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How to Host a Virtual Meeting

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Virtual meetings aren't like face-to-face meetings, and people often forget that. Running a virtual meeting well becomes more important all the time as more and more companies adopt distributed workforce strategies. David Christiansen shares some pointers on how to run/participate in a good virtual meeting.

Virtual meetings aren’t like face-to-face meetings, and people often forget that. Running a virtual meeting well becomes more important all the time as more and more companies adopt distributed workforce strategies. Here are some pointers on how to run/participate in a good virtual meeting.

Be Aware of the Difference Between Simplex and Duplex

Many conference calls are simplex, which means sound only travels one way at a time. So, whoever is loudest will get and keep the floor, whether they want it or not.

I have had to yield to heavy breathers, paper shufflers, and yes, even obnoxious hold music. If you’re on a con call, put your phone on mute when you’re not talking.

Solicit Participation in Creative Ways

Very few people will answer negatively to questions such as "Does this make sense?" or "Are you following me?" To get useful participation, you need to ask better questions: "How does this apply to you?" or "What factors would contribute to making this work?"

Manage the Participant Experience Carefully

Know what your presentation looks like in various screen resolutions. Make sure that animations work properly when shown over the Web. If you will be using various software applications, make sure that you know how to share them properly. Set them up in advance if you can.

Know the Capabilities of Your Communication Tools

Do you know how to kick off a participant if they put you on hold and fill your meeting with bad ’80s tunes? Can you turn off the beeps created when people join or leave your meeting? Do you know how to get help from the operator? You should know all of these things.

Shut Up Every Now and Then

You can’t see the participants in virtual meetings unless you have video chat. As a result, it can be hard to read how they are responding and whether they have questions and input.

Most people tend to rattle on in these situations, barely pausing to breathe. It’s hard to "butt in" when they do, particularly if it’s a simplex con call. Shut up for at least four breaths every couple of minutes to give interested participants a chance to participate.

Encourage Cross-Participant Interaction

Most virtual meetings are a conversation between the host and his participants. It is often necessary for participants to engage each other. This can be hard when you can’t see each other.

Help the participants converse with each other by asking questions that invite opinion, discussion, and perhaps even a bit of controversy.

Use Instant Messaging Behind the Scenes to Coordinate Discussion Topics as Needed

In spite of sounding a bit conspiratorial, this is a very helpful way to let a meeting participant know you value her participation or to remind her of a topic you want her to bring up.

Use this method sparingly and only with people you know well—it’s hard to listen, read, and type at the same time; and some participants might be frustrated by it.

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