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