Run a great online meeting that people want to attend

Have you ever attended an online meeting that just didn’t go so well?    I have and I decided to dissect what had happened so I could make sure my meetings weren’t like that.  My main learning was the person running the meeting is the key to a great meeting. The technical knowledge and the professionalism of the person running the online meeting is the foundation that sets the standard of what is expected of everyone else. A great meeting can be productive, positive, fun and leave people wanting to attend the next time.

What is the purpose of online meetings?woman in zoom meeting with female colleague

Groups of people come together for a meeting for a variety of reasons including purely social, workplace-related, mutual support and communal creativity.

We don’t meet people by accident.

They are meant to cross our path for a reason – -unknown

Online meetings are our new normal

The rise of people working from home, particularly women, attending workplace meetings in person is not what we do anymore.  Advances in technology has made catching planes to attend meetings a thing of the past.  The advent of the virtual meeting platforms and faster internet speeds means that online meetings are now accessible and part of our new normal.

Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Skype all have unique functions and seem to be the biggest players on the online market and they certainly have made our life so much easier today.

Running an Online Meeting

Here are my Housekeeping Rules for running a great online (also known as virtual) meeting. The Rules that you follow will  usually flow naturally to the meeting participants. For people who don’t catch on to the virtual meeting etiquette you may need to use a Rule Setting technique If anyone is behaving really badly and you need a laugh – consider the John Cleese classic

I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda

For more meetings about meetings. – Jonah Goldberg

My Housekeeping Rules for Online Meetings

    Before you Start – Technical

  • Choose a software that is appropriate for the type of meeting you want to run and one you know how to use effectively to run your meeting. There is nothing worse than the presenter not knowing how to screen share or get whatever it is they are presenting up on the screen, it wastes so much time and loses the participants attention.
  • Test your equipment prior to the meeting to make sure everything is working correctly and maybe even practice what it is you want to present, so you know what you are doing.
  • Turn your phone on silent, your phone might not have rung all day and you don’t expect any calls, but as soon as the meeting starts you are sure to get a sales call from some obscure company, so turn your phone on silent, if it is important you can call them back after the meeting finishes.
  • Dress to impress, you are still on show, so dress appropriately for the meeting and dress to the level you expect your participants to dress too. You wouldn’t want them attending in their pj’s so don’t do this yourself.
  • Have a clear background or make yourself a background that you can use, this will stop distractions and judgment from the participants making you look more professional if that is the image you are trying to make. Even use a sheet to hang behind you or a room divider if this is appropriate.  When I want to attend meetings sitting at my kitchen table, I blur the background to reduce distractions which is another option.
  • Check your lighting, test what others will see, both for you and your background, good lighting is imperative as sitting in the dark isn’t a good look, so check that people can see everything they need to. You might not need professional lighting as sitting in front of a big window might give you the perfect amount of light needed.
  • Prepare ahead, set an agenda, so you know how everything will go. Know what time everything will take so you know you can do everything that you have planned.  If you are running out of time, hold onto topics or activities you can do at a future time so you don’t go over time.
  • You may need to send out reminders with the agenda attached, this will not only remind the participants of the meeting but includes a list of who will be attending, what they need to bring and who will be presenting what or any other information that will be useful or interesting to the participants.

    At the beginning of the Meeting

  • Stick to the time you have told the participants. Punctuality is really important.  Make sure you start on time and run on-time to your timetable throughout the meeting.  Finishing on time is also very important as others will have planned around this time too.
  • Introduce yourself so the participants know who you are and what you are going to speak about, also introduce any of the other speakers so everyone understands who will be speaking. If the group is small and it is a personal gathering, each of the participants may introduce themselves and this will build rapport between everyone.
  • 100% of your attention must be on this meeting, avoid any distractions, you can’t multitask while running a meeting, your focus must be on this meeting only, any distractions you have will be magnified and could ruin your meeting, the participants will be aware that you aren’t present.
  • Only speak when you need to, speak slowly and clearly and mute your microphone when you are not talking and be prepared to mute others to reduce any background noise that might come through. If you need to speak to another participant, send it in a message, a lot of conference software have messaging inbuilt, use this to chat personally to whomever you need to.
  • Stick to the Agenda  If you are running out of time, hold onto topics or activities you can do at a future time so you don’t go over time.
  • Talk to the camera so the participants see you looking at them, the camera will become your participants. If you talk while looking at the people on the screen, it will look like you aren’t looking at the participants as they have no idea what it is you are looking at.
  • Be careful not to use the keyboard during the meeting, the tapping on the keys will be heard by the participants and you will be looking down instead of being with the attendees. If you need to take notes, record the meeting and make the notes after by listening to the recording or you may nominate someone else to take notes for you
  • Don’t get up and move around, the distraction will be seen by everyone else. Minimise any movement too because each time you move your arms, scratch your face or even simply move your body, will create attention to you on screen.  Keep good body posture and try to stay still.
  • Allocate breaks especially when the meeting goes for long periods of time. People need time to go to the toilet and get a drink or something to eat, so allowing them the time to do this will keep them engaged when they come back.  Theoretically every 50 minutes requires a 15 minute break, but I personally wouldn’t be including a break for meetings less than 2 hours long.  So if I was running a 3 hour meeting, I would be having a break after 1hr 20 minutes for 20 minutes.

    At the end of the Meetingwoman in zoom online meeting

  • Close the meeting in a professional manner, have a summary or conclusion and/or a date for the next meeting or maybe if it is a small meeting a one-word finale from each person might be nice.
  • Be the last person to leave and end the session. You will have to be the person who ends the session so ending the session when others are still talking is disrespectful and it isn’t a good look.  If the participants want to continue the discussion, suggest they meet on another platform or in-person at another time.

Life is about the People you meet

And the things you create with them.

So go out and start creating – unknown

Great online meetings don’t happen by accident. My Housekeeping Rules for running an online meeting will smooth the way for technical knowledge and professionalism to shine through. Your participants, the online meeting and your social, workplace or creative gathering will benefit.

1 Comment

  1. Anthea

    I find zoom invaluable and online meetings really make a difference in a life today. Your housekeeping tips were really good and made me think about how I could run my meetings better.


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