We spend our days attending lots of meetings, yet the well-managed meeting stands out as a rare gem. It’s not easy to run a good meeting, and in our increasingly virtual world it’s even harder to run an effective virtual meeting. But it’s a skill worth practicing, and your teammates will thank you for it.

How to Manage a Virtual Meeting

1. Before the Meeting

  • Send an agenda in advance. If it’s a lengthy meeting with many people attending, your agenda should also list the timing and outcomes (or objectives) for each agenda item. If you don’t know why you are holding this meeting — don’t hold it. It’s your job to make sure people don’t waste their time. Your advanced preparation shows respect to the participants and to the organization.
  • Appoint a backup facilitator and review the agenda with them. Make sure they know the host code to your conference call or virtual meeting software, so they can run the meeting if you are absent.
  • Practice with the technology. Most companies have a favored software for webinars, online demonstrations, and web-based meetings. Make sure you can navigate confidently and use the features you need for your meeting. And prepare some contingency plans, because invariably the technology will fail you at a key moment. Best advice: talk to an experienced web presenter in your office and learn their technique.

2. At the Beginning

  • Be there early (in the room, on the phone, and online) so you can boot up and test — there’s nothing worse than watching and listening as someone fumbles with the technology; you can feel the energy dissipate before the meeting even starts.
  • Greet each arrival as they “beep in” to a phone meeting by asking, “Hi, who just joined the call?”
  • When everyone is assembled, introduce the attendees and their roles. Make sure everyone knows why they are at this meeting.

3. During the Meeting

  • Begin the meeting on time, and don’t start over for late-comers. It is unfair to the people who make an effort to arrive on time, and it stops the meeting dead in its tracks. Add a note to the agenda that late-comers should wait for the facilitator to check for new attendees (perhaps at the 15-minute mark).
  • Do not multi-task. You will quickly lose focus and lose control of the meeting. You already have a big job: watch the clock, take brief notes, and make sure the discussion is moving. Your goal is to help the group reach a specific objective or outcome they need to move forward, so keep your eye on the ball.
  • Keep the pace lively. You don’t have the luxury of visual cues the way you might with an in-person meeting (cues like sighing, eye-rolling, doodling, dozing, etc.), so be sensitive to pacing and don’t let the air leak out of the meeting.
  • If you are sharing your desktop as a presenter, avoid excessive scrolling, sudden rapid cursor movements or jumping too quickly between pages; it can be disorienting for viewers.
  • Make sure everyone gets their say. Keep track of who is not participating and call on them periodically in a gentle way. You can ask: “How might this apply to your area?” or “What factors would contribute to making this work?” Virtual meetings can devolve into a conversation between the host and one participant. Try to get all participants to engage with each other, not you.
  • If there are some attendees in the room and others on the phone or online, the remote attendees will invariably feel left out. Keep down the private jokes, side conversations, or facial expressions. Be sensitive to their isolation and explain any activity they can hear but can’t see.
  • Don’t let the discussion drag on; gauge when you can move to the next topic by asking, “Do you have enough information to move the process forward, or do you need more time?” Enlist the attendees to help keep the meeting on track — it gets them to take ownership of meeting success. Ask, “Are we in the weeds? Can we take that offline (especially if it doesn’t involve the whole team)?”
  • Recap at the end of the meeting. Make clear the next steps or due dates, and ensure people know what tasks they are responsible for.

4. After the Meeting

  • Send out brief meeting notes and ask for corrections.
  • Post the webinar online and send everyone the link.
  • Follow up on the items people are responsible for.

Managing meetings isn’t easy and it’s not a science; you learn more every time you do it. One of the best ways is to watch a good facilitator perform. You can analyze what they do well, and copy their moves the next time you run a meeting.

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” — Thomas Sowell

Now It’s Your Turn

1. If you are a meeting participant, read and follow these Ten Ground Rules for being an Effective Virtual Meeting Participant.
2. Practice your facilitation skills by volunteering to run a small meeting, then asking for feedback.
3. Master your company’s virtual meeting software, such as ReadyTalk, Elluminate or WebEx. Try the online tutorials, then enlist a colleague to act as your audience and use the features so you can perform smoothly.
4. Read these previous posts on Envisioning Successful Outcomes and How Meetings Steal Your Productivity (and 6 Ways to Get it Back).

Read more posts from Your Life@Work.