Making the Most of Your Virtual Meetings


Virtual meetings – what a concept. Being able to discuss issues, work on projects and manage a team from multiple locations has been revolutionary for all sectors, including the federal government.

But virtual meetings aren’t all rainbows and lemon drops. There are pitfalls that can make this technological wonderland become a nightmare, such as the infamous echo (echo, echo!) coming from someone’s line or the ever-present unmuted phone with persistent background noise.

No one said virtual meetings were going to be easy. But lucky for you, I’ve compiled a list of best practices learned from my successes and failures to keep your meetings from becoming a virtual disaster.

Find a quiet place.
I used to live in a 12-story apartment building that decided to renovate most of its units over the course of about 12 months. To add salt to the wound, the sawing/hammering/building area for the construction team was located in the vacant apartment next to mine. With only 584 square feet in which I could hide, I resorted to moving my laptop into the closet on occasion to be heard over the banging and pounding. Lesson learned: When you have a meeting scheduled, find a place where you can talk uninterrupted – even if that’s your bedroom closet!

Start on time.
Keeping to a schedule is a vital component to making your meetings efficient and effective. Sure, calling in a few minutes late so you can get a cup of coffee doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the domino effect of starting late can be huge for your coworker who is dealing with back-to-back meetings. Beginning a meeting when you scheduled it communicates to attendees that you respect their time (and also them!). You might leave a few folks behind the first few times, but if you create a culture where people know that your meeting starts at the appointed hour, you might actually get everyone to arrive on time or – dare we say – early!

Close your email.
I’m embarrassed to say that there have been occasions when I forgot to close my email inbox only to have a message alert pop up in the middle of a presentation. Ugh. Learn from my faux pas – close your inbox before your virtual presentation to ensure you don’t have any awkward interruptions. I can hear the shock in your voice: “Close my inbox!? Are you crazy, lady??” I know, it’s against your instincts, but believe me – it’s really OK. The emails will be there when you return and embarrassment will be avoided.

Dual monitors when possible.
What a beautiful thing two monitors can be. The option to have content across two panels makes it possible for you to share what’s on your desktop and have another place to see what’s going on in the virtual meeting room. People will think that you have eyes in the back of your head when you answer a question that pops up while going through a series of slides.

Audio check, check, check.
I think one of the scariest things about virtual meetings is getting the audio to work well for multiple people in multiple locations. We’ve all been on a call or watched a webinar when the speaker has an echo or isn’t standing close enough to the mic. My advice? Ask a teammate to join the meeting early so you can check the audio quality. And it’s not a bad idea to have an audio back-up plan (i.e., if my VoIP phone isn’t working, I’ll switch to my cellphone instead). Check, double check and triple check your audio before the meeting starts to ensure you don’t waste time when it’s time for action.

Have a notetaker.
If you are facilitating a virtual meeting or presentation, you might consider asking someone to take notes for you. This allows you to keep focused on the task at hand instead of juggling to keep up with taking notes yourself. This also provides a seamless experience for attendees and allows you to share notes after the meeting to everyone, including those who couldn’t attend. Win-win!

A final suggestion – take a few minutes to chuckle over the hilarious, so-close-to-reality video, A Conference Call in Real Life, and witness common pitfalls to virtual communication. Enjoy!

Lacey Scully is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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