12 tips to make your virtual meetings more successful, and less stressful – for all concerned
Whether you are being asked to design and produce a virtual meeting, speak at one, or participate in one, you could be in for a stressful time.
With just about every work-based and even social meeting now taking place via video camera and computer, people all around the world are talking about ‘Zoom fatigue’ – and that’s before your meeting invite lands in their inbox.
So how can you make your vital virtual conferences, meetings or events stand out from every other screen-based discussion that now fill every diary, every day?
And how can you make the process easier and less stressful for organisers, speakers and participants alike?
Here are 12 tips, of the many I’ve learned in over 20 years of working virtually, that will help.
1. Agree what success will look like
Before anyone ever gets sent a meeting invite, be clear about what you want the virtual meeting and supporting comms process to achieve. Use this as your ‘North Star’ and check everything you do from here on in against it. If an activity won’t help us get there, stop it. Wasted effort is energy sapping at the best of times – and these are not the best of times.
2. How long is long enough?
We all know virtual meetings are tiring – so be kind to everyone concerned and make them short. Two to three hours maximum, especially when it is vital that participants act on your key messages. No speaker should go on for more than 30 minutes, excluding Q&A.
3. Make the best possible use of your ‘face-to-face’ time
‘We can’t possibly cover everything in two hours’ I hear you cry. I agree. But people can’t fully concentrate for much longer. Better to do two hours and make them impactful, than four or five hours that become a blur. Pre-reads might help…
4. Set aside time for pre-event communications
‘No one actually reads the pre-read!’ is another familiar challenge. So send a meeting request with the pre-read, setting aside enough for it to happen. Perhaps pre-event video might be even more engaging. Time to repurpose that unused travel budget?
5. Engage everyone in the run up to the event
Pre-event research, or ‘pre-search’ as we call it is very helpful. Try testing knowledge of the pre-event communications, via a quiz, and publish the results. Ask participants what has gone well in the recent past and what the challenges might be going forward. Ask them what the hot topics are on the ‘shop floor’. And share the insights with presenters, to help them shape their content.
6. Get the presenters focused
Having shared your ‘pre-search’ findings with presenters, ask them to identify the three key messages they want participants to remember / act on as a consequence of their session. Translate this to the final slide, their call to action. Insist that they must end their allocated time by talking through this slide.
7. Keeping to time
Be super clear with presenters what their allocated time budget is – and don’t them go overdrawn. Agree a ‘code’ ahead of the meeting, perhaps an airport announcement chime with six minutes to go and a car horn, with three minutes to go, at which point we advance to their final, call to action, slide.
8. Insist on two speaker rehearsals
Why two rehearsals? The first one, two weeks before the event, is to check the content is on message, on brand, deliverable within the time budget and ends on a clear call to action. The second, one week before the event, is to coach the performance of the speaker, especially given that they’ll appear in a 13-inch wide screen, not a 13-yard wide stage.
9. Facilitation helps everyone play to their strengths
Having a professional facilitator link the sessions together, tie all of the content back to the ‘North Star’, add energy where required, help with the timings, run the interactive sessions and cover any technical challenges that may occur, helps the event flow well and achieve its objectives. It also ensures presenters are free to focus on what they do best, deliver their key messages, unfettered by process issues.
10. Schedule frequent breaks
Give everyone a nine-minute break between sessions and resist the temptation to squeeze the break time to shoehorn in a little bit more content. Why nine minutes? Because, in my experience, participants will remember nine and be back on time.
11. Make it interactive
Even in a short virtual meeting a strong case can be made for interactive sessions to involve participants with the content. I think a facilitated Q&A, designed to create even greater clarity, is always helpful. Live polls, word clouds, and quizzes about the key messages are also favourites. And why not ask participants what actions they are going to take, as a consequence of the event – and publicise those afterwards.
12. ‘End meeting’ means begin taking action
I’d always advocate that any event closes with a rousing call to action from a senior colleague, highlighting the steps that participants need to take next. And the very next step everyone takes is to tap on a button marked ‘End meeting’! Well it might be the end of the virtual event, but it should mark the beginning of participants taking action and the next phase of your communication process; Bringing the key messages to life in every part of your organisation, post-event.
Taken together, these 12 tips will help you deliver better outcomes for everyone involved in your vital virtual meetings – greater success and much less stress.