The events of 2020 have utterly transformed the meeting. Where in days past, we gathered around the table to discuss a topic, today we have the remote conference. Each of us confined to a little box on a screen. This new format has changed the way we run out meetings, creating new challenges for attendees and hosts.
Even before the pandemic, meetings had a reputation as a waste of time. Little was achieved, as the conversation went round in circles. Eyelids began to sag, and doodles filled up the page. Now, removed from a more intimate social setting, there is little impetus to engage with the meeting at hand. What’s resulted is long silences, stilted conversations, and meandering monologues.
Yet, if the remote conference is to be the future of communication, we need to do a lot better. Here’s how:
Time is of the essence
When our backs are against the wall, we are forced to use our initiative and make a decision. Well, in the format of a meeting, time creates a necessity. Don’t allow conversations regarding minutia, or vacant silences where nothing is achieved. Set goals and objectives and give each a timespan. Each point should take no longer than ten minutes. Plus, you don’t always need forty to sixty minutes for a meeting. If you can achieve your objective in ten or twenty minutes, do so. Time is money.
Don’t let people sit back in the meeting, coasting through on other people’s contribution. Nor should you ask a vacuous question expecting everyone to answer. Even in the real-world, silly questions were met with befuddled responses.
Instead, create real engagement. Direct a question to a specific person. If someone isn’t speaking, engage them. The mere suggestion you might be called upon is enough to get people back in the ring. Or you can do something profoundly different. Have the group split up into small groups to discuss an item or idea. Then meet back up and convey their responses.
Record the meeting
Suppose you can’t attend a meeting. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to glean the essential points from the meeting’s minutes. Even more so get a piecemeal description from a colleague. Thankfully, in the modern-day, we’ve advanced beyond such word of mouth recitals. We can record the meeting.
A recording serves as a perfect record of what was discussed, useful for future reference. Plus, when running a training session, you only need to do so once. Use the recording as a tutorial for new starters.
Use the toolkit available
If you went to a real-life meeting, and the person stood up without papers and talked to you for forty minutes, you’d be bored. You may even be a little surprised. Such an uninspiring effort demonstrated a severe lack of imagination.
Why then do we treat virtual meetings in this manner? It’s criminal considering the sheer range of tools at our disposal.
Use a virtual whiteboard to pictorially display your ideas. You can sketch out a diagram, draw a flowchart, or connect ideas in a brainstorming session. You’re limited only by your imagination. Plus, with an entire palette of colours, you can even colour code your charts.
Screen sharing allows participants to present their PowerPoint. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Display the latest figures on the screen, talk through the software you’ve just written, or even share a video that you found a useful resource.
When going on a video call, employers and employees alike might be concerned about the backdrop. Clothes piled high, children’s toys scattered on the floor, or dogs roaming the living room. Unless you’ve created a stylish home office, you might want to protect your privacy. Well, with zoom virtual background video calls don’t need to be embarrassing. The high-quality images and videos available are dazzling in their variety. Natural scenes, swanky apartments, or professional offices will all give the right signal to a client.
Set the ground rules
Lastly, consider the rules. Social norms take years to evolve, becoming specialised to the specific communication medium. For instance, the word ‘hello’ was first popularised as a greeting for the telephone. However, we can’t wait a decade before we know how to interact with each other. Therefore, amongst your teams, discuss the ground rules of your meetings. Do you all go on video? If you need to leave, how do you let everyone know? Is it rude to interrupt?
Each of these pointers will help normalise the social interactions and break up an awkward tension. It’s fair to change the rules over time, as your understanding of the medium evolves. But you’ve got to start somewhere.