Virtual meetings are a fixture of the modern office. Although many meetings have resumed in person, the average desk worker spends at least one to three hours a week looking at other faces behind a screen.
But it’s not the amount of time you spend in a virtual meeting that counts—in fact, we think less is more—it’s how you make use of that time. You don’t want to leave participants wishing you’d sent them a Slack message or an email instead.
Read on to learn best practices for hosting and running a productive, dare we say, pleasant virtual meeting.
What is a virtual meeting?
A virtual meeting is an online gathering that allows people from different locations to connect and collaborate in real time. You can join a virtual meeting using your mobile device, laptop or any other connected device. Virtual meetings are primarily used to connect teammates in different locations, although people in the same office might conduct a virtual meeting so they can stay at their desks.
Types of virtual meetings
The best virtual meeting platform can support different meeting types, including:
- Video conferencing. Turn on your audio and video so people can hear and see one another. These meetings are best for team and relationship building, or serious discussions.
- Web conferencing. Boost collaboration through screen sharing, whiteboarding and video conferencing. These meetings work well for large group brainstorming sessions.
- Webinars. Much like seminars where hosts or panelists present to attendees, webinars are best for product presentations or tech demos.
- Teleconferencing. Teleconferencing is primarily audio-only. Video is optional, not a central feature. Use it when you don’t need to share your screen or files or you need people to listen but stay muted. Audio-only meetings are good for quick meetings or general updates.
- Huddles. Huddles work well for quick, casual and often spontaneous conversations. Huddles are a Slack-specific feature.
Why do people use virtual meetings?
Virtual meetings are a great way to connect with colleagues, clients and customers when you’re not in the same room. People might use virtual meetings to:
- Collaborate with teammates
- Deliver sales or client presentations
- Interview job candidates
- Conduct employee training and workshops
- Deliver educational content
- Promote products
- Hold board meetings to discuss strategic planning or financial reports
Pros and cons of virtual meetings
From convenience to cost savings, virtual meetings have many advantages:
- Accessibility. Most virtual meeting platforms use inclusive features like screen readers and closed captioning to empower a wider audience.
- Global reach. They allow people from different time zones and locations to connect and collaborate.
- Record and playback. Most platforms let you record the meeting for anyone who can’t attend in real time or for future reference.
- Enhanced collaboration. You can often invite teammates to collaborate in real time through screen and document sharing.
Virtual meetings have a lot to offer, but there are some drawbacks:
- Tech issues. An astonishing number of virtual calls still begin with, “Can you hear me?” Poor internet connectivity, hardware issues and software glitches can waste time and slow productivity.
- Lacks in-person opportunities. Although virtual meeting platforms have made strides, nothing can truly replace watercooler talk or random hallway check-ins.
- Distractions. Distractions at home (hello, pets and kids) can make participants lose their focus.
- Security issues. Video-conferencing software is generally secure, but bad actors will go to great lengths to hack or disrupt meetings, whether it be for mischief or financial gain.
Virtual vs. online meetings
Virtual meetings mimic the in-person experience, facilitated by using platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. “Online meeting” is an umbrella term for all types of virtual connections using communication and collaboration tools like live chat, email and discussion forums.
Virtual meeting best practices
Follow these best practices for optimal results from your virtual meeting:
- Share the agenda in advance. A well-prepared meeting is a successful one. Put the most important agenda items first, in case participants need to drop out early.
Plan for a shorter meeting. Aim to fill the meeting with valuable content and goals, but allow for plenty of room for discussion. Plus, everyone likes a meeting that ends early.
- Make sure everyone has the right meeting link. This is a classic rookie mistake that can be easily avoided.
- Assign people roles ahead of time. Identify a facilitator and a dedicated note-taker. If you plan to engage specific people to speak on certain topics, make sure they’re briefed beforehand so they can come into the meeting prepared and ready to share.
- Don’t dive straight in. Effective meetings require the attention of all meeting participants—no easy feat. Before you launch into agenda items, get attendees relaxed and receptive with a brief icebreaker, like a quick check-in on everyone’s day or week.
- Encourage participation. This shouldn’t be a monologue. Encourage people to chat, use emoji reactions or simply ask people for input.
- Post-meeting, share action items and takeaways as soon as possible. Do this while the meeting is still fresh in everyone’s mind, ideally within a few hours of the meeting. Many modern virtual meeting platforms integrate with free, automatic transcription services.
Tips to make virtual meetings more interactive
Making virtual meetings fun encourages active participation, enhances engagement, facilitates learning and increases collaboration.
Here are some tips to make virtual meetings more engaging and interactive:
- Encourage team members to take written notes. Research shows that writing notes by hand helps people learn more, recollect facts better later, and gain a deeper understanding of the material than when they type notes.
- Have people type out questions during the meeting. Encourage participants to ask questions in the chat section of your virtual meeting platform. This can help those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up get their concerns addressed.
- Break people into groups. Have them accomplish a small task or engage in a discussion over a specific topic. Then have them share their findings with the larger group.
- Break the meeting into sections with a different person leading each segment. This helps people focus and encourages them to feel ownership over the topic or project.
- Check in regularly. Where possible, check in with participants regularly to gauge if the meetings are a valuable use of their time. Find out if the meeting was meaningful for them, and if it wasn’t, ask for their feedback on how it could’ve been improved.
- If you’re working on a hybrid team, account for time zones. For those working remotely, face time is invaluable. Check in with remote participants to make sure they can see and hear everyone clearly before you get started.
- Add something fun. A little effort here goes a long way. For example, you can encourage people to personalize their backgrounds to a theme such as “travel around the world,” “superhero day” or “throwback Thursday.” We share more fun virtual ideas in the next section.
Icebreakers for virtual meetings
Icebreakers are an excellent way to kick off virtual meetings. Examples include:
- Two truths and a lie. Each participant shares two true statements and one false statement about themselves. Others then guess which statement is the lie.
- Virtual scavenger hunt. Provide a list of items for participants to find before time runs out.
- Show and tell. Ask participants to pick an item in their workspace that holds personal significance and relate the story behind it. They can also share knowledge, advice and best practices.
- Word association. This game starts with one person saying a word about a particular theme or topic. The next person says a related word, and so on.
Overcome video-conference fatigue
People often feel tired after a video conference because it requires more brain power than other types of virtual meetings. It’s called “Zoom fatigue” because it happens after attending too many video calls in one day. Symptoms can include eye strain, difficulty concentrating, irritability, general tiredness, headaches and mental exhaustion.
To avoid video-conference fatigue:
- Reserve videos for important meetings
- Encourage people to go off camera when they need a break
- Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings
- Whenever possible, keep meetings short
- Cancel unnecessary meetings
Make virtual meetings work for you
As virtual meetings become more common in a work-from-anywhere world, it’s important to do some extra prep work to avoid seeing glazed eyes staring back at you on the screen. Be thoughtful about your meeting agenda, add engaging activities and practice good meeting hygiene to help everyone make the most of your virtual time together.