6 top tips for successful online meetings
1. Online meetings are like bad knitwear- they can quickly become shapeless
Implement a structure for your meeting. It may be an agenda, a methodology, a negotiation plan. It leads us to an outcome or decision. It the structure was originally intended for a face to face discussion; you may need to tailor the timings and approach somewhat. Discipline is imposed through a framework.
2. Don’t fear the void
In a face to face discussion, people are silent as they think, make notes, get refreshments. It goes unnoticed. Online it is fiercely apparent. Don’t interpret online silence as dissent, disgruntlement or discomfort. Be comfortable with silence.
3. Manage your inner web-bore
People fatigue much more quickly in online meetings than face to face meetings. Brief is better. Use multiple micro sessions in place of each face to face meeting, to achieve the same outcomes.
In a face to face discussion, humans find each other fascinating. Brains are constantly processing the voices, expressions, choice of words and reactions. These are in full technicolour face to face. The flatness of onscreen images or teleconference removes those nuances. The lack of sensory input allows the brain to drift and the speaker to drone. A change of facilitator can help here.
4. Pick some props
People need a focus online. Give them images, share a whiteboard to make notes or to make a note of points agreed. Keep changing your props to make sure everyone is still in attendance and listening.
Even better, ask your audience to move around during the call. Sitting for long periods stagnates body and mind.
Use voting buttons for generic topics but don’t make key decisions that way. The transparency can make people feel exposed.
Voting also seems to encourage negotiators to use those “no-no” phrases like “meet you half way” or “let’s split the difference”. These phrases mean there is no concession strategy, which is poor planning.
5. Avoid the looks that kill
When one doesn’t have an audience, the body relaxes. But online, such body language can appear negative or disengaged.
If we are faced with a video audience, a speaker can start to “perform” for the camera in a way that is very unnatural for them.
If this is a concern, simply don’t use video. Allow everyone feel comfortable to think in peace with their thinking face on.
Alternatively, agree 10 minutes video time at the start of an online meeting. This way, everyone saves face and avoids having to say “I don’t want to look at you – or me!”
6. Celebrate your choices
You needed to have complex or difficult conversations which might have benefited from a face to face discussion. As this was not possible, you have chosen to use online communication tools. Don’t apologise for that, enjoy the benefits that this offers you such as collaboration tools and short discussions slots in your busy day.
Keep emphasising the positives at each stage of the discussion:
We are working, despite the challenges.
We are moving forward with our plans.
We are making a success of online meetings.