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3 Stages of Successful Virtual Meetings

Virtual teams require virtual meetings. It seems obvious, then, that highly functional,productive teams should have good, productive meetings. Yet it seems that most of us get our work done in spite of, not because of the virtual meetings we attend. What can a leader do?

Technology tries to handle the communication. There are the well-known virtual meeting tools like WebEx and GoToMeeting, and lesser known tools like Via3 and WebConferencePro which work well in the right hands and with sufficient planning. We asked the president of LucidMeetings what that planning entails, regardless of the tools you use.

LucidMeeting is a unique tool, in that it focuses less on presentations and more on some of the administrative tools like creating agendas, capturing action items and documenting meeting minutes in a way that's easy to use. We asked Christopher Gift, the President of LucidMeetings, to tell us what makes a good online meeting.

What are the unique challenges of running a good virtual meeting?

Most virtual meeting tools are designed primarily to share presentations and screens, which is great for sales demos and webinars. But when a working team or committee meets virtually, there's usually a lot more going on than just a slideshow. If you want to have a great virtual meeting with your teams, you need to follow the same best-practices as you would for an in person meetings; provide a clear agenda, lead focused discussions, capture decisions, and follow-through afterwards.

According to Gift, There are 3 stages to running a great meeting:

Before the meeting

  • Have a goal and an agenda- Before you call a meeting, you should know what you want to accomplish, and the discussion points (or agenda) that move you towards that goal. If you're hoping the group will make a decision during the meeting, you need to ensure they have the information necessary to do so in advance. If there is no way for people to prepare, know what's on target and what isn't, how are they expected to be successful?
  • Get the right participants- You need to bring the right people together to have a great meeting. This can be more complicated with virtual meetings, because you need to check availability potentially across multiple time zones. Once the schedule is set, you also need to ensure that all the key participants are equipped to participate in a virtual meeting. Can they access the meeting software using their computer or device? Will the conference call work for them in their country? Have they used the meeting software before, or do they need an orientation or training before the meeting? You want your meeting to focus on the goal and not the software, so make sure your key participants have a chance to get familiar with the software ahead of time.
  • Practice- Always run at least one test meeting with your new meeting software before you try to involve the larger team. It doesn't matter how easy the software is to use or how tech savvy you may be - each tool is different. No one wants to have their learning curve become the team's entertainment when there are more important matters at hand.
During the meeting
  • Stay on track- This means the meeting leader needs to watch the time, cut short the ratholes, and keep moving through the agenda. That said, it's also important to engage the team and leave space for discussion. That is, after all, why you ask all these people to meet in the first place.
  • Assign a note-keeper (or two)- You need a record of what's transpired, and it keeps people engaged an on track to be part of the process.
  • Summarize next steps- Typically, the meeting's purpose is to provide context and decisions needed for the team to go out and DO something. It's the leaders job to make sure everyone leaves knowing exactly what that something to do is.
After the meeting
  • Have a successful last meeting to set up the next one- To have a successful next meeting, have a successful first meeting, then clearly establish next steps and the date for the next meeting. When your team leaves a focused, engaging meeting knowing what they need to do and when they'll be called together again to report progress, you're on track for forming an effective meeting habit
  • Check with the team to see what worked and what didn't- It's also a good idea to check in with the team about what is or is not working.It's important to also make sure you don't fall into a rut and lose the team's interest.
Whether you're using a sophisticated tool like Lucidmeetings, a common platform like WebEx or a telephone conference line and scratch paper, planning the pre-during-and-post of a meeting before logging on ups the chances of success.

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photo courtesy of flickr user Florian SEROUUSI CC 2.0
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