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Virtual Meetings Matter: How to make them better

More and more, interaction with direct reports, peers or entire work teams is of the virtual variety. Perhaps each worker lives in a different city or country than the home office. Perhaps the entire business is virtual, linked only by a tech tool such as Skype and the occasional face-to-face meeting. Or perhaps an organization is hiring contract workers from around the world, who have little tie to the organization beyond a solitary task.

To be effective, communication must be intentionally thoughtful and warm. Just as professionals have to learn to show up and greet someone in a physical meeting, they also need to practice establishing presence in a virtual meeting. Here are five ways to have better virtual meetings:

Set and enforce clear expectations. Face-to-face meeting norms and etiquette are well established in many organizations. We have seen meeting leaders stop a meeting when a mobile phone is picked up, to make it clear that everyone in the room needs to be fully present or excuse themselves until they can be. The same sort of rigor should be applied to the expectations for a virtual meeting. Tell meeting participants that, for one important videoconference each week, it is expected that everyone will be in front of their webcam. Ask them to close their e-mail applications and turn off any distracting devices during the meeting.

Never begin a meeting without an agenda. Some of us have gotten into the bad habit of winging it for our meetings. In person, it can sometimes be possible to salvage a meeting without an agenda, but when a meeting is virtual, it’s quite the feat. Place time estimates on the agenda and stick to them as often as possible. When everyone knows how much time is set aside for each item, they will help you stay on track and they’re also more likely to remain engaged in the meeting.

Schedule one-on-one video check-ins. For team members that you rarely, if ever, interact with in person, schedule brief, regular, one-on-one check-ins. These check-ins are vital to maintaining good working relationships even when offices are in the same building. They become essential when we don’t work in close physical proximity. Be sure to schedule these check-ins at times when both of you will be in front of a webcam, free of distractions. This is especially important when delivering feedback that may be hard to hear, where a casual phone call or e-mail might cause things to be taken out of context.

Exaggerate like an actor. Smiling makes a difference. On some videoconferencing platforms, all you see is someone’s face, and even that is sometimes blurry. So if your face is thumbnail size and out of focus, you may have to exaggerate the smile to better convey your emotions. Smiling not only makes the person on the other end of a video screen more comfortable, it also will help in a phone conversation. If there’s a scowl on your face, that scowl gets translated into the tone of voice that goes through the phone line.

Stand up! Your voice will project better and your tone will improve if you stand up or at least sit up straight when having a conversation on the phone or via videoconference. Slouching might give off an air of indifference. Coach your team and yourself on trying to have a 10- or 15-minute call standing up.

Dan Griffiths, CPA, CGMA is the director of strategy & leadership at Tanner, LLC, a Salt Lake City-based firm. 

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