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Eight Steps to Better Online Meetings




When collaborating about work to be done, how would you rate online meetings in your company? ¨

  • Less than face-to-face.
  • About the same as face-to-face.
  • Better than face-to-face.

No online meeting will be as warm and comfortable as meeting face to face, such as to go out to lunch together or meet after work. But when people collaborate about the work, if your virtual meetings aren't at least as collaborative as face to face, or even better, then you could be missing a 36 percent increase in performance of people that do. (Meetings Around the World, 2006)

The sad truth is that most people are still using audio conference only meetings when they can't be face-to-face. Why are we continuing to meet this way, when there are so many other wonderful enhancements available to improve our online meetings: web conference and video conference?

Overwhelmingly, people feel that meeting by audio conference is dramatically less effective, less participative, less interesting, and substantially less interactive than their face-to-face counterparts. In audio-only meetings, everyone is multitasking, instead of participating in the meeting together and interacting vigorously in their live time with each other.

In the age of elegant web conference and video conference technology, the equivalent of meeting by an audio conference is like using a rotary phone instead of a digital phone. It's like watching a video tape instead of a DVD. It's like listening to an audio tape vs. a CD. Better technology is out there. It's affordable for businesses of all sizes. And enhanced conferencing is as essential as email for growing your business.

So, to grow your business and your bottom line, the key is to raise collaboration quality when you meet virtually. That means two things. First, meet in a more interactive meeting environment: web conferencing. Second, learn how to conduct a significantly more interactive and effective online meeting. Clearly, leaders and facilitators need to learn new skills to drive interaction quality that is at least as good as the best collaborative meetings they have ever attended--ever! Yes, they need to be just that great!

Creating highly effective online meetings is a huge cultural change for most companies and most people. The toughest part of change is taking the first step. Here are some essential first steps that leaders and teams can use right away to improve collaboration quality in their online meetings.

  • Apply the 80/20 rule to the online meeting. Spend 80 percent of the meeting time on topics that require all-participant interaction, and 20 percent of the meeting time on information-only topics. Virtual teams collaborate 84 percent less frequently than traditional same-site teams. For that reason, it is almost a crime to waste precious and rare online meeting time on anything that can be shared by email or other one-way media. Reserve the majority of the online meeting time for interaction--identifying issues, brainstorming solutions, making decisions, and building alignment.
  • Invite the right people. It's so easy to invite people to online meetings, often more people are invited than really need to be in the session. One leader I spoke with the other day invited as many people as she could just hoping that at least a few would show up for her weekly conference calls! She'd be smarter to keep the invitation list short and the content and interaction high.
  • Meet about highest priority items first. The first agenda items should be the ones that require everyone's participation. As the meeting time progresses, if some agenda items don't pertain to everyone, give those people permission to leave the meeting if they wish. Don't force them off, because some will want to stay. Just give them the option to leave if their participation will not be needed later in the session.
  • Agree not to multitask. Multi-tasking is a huge productivity buster for teams. Although multi-tasking gives people the sense that they are more productive, in reality it lowers personal effectiveness by 20-40 percent. Even more important, teams that multitask in online meetings (vs interacting vigorously with one another in live, interactive time) lower their team's results by about one-third. The solution is three-pronged. First get your virtual team aligned around how to have a more effective online meeting. Get training to accelerate that process. Second, get everyone to promise not to multi-task. Third, review your progress at the end of every online meeting and create action steps to correct it.
  • Create solid norms to enhance your onLINE meetings. People need rules to have successful onLINE meetings. When is it OK to mute? What time shall we meet that the same site doesn't always have to meet over their lunch hour? How will we use the web conference features (like raised hand) to help us interact faster and better when we can't see each other's faces? Agree on norms that make your online meetings better, and commit to them.
  • Use headsets, not a speakerphone. When people talk from speakerphones, their voices sound less clear at the other end. It is very fatiguing to try to decipher words that sound like they were spoken from an empty auditorium. Even if your speakerphone has noise-canceling or echo-canceling capability, you will always sound closer and clearer if you use a headset. Clear voices sound close and more communicative, vs. unclear voices that sound like shouting as they blast out of the speakerphone.
  • Join the online meeting from the desktop, not a conference room. Nothing breaks trust and teamwork faster than when any person feels disadvantaged by location from being a full and equal participant in the meeting. When people are in the same room together--no matter how much they try to include remote people--they will always fail. When everyone meets from the desktop, however, they are forced to use the interactive features of the web conference technology to interact better together. The more vigorously that people interact from the desktop, the more inclusive and participative everyone will feel.
  • Create an action item register during or at the end of the meeting. Insure that everyone knows what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it. In your web conference platform, show your live action register at the beginning and the end of every meeting, to insure that every item is completed. Between meetings, post the action register in an electronic place where everyone can see it and update it.

Jaclyn Kostner, Ph.D. is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and webinar guru who trains individuals and organizations to improve interaction, engagement, participation, and results in web conference meetings. Sign up for a FREE webinar "CA$HING IN ON WEBINARS" at Access her eBook, 5 WAYS TO USE WEBINARS TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS—FAST! at







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