meeting half an hour late without being noticed. Being late to an online meeting is just as disrespectful as walking into the boardroom late.

2. Have some water or go to the restroom before the meeting - Online meetings usually do not go on for hours, so there is no natural break for you to excuse yourself. Also, meetings conducted on the Internet tend to be fast-paced, and people might even be reluctant or annoyed at having to stop and wait until you come back for them to continue the discussion. So grab a glass of water or go to the restroom before the meeting. Also, don't sneak out of the meeting without letting anyone know - you never know when someone might ask you a question. If you have an emergency, let the meeting organizer know that you must step out for a few minutes, and you will let them know when you are back. The best way to do this is through your online meeting software's chat facility, so you don't disrupt the presenter.

3. Keep a professional demeanor - While you might be attending your online meeting from the comfort of your desk or even your home, your tone should be no less formal than if you were in a boardroom, surrounded by your peers and superiors. This means that you should keep any comments about your cats or children at bay - even if they are in the next room. This shows that you are a trustworthy professional, able to keep your home and work lives separate, even if they share the same roof.

4. Don't plan on just listening in - Just because the meeting is online, it is no excuse for you to work on something else while only listening in. If you have been invited to the meeting, it's because the presenter values your input. Even if there isn't much of a chance for participation, you should still be actively taking notes. The online meeting that you happened to work on something else through, might just have something that will prove important to you. If you need to finish any work the same day as the meeting, either state that you are not available to attend the meeting on that day, or organize yourself well enough so that you won't have to work through it.

5. Make it a point to participate - Whether it's asking a question during the Q&A session, sharing your team's achievements or any other appropriate story or idea, plan to have a say in the meeting. Any good host will ask for input during the meeting, and will not spend the whole time just talking at the team. Take this as an opportunity to show that you are not only in attendance, but also paying attention. Say your name before you speak, so attendees will know who is addressing them. Keep in mind that you should speak confidently and clearly, as you would during a face-to-face meeting. If your business isn't into informal language, then refrain from using it even though an online setting might feel more informal than a face-to-face one.

6. Practice before the meeting - If you have been asked to share a slide, or to make a presentation during the meeting, you should ensure that not only is it done to the standards required by the organizer, but that you have also practiced the delivery of your materials. If this is your first online meeting using a certain software, ask the meeting organizer if they could do a dry run with you, to make sure that you're comfortable using the software. If you are already familiar with the software, then just practice the presentation. Know what you are going to say, and avoid reading from a cue during your presentation. Reading certain facts and figures is fine, but you don't want to sound like those telemarketing operators who cold-call you. Make sure that your presentation flows and is delivered smoothly.

7. Do not speak out of turn - If it is someone else's turn to present, let them finish without interruptions. Wait until they are done and then comment or ask questions. Unless the presenter has specified that it is OK for participants to interrupt the presentation, refrain from speaking when it's someone else's turn. Otherwise not only will the meeting be delayed, but it can also go off-topic. Keep in mind that those participating in online meetings don't have the opportunity to give visual cues that they would like to speak, letting the presenter neatly wrap up a point they want to make before taking the comment or question. So any interruption will be vocal, disrupting the natural flow of the meeting.

By following the above tips, you can ensure that you are not only regarded as professional, but that you know how to behave in an online meeting. While the Internet is seen by many as a fairly informal medium, when used in the workplace, it still requires the same courtesies that you would have when dealing with colleagues face-to-face.

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