Please don’t Zoom me just because you’re bored



We’ve all encountered them: the lengthy video meeting that appeared to have no purpose, or could have been condensed into a few minutes. Natalie Gordon offers some tips on improving the efficacy of video meetings and keeping participants engaged.

In the blink of an eye, video meetings have become a new way of life.  Over the past couple of months we have become used to seeing the inside of our colleagues’ houses and familiar with seeing our own faces in the corner of the screen as we join a meeting.

In the “new normal” it is more important than ever that meetings are productive. If we are only meeting virtually, we need to make that time count in order to drive a project forward or gather the knowledge of our peers.

We might not be seeing our colleagues across a desk anymore, or bumping into them while making tea. When the informal catch up is non-existent, the formal video meeting can be the only time we collaborate in a group.

With teams spread across different locations it can be even harder than usual to organise an effective meeting. How many times have you attended or, let’s be honest, organised a meeting that hadn’t given enough thought to its true purpose and desired outcomes? In the current environment, how many meetings do you attend where you suspect the organiser just wanted someone to talk to?

Meetings have long been a very visible clue to the culture of an organisation: they can tell you a lot about the prevalent behaviours, the hierarchies at play, the decision-making processes, the power bases, and how efficient an organisation is. And now, those clues to an organisation’s culture are magnified in sometimes uncomfortable ways as we look at each other through new virtual eyes.

Outlined below is a structured approach to meeting management which will help bring people together effectively, helping you make the most of the group’s time to reach your goals. This could change your meetings from being a potential distress flare about your organisational culture, to a driver for change.

Develop a plan

Just because everyone turns up, it doesn’t mean they are all going to be engaged in the content of the meeting. Using a structured approach to plan and execute all meetings in the same way, regardless of content, ensures attendees know in advance what is expected of them.

Booking a meeting and inviting the attendees sounds simple, but how many meetings have you had where either you had no contribution to make or those who could influence decisions were not invited? Online, it’s even harder to manage everybody’s contributions so it’s critical you have the right people focused on the right topic.

You can’t know who to invite until you’re clear on the purpose of the meeting, so start by setting objectives which are visible to all attendees: this way everyone knows why you are asking for their time.

Plan and assign agenda items and timings. It’s not rocket science, but we’ve all been in meetings which have over-run because they haven’t been planned properly. You should set out a clear agenda and work out how much time each item will need and who is leading each item. It will soon become clear if you are trying to pack too much into one meeting and you’ll avoid the annoyance of missing out half the agenda because the first part of the meeting overran.

Just because everyone turns up, it doesn’t mean they are all going to be engaged in the content of the meeting.”

The agenda and objectives should be sent out with the meeting invite to let your attendees know exactly what is expected of them.

Manage the meeting proactively

Open the meeting by reviewing the previous meeting’s actions or next steps, if you have any. That way, your meetings are driving progress and holding people to account.

Review the objectives you set when you planned your meeting and collect expectations from attendees to ensure everyone is engaged and invested from the start. The aim here is to turn all attendees into active participants. It is easier if you can visibly share next steps, objectives and expectations on screen so there is collective agreement and understanding.

Use the timings from the planning phase to keep the meeting on track. Don’t be afraid to move on once the stated time is up. Attendees are likely to stay engaged if they know the meeting will keep to time.

Confirm decisions made and assign next steps against agenda items as you go. This isn’t about ‘taking the minutes’, this is about recording just the essential information to drive action and making sure everyone knows who is accountable for each action. This avoids any nasty surprises later on.

At the end of the meeting, review progress against the original objectives and expectations and assign next steps to complete any unresolved actions. If the group decides the objectives were not met, work out how you get there.

Close the meeting formally

Ask the attendees for their feedback and divide this into benefits and concerns. How do people feel about the meeting? What are the benefits they can identify from what was discussed?

Asking attendees about their concerns is especially important for a virtual workforce. Make sure attendees have a chance to voice these and assign next steps to address them. Team members will be more likely to participate actively in meetings where they know their voices are heard and their concerns taken seriously.

Next steps

If you are in the middle of a project or find that the initial meeting didn’t cover all the items on the agenda, create a meeting series so that all previous and subsequent meetings and next steps and decisions are linked. Address benefits and concerns in the plan for the next meeting and refer back to the next steps and decisions taken previously.

By developing a plan and sticking to it, you can maximise the benefits of bringing a group of people together and ensure objectives are met while the organisation finds its way through the current crisis, and when things return to whatever ‘normal’ will be.

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