Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Some Tips on Holding Successful "Remote" Meetings

I recently posted a blog on “How to Have Better Meetings,” which was actually a link to a fantastic article on Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separationblog. Since then, I have had a number of people ask me how these ideas apply to virtual/remote meetings. Since I spent a number of years facilitating the Global Leadership Development Program for Merrill Lynch and have run several international leadership training classes for Qualcomm and other clients (all of which involved participants from several different countries in each meeting) I have a few ideas I’d like to share on what I believe it takes to run a successful remote meeting.

1. Nearly all of the rules for a typical face-to-face meeting still apply. There still needs to be a well-organized agenda, a firm start time, a firm stop time, agreement on next steps, agreement on action owners, and a specific date and time set for the next meeting.

2. If you think people can get easily distracted looking their e-mail in a face-to-face meeting, it can be 10 times worse during virtual meetings. To stop this destructive behavior, there should be a hard and fast rule within the group that everyone will clear their desk and their mind and be fully engaged in the meeting – no exceptions!

3. A great way to keep people engaged is for the meeting chair/facilitator to do what I call “roll-calls” often throughout the call — that is checking with people to solicit their feedback/agreement to a point that has just been made. That way, people never know when you might call on them for their ideas about what is being discussed so it keeps them more focused and attentive. It is been my experience that is a good idea to roll-call one or two of the participants every ten minutes or so to keep everyone on their toes.

4. Because your ability to understand the facial expressions and body language (and thereby the emotions/concerns of people)  is taken away on a remote phone call meeting (even if it is a video conference call) it is critical to solicit feedback on how people are “feeling” throughout the call. This is an incredibly hard skill to develop because it takes a high-level of empathy and extremely focused listening in order to detect when someone on the call might be struggling or confused. I got in the habit of stopping every four or five minutes in a call and asking a couple of attendees how they were doing, how they were feeling, if they had any concerns. I would then let the call for another five or 10 minutes and then ask several different people how they were doing. This allowed me to attempt to keep my finger on the emotional pulse of the participants throughout the meeting.

5. My good friend Jack Malcolm, one of the top sales and presentation skills trainers in the country, also suggested these thoughts: “More and more virtual meetings nowadays involve participants from different cultures, so you definitely have to be aware of the impact that cultural differences can have on their effectiveness. From my own experience, at a minimum you must be extremely attentive, first because different accents may make it difficult to understand some participants, and secondly because so many of the context cues are missing. Asian cultures, for example, are far more attuned to context cues than Western; we tend to be more direct so we assume that what someone else tells us is exactly what they meant. Indians, on the other hand, pay just as much attention to what is not said or how it is said.

On a more mundane level, I’ve seen too many meeting organizers ignore time zone differences and schedule meetings that are highly inconvenient to others. A lot of offshore participants may be too polite to make an issue of it, but it has to have an effect on their attitude going into the meeting.”

As the cost of travel skyrockets, technology improves by leaps and bounds,  and time continues to be a major constraint… companies are going to move more and more to virtual meetings from sometimes highly remote locations. For that reason it is essential that we strive to make every remote meeting as effective and focused as possible. I sure hope you found these ideas helpful and very much look forward to your feedback and additional suggestions.

Thanks so much – John Spence


  1. Great stuff!!! As are all of your articles, columns, blogs, etc. I do read them and I do share them. Thanks for all the times you make me stop and think and learn.

  2. Jeff Lyons says:

    Participants on virtual meetings seem to get frustrated and antagonistic much easier than they would in face-to-face meetings. Perhaps because it’s easier to be mean to someone you can’t see. This seems even more of a problem in cross-cultural meetings where understanding is challenged and with certain cultures that speak more tersely. It’s a good idea to focus on your patience and understanding to keep frustration and annoyance in check. It also helps to show understanding by restating what the other party says and by validating and showing empathy with their opinion or position before responding to it.

  3. Jeff Lyons says:

    Follow-up is crucial in virtual meetings. Take notes throughout the meeting and distribute them immediately afterwards to make sure everyone left with the same understanding. I tend to be very conspicuous about it and let people know when I need to pause to write up a note. That makes sure I have time to capture the full idea without people wondering why there’s silence on the line. Most people appreciate the diligence.

  4. Thanks VERY much for the excellent feedback Jeff – perfect!!!

  5. Excellent topic! I’m always evangalizing the vitrtures of telecommuting and virtual meetings, and you have some great points. Companies that have successfully integrated this technology into their culture are reaping the rewards of a more efficient workforce and reduced travel cost.

  6. Tony Heath says:

    I participate in dozens of virtual meetings every week. I couple months ago I began noticing that at least once per meeting, someone would say, “what was that again?” Since I didn’t want to join this club, I started paying better attention. I’ve recently started joking about this issue early in the call, trying to promote attention. I can report only modest success so far.

  7. Josh Lundell says:

    Thanks John! Good to affirm some of the tactics I’ve developed in my career at Bank of America align nicely with your message. Roughly 70% of my work is done via phone conference, and it’s been a unique transition towards auditory learning (since my default learning style has tended towards visual/kinesthetic ends of the spectrum). I will share these nuggets with my team!

  8. Good ideas. I was laughing reading because at my former company we had a meeting about have to have less and only productive meeting but I didn’t see many changes following. Also I’ve started conducting meetings remotely with ScreenConnect. Used Webex at the old company and had been using JoinMe until ScreenConnect came along with a meeting fix.

  9. Sheep says:

    By following above mentioned tips and using tools like webex, gotomeeting, R-HUB etc. one can conduct effective remote meetings.


  1. […] strategist John Spence makes a great point. He writes, “nearly all of the rules for a typical face-to-face meeting still apply” to remote […]