Virtual meetings: 6 tips for when you can’t meet face to face

Organisations globally are beginning to limit all non-essential travel and large meetings in the face of the spreading Corona / Covid-19 virus. To keep business as usual running, it looks like we’re going to be leaning on virtual platforms and ways of working more as we travel less, possibly for some time. We’ve all had our fair share of horrible virtual meeting experiences (you’ll probably recognise many of the funny scenarios referenced in the film below). Regardless how many of these you’ve experienced, one thing’s certain. Simply moving a meeting important enough to fly people around the world for to a virtual one isn’t possible. It will likely mean missed objectives, disengaged participants and inefficient use of people’s time. We’ve led thousands of meetings both physically and virtually with global organisations. Here’s what we have learnt along the way. If you tackle these ahead of and during meetings you’re more likely to meet objectives and have a successful session, even at very short notice.


Choose the right virtual meeting platform for the job

There will be good reasons you had chosen to set up a face to face video conference meeting. Co-creation, the complexity of the task, or the challenge of alignment, for example. In moving to a virtual platform, look for a solution that gives you functionality to engage, drive interaction and enable active participation. The default choice of video chat software doesn’t always have this. Break out rooms, virtual white boards, in application voting and contribution is the type of functionality you need. It’s available through platforms such as Cisco’s WebEx and Adobe Connect. Choosing the right platform will help you deliver some of the outcomes you had in mind originally.

Invest in sharing and collating the right inputs upfront

Valuable face to face time is often used getting inputs and alignment which could easily have happened ahead of the meeting. This insight underpins Amazon’s 6 page memo approach. Get participants inputs to key business questions and ideally share them ahead of the meeting. It frees up time to focus on decision making and solutions. Simple survey tools like Survey Gizmo, Survey Monkey allow you to create an emailable survey to send as part of the joining instructions. You’ll then have valuable data to fuel the meeting.  

Be clear on the required mindset

Whether face to face or virtual, meetings are easily derailed when participants don’t share the right mindset. People variously need to be creative, to generate ideas, to align and make decisions, to achieve clarity and plan clear actions. Things can go off the rails when people aren’t tackling the objective with the same mindset.A good way to head this off is to contract with all participants upfront and advise them what mindset to adopt at different stages of the session. Explain what you are doing and that it helps ensure you get the full benefit of getting everyone together. In a virtual setting you lose the ability to read each other’s body language and other subtle signs of engagement. That’s when clear signaling and direction around mindsets is critical.

Break the agenda down

Time is a real challenge to running a successful virtual session. Face to face, you might vary the format, run an energiser or change the stimulus to a video. Virtually, these options are limited and no one wants to attend a 7 hour virtual session! Take a step back and think how you can split up the agenda into a series of mini sprints. You can brief individuals or teams to work locally following a short piece of stimulus. For example, if you’re trying to innovate a new approach for a product or service, the facilitator may share a creativity tool or innovation approach for 10 mins. Then ask teams to work locally for 30 mins coming back together at an allotted time to share their top 2-3 ideas.

Blend the virtual with the physical

Even with the most dynamic presenters and largest high definition video conference screens, there are tasks that are best done locally. From judging the mood in the room to keeping a check on time, try to have a locally based participant play the role of champion, supporting the central facilitator. Briefed in advance they can make all the difference to having an engaged audience focused on the result you need.

Revisit your objectives

However well you adapt to the conditions of meeting virtually, there will be some objectives you can only really achieve in person. Building ties and connecting over shared experiences. Sharing candid thoughts and thrashing out ways of working. Don’t forget about these, acknowledge them and remember to prioritise them when you can be together again. This is how we design powerful virtual meeting experiences, but we’re interested in hearing from you around your top tips and tricks to success. Join the conversation at LinkedIn to tell us what works for you.