The art of Online Meetings

I am sure you are like me you have a busy calendar and multiple meetings. Sometimes it feels like there are too many meetings and not actually enough time to sit down and do the work. I spend a lot of my day sitting in front of multiple screens talking to people who are geographically dispersed, culturally different and communicate in multiple languages and more often than not there can be misunderstandings. However, I love the process of communicating and breaking down those misunderstandings and producing a useful product or service at the end of it. I think part of the beauty of working on projects is the diversity of people you get to work with and learn from for a fixed term and purpose. I have come up with the following tips that I found useful in working remotely with diverse folk.

Have a sense of humour

For me this is key, being on those tense calls where you are discussing that complex issue or someone is having to explain why something is not working the way it should. It always helps to break the ice with a little humour to warm up the atmosphere and get everyone laughing.

Take the time to build up a rapport and get to know your fellow workers

A couple of minutes of small talk can really help the meeting. Try to get to know your fellow participants on the call even though you may never meet them face to face. Just simply talking about the weather/holidays/family at the end of the day we are only in a job to support our families or do the activities we enjoy so it’s interesting to hear what is going on in everyone’s lives if they are willing to share.

Depending on your work environment and if you can be transparent if you are having a bad day or something is bothering you don’t be shy to share. Sometimes being slightly vulnerable or humble can go a long way to bridge gaps and help you all support and build up each other.

Get down to work

Have a clear objective for the meeting and an agenda:

  • Set a clear timeline of the call and stick to it.
  • Respect other people’s time, both in arriving on time and finishing on time.
  • Get everyone involved in the call if you can.
  • Produce minutes with actionable steps with clear deadlines.
  • Confirm the next meeting time if appropriate.

Visualize your meeting

Modern screen sharing software is a fantastic tool. Whether it’s Webex / Zoom / GoTo Meeting or whatever flavour of software you have there are some common tools.

  1. Share sparingly – Be careful how much of your screen you share, I recommend just sharing the application you are presenting rather than your full desktop. It is curious to see people’s notifications pop up sometimes or that bombshell email to land in your inbox but its probably better if you kept them to yourself for now :).
  2. Use pause – Use the pause functionality on the screen share. I find this a really useful feature, firstly when I just want to make notes and secondly if I need to find something but don’t want everyone watching every mouse movement whilst I do it.
  3. Take notes – Take notes, so that you can follow up after the meeting. I quite often put up a key slide up and then put the presentation in pause and then make notes in OneNote. I prefer using a note-taking app like OneNote which is then easy to convert to an email, but I know a lot of people still like to use their notepads, again whatever works for you.
  4. Highlight – As you go through the meeting highlight what you are talking about and use all the features of the presentation software. Sometimes just highlighting text with the mouse can be enough. Or you can use some of the markup features to visually annotate the presentation. It also serves as a good memory jog when you come to review your notes.

Overcome the technical difficulties

Technology can sure be both a blessing and curse, from that unwelcomed forced restart as Windows decides you really must run Window’s update to IT just updating the software and everything changes. I always try an join the meeting a minute or two early to make sure my audio is working correctly. There are frequently problems but at least I’ve sorted them before everyone else joins the call.

Audio – Poor sound quality is a big no-no in any call. It’s really worth investing in some good headphones and making sure the batteries are charged. Also make good use of mute, if you are not talking then put yourself on mute. There is nothing worse than someone dialing in from a noisy office and drowning out the call when they are not talking.

Video – Is readily available these days but I have yet to find many people who like putting themselves on webcam for business meetings. Often the results are distracting and I think it hinders more than it helps.

Photo – In place of video why not get a nice photo of yourself and display that instead of your avatar. It goes a long way to build up a rapport with the other participants but maintains your privacy.

Share your tips

As technology continues to make the world smaller, it is really important to make the effort to communicate more effectively through screen sharing software. I’ve built up some great working relationships with people all over the world and not had the opportunity to meet with them in person. Whatever you are doing, approach it with a smile and you will have a great meeting experience. I’d be interested to know your experiences or hints and tips in the comments below.

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