• Laura Pierce

Why Virtual Meetings SUCK! 3 More Things To Do Now (Part 2)

Let’s revisit meetings that suck. In Part One, it was observed that the “laptop up and mobile device on” syndrome would not happen during an in person meeting. (If you missed Part One, go here.) The contention was that “...there is a basic level of human respect that we afford each other when we are in another human’s presence.”

I sure hope so. But how many of you said, “In person meetings? Laptops open? Mobile devices in hand? Happens to me all the time!” Psychologists have a name for this: Nomophobia – the irrational fear of being out of contact with your mobile device.

Phobia aside, in my experience, we don’t tolerate this behavior in person for long. Not if we want to meet our business objectives. You will look Mike and Mary in the eye and lay down the rules of engagement and the benefits of doing so. Making that happen in virtual meetings? Pretty tough.

As we said in Part One, you need to plan for high engagement, establish clear meeting objectives, and be a good virtual facilitator to make sure your virtual meetings meet the same objectives as in person.

What else do you need to do to avoid nomophobia and make your virtual meetings really work for you?

1. Build trust and credibility by asking questions. Everyone’s input is critical – you can’t let them hide out in the virtual meeting room doing email or feeling uncomfortable sharing their ideas. If someone is in your meeting, they have a role to play. Use questions to gain insights from your meeting attendees.

Here are a few ways to encourage everyone to stay engaged and encourage input:

• While other team members are presenting, ask the listeners to be writing down questions they have in chat. Select people to expand on what they have written. • Get in the habit of directing questions to individuals to avoid silence in the room when trying to get feedback. “Mary, based on what Ryan presented, how does tis impact your timeline?” Asking good questions is crucial to refining your team’s thinking.

This can create a foundation for developing collaboration amongst team members that may feel uncomfortable sharing their views about a particular topic.

2. Maintain a safe virtual space in the face of disagreement. Push back and intra-team conflict are inevitable at some point. The result can be either better ideas or the erosion of team trust. Make sure you acknowledge differences of opinion and approach on your team ¬– particularly with cross-cultural teams.

Recognizing new input and not backing off when, not if, things get heated can be tough. One source of conflict for remote teams is the perception that the people in the corporate head quarters are more informed and closer to decisions than they are. That’s probably true. I call it “Home Team Advantage.” If the virtual meetings they attend are dominated by the same voices every time, it will reinforce this perception. That’s a contributor to erosion of trust.

As a meeting facilitator, you need to find ways for everyone’s input to be heard in your meetings. A great best practice when discussing controversial as well as new ideas is for everyone to be visible in the room. That could be using a whiteboard to write down open issues, new ideas, or follow up plans. No whiteboard function available? Share this information in whatever chat application your team uses. That way, everyone sees topics and ideas and knows they were heard.

Someone dominating the meeting? Use their name and redirect. “Bill, good input for the team. Let’s get some additional input. Mary, what are your thoughts about this issue?” You may have to interrupt or wait for the speaker to breath to take back control.

3. Let your personality come through. Last? Don't be a cardboard cut-out! You need to capture your virtual meeting attendee’s attention. You also want to project a genuine and confident persona right from the start. Be the leader they meet in person, but do it virtually. It’s about showing you like being with the team, want to engage with them and want to communicate clearly.

Virtual environments flatten out sound. You are going to need to concentrate on voice clarity and intonation. Intonation contributes to over 80% of understanding in virtual meetings. If the virtual meeting leader speaks in a soft tone, we disengage for practical reasons - we can’t hear. From a professional perspective, listeners don’t think you are confident in what you are saying.

People are desperately listening to get meaning from the words you use and what they hear you say. For that reason you need to maximize the quality of your audio. You can’t control the listener’s environment, but you can control the quality of your audio. Don’t use speakerphones! You can sound distant, indistinct, and low volume. Use a good quality headset whether using VoIP (voice over IP) or a landline. Remember, you are not in the business of entertainment. Speak naturally and authentically.

Being an effective leader of virtual teams and conducting meetings that produce results and promote collaboration requires a new mindset with regard to virtual meetings. By maximizing your skills in the virtual environment, you will extend your confidence and credibility in every virtual engagement, not just virtual meetings.

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