How many video meetings have you had in the last week? Once, video meetings were intermittent, and chiefly in the workplace. Now, they have become such a central part of our business and nonbusiness life, that a YouTube video titled Chime after Chime, a rewording of Cyndi Lauper’s famous song Time after Time, parodies the video meeting. The chorus goes:
If you’re lost, you can look, and you will find me
Chime after Chime.
If you call, I will answer, I’ll be waiting
Chime after Chime.
If you’re lost, use the phone tool, you will find me
Chime after Chime.
If you’re stalled, I can help you, I’ll be waiting
Chime after Chime.
When it comes to the business world, the problem with these video and video conference meetings, time after time, is that they are a waste of time. If you are lost and looking to improve your video meetings, search no longer. In this blog post, I am going to depart from my normal strategy discussions to discuss 10 tips for conducting successful video meetings. 5 of the 10 tips are about preparation and 5 tips relate to the meetings themselves.
This post will focus on meeting planning and delivery, as opposed to other important topics such as the best cameras and camera angles, lighting, backgrounds, or reviewing features for Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other products.
Video meetings have some advantages over in person meetings. Particularly, if the meetings are small, they can feel more personal, like you are having a casual FaceTime or Skype conversation with a friend. That is partially because nonspeakers usually keep their microphones on mute, since background noise is distracting, and partially because you are seeing the family room, hearing a dog bark, or seeing a kid play in the background. Because the software can struggle with attendees interrupting the speaker, another advantage of video meetings is they reduce grandstanding and generally allow more people to express their views.
The downsides are material too. It is harder to read the room, more difficult to catch nuances, presentations are harder, debate is more challenging, and attendees have more trouble staying engaged during video meetings. All these factors, and more, inform how video meetings should be handled.
With that in mind, let’s start with my first 5 tips on meeting preparation:
1. Set focused goals and define success for the meeting
Is it a meeting to get a decision? Get input? Inform? If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, then your meeting will not achieve it. Because it is harder for attendees to stay attentive in video meetings, it is more important than ever to stay specific and not to try to accomplish too much. Be focused. One of my friends argues for the “rule of three.” Never try to impart more than three key points, seek more than three key pieces of input, or try and make more than three key decisions in any meeting, particularly in a video meeting. Sometimes you may conclude you don’t need a meeting at all. A phone call or an email or two is often sufficient.
2. Get input and alignment
Often you may know your goals, but others may have different ones. Know your audience. Review your goals, and agree what success is with key players before the meeting to make sure everyone is in sync.
3. Educate participants using pre-reads or other linked materials
If your meeting is to get a decision or input, then think through what materials your colleagues need before the meeting. Give plenty of time before the meeting for attendees to review presentations, documents, articles, test products, etc., especially since it is less effective to do presentations on video. This way the video meeting can focus on getting the input or decision you need, rather than trying to educate everyone equally about the issues.
4. Draft an agenda and decide the meeting duration
Most meetings work better when there is an agenda, and everyone knows what the goals and flow of the meeting will be. That helps keep the meeting on point. For all the reasons discussed above, video meeting lengths should be materially shorter than in person meetings.
5. Invite the right people
There is a fine balance between co-workers getting their feathers ruffled because they were not invited and maximizing the success of a meeting by keeping it smaller and more intimate. I recommend focusing on keeping video meetings as small as possible. Only invite the team members who are relevant and will move the process forward. Ask them to communicate to others that need to know. On the fence if someone is needed? You can always ask before the meeting if your colleague views the meeting as critical to his/her work.
5 tips for the actual video meeting:
1. Reinforce the goals for the meeting
Everyone should understand the purpose of the meeting and what success is. Remind your attendees of these goals at the beginning of the meeting.
2. Lead/Manage the meeting
Video meetings work best when the facilitator/leader (who may be a different person than the individual that called the meeting) manages the dialog and keeps the effort on track. Otherwise, meetings can become a free for all. Put in place practices such as having people using the raise hand feature when they want to comment, using chat to solicit feedback, and so on. To use chat for feedback, keep the questions simple so the answers can be simple as well, and, if appropriate, read the answers out loud to the group. From screen sharing, to chat, breakout rooms, and polls, there are a variety of different tools the leader can use to manage the meeting. If the meeting goes off topic, note any good ideas raised (often called putting ideas in the “parking lot”) and comment how they will be appropriate for another time, and steer the meeting back on topic.
3. Mix it up
There is nothing worse than one person talking on a slide for 10 minutes straight on a video chat or reading a talk on a video conference. Video meetings work best when different techniques are interspersed with each other to help keep people’s attention. Present a topic, solicit feedback, have Q@A, show a short video, and so on. Don’t let the meeting get tedious, mix it up.
4. Have some fun
You can’t bring bagels to a video call, so do what you can to make the meetings more personal and interesting. Have people wear a themed shirt or hat, start with a one-minute embarrassing or personal story, have new team members introduce themselves, share a cool background and so on. Obviously keep it appropriate, short, and minimally distracting, but meetings, live or on video, generally work more effectively if we know each other better and have a little fun.
5. Track next steps
As with any meeting, the meeting owner should track next steps, assign owners to action items, send a meeting summary and so on. Anyone assigned an action item needs to acknowledge that they understand what their assignment is and when it needs to be completed.
There you have it – 10 Video Meeting Tips that Work Chime after Chime. Many of them you can use for in person meetings as well. Use them to increase the effectiveness of your meetings. Chime in with comments!