Meetings, Rules and Etiquette and how to set them

Have you participated in an out-of-control online meeting?  People trying to talk at the same time, power-tools in use within microphone hearing distance and cats walking across keyboards are things that I have seen disrupt the flow of a meeting. Ground rules for virtual meetings seem obvious to me, but it turns out that some just don’t get the expected behavioural standards, or etiquette for meetings. My other observation is that the person running or moderating the meeting may not know how to set up or set out the rules. Moderator rules, how to set rules and some suggested ground rules may transform your next online meeting.

The ‘new’ benefits of rules

Business has been conducting in-person meetings for hundreds of years and during that time meeting structure, rules and etiquette have developed.  The increase in virtual meetings has highlighted the difficulties when some standard meeting rules are not observed. Thousands of years of mothers have also learned that you need a set of rules.  Setting out the rules for everyone, seems basic to some but others may need the education. Rules help people know how they are to behave to keep everyone else happy and moving in the same direction.  This may seem silly to some, but trust me, it is an essential step in running a successful meeting and you get to convey your reputation as an online whiz.

Rules for the moderatorwork at home woman in virtual meeting

  1. Check your equipment – Make sure everything is working properly before the meeting starts, nothing worse than the audio or presentations not working when they are most needed or the battery failing and people having to run for chargers.
  2. Be professional – you are at work so all the work protocols apply. Make sure you have dressed as you would if you were going to work, put the dog outside, you don’t want it barking at the screen and make sure the kids don’t come running in during the meeting.
  3. Practice practice practice – yep practice makes perfect. Do at least one practice run so you know how things will work and how long sections will take.  Check with a trusted person that everything is ok and going to work well.
  4. Set an agenda – having an agenda keeps everything moving on time and keeps the meeting going smoothly. If appropriate send it out to attendees so they know what to expect.
  5. Your surroundings must be professional too – If you have a home office use this to conduct your meetings, working from the kitchen table isn’t a good look, but if that is all you have, then use a background to frame the screen. Working in the lounge room with the kids running around or the echoes in the bathroom doesn’t make for a professional appearance.  Also make sure the lighting is good, so participants can see you well.
  6. Look at the camera while speaking – this is really hard to do as looking at the participants seems much more natural, but by looking at the camera gives the participants the feeling you are looking right at them. Also make sure you are speaking to the microphone as well, you want everyone to hear you too.


3 ways to Set Meeting Rules

There are three ways to set the rules of the meeting and you can choose how you approach this;

  1. Get the group to make the list of rules that will apply to this group as a collaborative effort, they set the rules and own the rules that are put in place. You can also ask someone to be responsible or enforce some of, or all of the rules.    For example you might have a time keeper, or someone responsible for keeping the meeting on track etc.
  2. Have a basic list yourself and ask for input or what else needs to be included that you haven’t included, have some basic discussion about what makes a great environment and a great meeting, make this an interactive session so everyone understands what is expected of them.
  3. Make the list yourself, read them out and get them all to agree to what you have said.


Basic Ground Rules for an online meetingGroup of people in online meetingn

Rules might be slightly different depending upon what you meeting is about, but similar rules will allow the meeting to flow more efficiently.

  1. Be on Time – arriving on time is essential for any meeting to start and waiting for people to turn up is not acceptable for those that have made the effort to be there on time.  This is a rule that is essential for both in person meetings and online meetings.  If you are doing a zoom meeting, muting every person as they enter the room is a good way to reduce any disruption.  Also including waiting rooms so people can join the meeting at an appropriate time is also a way of minimizing disturbance.
  2. Phones on silent – Phones need to be put on silent during the meeting. Nothing worse than getting a call in the middle of a meeting and it is even worse watching another participant talking to someone because they are not listening, even while they are on mute.
  3. Each person gets a chance to speak – If you are the moderator, and this is appropriate for your meeting type, make sure everyone who needs to speak has a chance to talk and say what they need to without interruption. Being listened to, or having the feeling that you have been listened to is important to each of us.  Making a rule that each appropriate person gets a chance to speak and will be listened to is really important.
  4. Be respectful of each other – it always astounds me that we need to say this and make it a rule, but that is a sign of our times, being respectful of each other is essential for not only meetings but life.
  5. No interruptions – We will listen with active listening. There is nothing worse than running a meeting and one person constantly interrupts everyone else and doesn’t let them have their say.
  6. Confidentiality is important – do not speak about what others are sharing with the group. Other people’s business is their business, it is not for us to tell the world.
  7. Be non-judgmental towards others. We have no idea what others have been through and how they have lived their life, we can not judge others for their opinions or behaviour.  Judgement will only stop people from sharing.
  8. All questions are OK. Stopping people asking questions shuts the conversation down and you might be surprised how many other people also want to know the answer.

Additional Online Meeting Rules

Online meetings have a few other etiquette rules that you might want to put in place.

  1. Turn on your camera – others need to know what you look like and need to see your face. Your facial expressions and body language is exaggerated so even more important in online meetings as it is all others can see.
  2. Mute yourself when you aren’t talking – Typing or being noisy when you are not muted. The noise will disrupt the meeting and no one will know where the noise is coming from, so always remember to mute yourself when you are not talking, it could save any later embarrassment.  If you are running a zoom meeting, you maybe able to mute the participants who have forgotten to do this.
  3. Use the text chat function – questions or encouragement to others can be written in the chat function, this will keep the meeting moving faster as the speaker can address these directly.
  4. No eating – Don’t eat while on camera, your movement is laser focused and will be so distracting to everyone else on the call. Even drinking a glass of water can be considered unrespectful to some.
  5. Don’t leave – Don’t get up and walk away, even though you might still be listening, to others it appears like you aren’t interested in what is being said. You would never get up and walk around in a conventional meeting, so don’t do it online.  If you need to leave the screen explain what you are doing in the chat and turn off your camera.
  6. No Multitasking – It will be obvious to others in the meeting that you are doing something else when you looking around the screen and your eyes aren’t focused in one place watching the person speaking.


How formal or relaxed do you want your meeting to be? Are you time limited? Do you have some potential disruptive participants? As business and mothers know, ground rules for online meetings just makes sense.


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