If you really want to start running excellent meetings, this post has some pre-reading. First, check out the four-step guide to any perfect meeting for your business (virtual or otherwise), then head back over here.
Virtual meetings have the same issues as face-to-face gatherings, but they come with an extra layer of difficulty. What do you do to create a good meeting environment when your colleagues are across the city, across the country, or across the ocean? Here are four common problems specific to virtual meetings, and the proactive things you can do to fix them:
Problem #1: Repeating yourself over and over again
This occurs when someone isn't listening. You ask for their opinion and they have to ask: "Can you repeat that, please?"
Solution: Know everyone's name. If there are multiple people involved in your meeting, the best way to make sure you have someone's full attention is to say their name. And do it first — before you talk about what you want them to hear. It calls them to attention so they focus and you don't have to repeat yourself after they realize, "Oh wait, was that last statement meant for me?"
Make your next virtual meeting perfect: Start every sentence with someone's name. "Jill, what do you think about this? Jack, what do you think we should do to solve our problem?"
Problem #2: You have no idea who is talking to you
Someone in the conference call mentions you by name, asking for your opinion. And you realize you're not sure who she is.
Solution: Lead the effort — make sure everyone knows your name. It frequently happens that not everyone on a call knows the other participants. Which means they will not recognize your voice when you start speaking. Instead of assuming that everyone knows who you are and what you sound like (we all know what assuming does to you and me), introduce yourself a few times so people can start connecting a voice to a name. Or a face to a name, if you're using video chat. Ask everyone else to do the same.
Make your next virtual meeting perfect: Start sentences with your own name: "This is Jack again. Jill, what do you think about this?" And you can even include your job position for further clarity: "Hey, this is Jack from marketing again. Jill..."
Problem #3: Your technology decides to take a break
It has happened to the best of us. Powerpoint decides to crash. The microphone isn't picking up your voice. The video feed is pixelated to the point of turning your colleague into an unrecognizable collection of colored blocks.
Solution: Have a backup plan. Technology always seems to know when it should not fail — and chooses that exact time to give up on you. Send out your plan details in advance. If you're having technical difficulties, create a protocol for the entire group to switch to a new platform in a matter of seconds. Fumbling around trying to fix a technical issue can add 15 extra minutes to 30-minute meeting if you don't.
Make your next virtual meeting perfect: If you use one platform (like Google Hangouts) for your meetings, make sure everyone has a backup platform ready (like Skype) with everyone's username already added. Communicate that expectation in advance.
Problem #4: The dog keeps barking
You've heard it all before: babies crying, dogs barking, construction hammering, car horns honking. (Once, I was forced to listen to someone munching on chips for 20 long minutes.)
Solution: Set call etiquette guidelines. Remind people that just because you can't see each other, it doesn't mean you can't hear each other. Ask everyone to mute their microphones when they aren't speaking, sit in a relatively quiet area during the call (no busy coffee houses or loud trains), and move to a room away from the crying baby.
Make your next virtual meeting perfect: Send out a set of call etiquette guidelines in advance. Don't make it too long — everyone knows how to be polite. Sometimes they just need a gentle reminder.
There are some technology issues you can't prepare for: bad wifi connections; calls cutting out. But you can try to prevent additional problems by getting your team on board with these four steps.
What do you think? Can you solve your virtual meeting problems with these 4 solutions? What's missing from the list?
Read next: 7 Tips for Better Meetings (Infographic)