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10 Tips for Keeping Control of Online Meetings


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No matter if you're an attendee or the meeting leader, you need to know how to conduct online meetings properly. This brief from collaboration expert, Gihan Perera outlines out how keep control of …

No matter if you're an attendee or the meeting leader, you need to know how to conduct online meetings properly. This brief from collaboration expert, Gihan Perera outlines out how keep control of online meetings to make sure the agenda is accomplished cordially and efficiently.

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  • 1.     10 Tips for Keeping Control of Online Meetings By Gihan Perera
  • 2. Online meetings are pretty ubiquitous these days, especially for dispersedwork teams with tight budgets and little time. However, many people don’tknow how to manage online meetings effectively. In this report, we give youten tips for managing online meetings successfully – regardless of the roleyou’re playing in the meeting.1. Understand the technology.Of course, technology is the key difference between online meetings andin-person meetings. On the positive side, it can be very efficient (becauseattendees participate from their desk), but that gain can be wiped out byproblems with the technology.Do your best to be familiar with the technology and comfortable with usingit. Make sure you’re using a tool that is intuitive and easy to use, because ifyou’re competent and confident with it, that will be recognized andrewarded.People also interact differently when they are not all in the same room.Even on a video conference, there are differences in body language,posture, position, movement, and even seating arrangement. In mostcases, an online meeting feels more approachable, because people can’tuse their physical presence to intimidate or coerce.2. Know your outcome.Regardless of your role, the most important thing you can take into themeeting is a  clear  outcome. Knowing this in advance helps you keep themeeting on track. Even if you’re a junior participant, be clear about youroutcome.Ask yourself these clarifying questions: • Who are the key  groups  at the meeting? • Who are the key  individuals  in each group who will influence the others? • What would you like them to think  /  feel  /  do  /  say  after the meeting (in order for you to have achieved your  outcome)?
  • 3. 3. Look, act, and sound professional.It doesn’t take much to make a strong, positive impression in an onlinemeeting as long as you prepare well, position yourself strongly and performclearly.Preparation: • Prepare and circulate reports ahead of time. • Write out and practice a presentation. • Anticipate questions and objections. • Test the technology if possible. • On video conferences, check your lighting, background and physical appearance. • On audio or video conferences, use a headset for optimal sound.Positioning: • Check your name, title and other details on the agenda. • Ask the chair to introduce you in a certain way if appropriate.Performance: • Be polite but not meek. • Be assertive but not aggressive. • Be clear but concise.4. Make your points clearly.Whenever you are called on to speak – whether it’s to present a report oranswer a question – you  know what you want to say, but the otherparticipants don’t. So make it easier for them with a brief introduction: • Make your point first, before you explain it or elaborate. • Tell them what you want them to do when you stop speaking (take a vote, approve your proposal, etc.). • If you need to make a number of points, put them in a clear structure (e.g., “I’m going to give you three reasons for …”).5. Answer questions confidently.Don’t get nervous and flustered when called on to answer a question.You’re being asked because it’s in your area of expertise, so treat it as anopportunity to contribute to the meeting’s outcome.
  • 4. Write down the question as you hear it, so you can refresh your memory ifnecessary. If the question is vague or ambiguous, ask for clarification (e.g.,“When you said ‘total sales volume,’ were you referring to this quarter orthe previous quarter?”).Start your response strongly with a brief answer and then explain further.All the above tips for making your points clearly apply here as well.Finally, don’t shoot from the hip! If you don’t know, say so. Confer withothers, defer to somebody else, or offer to find out later.6. Manage difficult or hostile situations.There’s a skill in managing difficult conversations and a special skill fordoing it in online meetings.Know as much as possible.The more you know about what you’re likely to face, the easier it is tomanage it effectively and still meet your outcomes. Know who will beattending, what they really want, who has the real power to makedecisions, what your walk-away position and BATNA (best alternative to anegotiated agreement) are, who’s on your side, and which options you cantake if things get out of hand.Get in early.This allows you to anticipate potential problems and plan for them, whichmakes them much easier to manage. If you know you’ll be facing a hostilemeeting, do more background research, ask individuals for their viewsbeforehand, circulate proposals early, and try to gain agreement – evenpartial agreement – in advance. You might defuse – or even resolve –some of the difficult issues before the meeting starts.Add formality and structure.Finally, add more formality when facing a difficult or hostile meeting bysetting some ground rules at the start. You don’t need to adopt formalmeeting procedures (motions, seconding, amendments, points of order, =and so on), but a bit more structure goes a long way towards keeping themeeting under control.For example, here are some rules you could apply:
  • 5. • All participants must speak “through the chair.” • Only the chair has control over turning microphones on. • Only items on the agenda can be discussed. • There is a strict time limit on agenda items.7. Conduct board and committee meetings.These are different from other online meetings, because they sometimeshave important legal and regulatory consequences that you must  get right.Check your organization’s constitutional right to conduct a meeting by videoconferencing. Also understand the legal issues and consequences ofconducting an online meeting (for example, all directors must be givenadequate opportunity to review materials and participate in the meeting). Ifyou’re not sure, get legal advice.Choose carefully whether or not to record the meeting. Importantdiscussions and decisions should be recorded in the minutes, and it mightbe risky or inappropriate to keep a permanent record of everything else.8. Keep control.Just because you’re not chairing the meeting doesn’t mean you can’t take alead role in it – especially if the nominated chair isn’t doing their job.If there is no chairAn effective meeting should have somebody chairing it, even if this isn’t aformal role. If you call the meeting and nobody else is the obvious personto chair it, just assume the role of chair. And if you’re attending a meetingthat nobody is chairing, offer to do so yourself.If the chair is weakIn most business situations, you don’t want to make enemies by publiclyand loudly criticizing the chair. Instead, you might be able to diplomaticallytake control: • Offer to take the minutes. This gives you permission to interrupt verbose or vague people. • Offer to manage the technology. This enables you to subtly manage interruptions, allow certain people more (or less) “air time,” and so on.
  • 6. 9. Make clear presentations.There might be times when you’re called on to make a brief presentation orreport during an online meeting. The most important thing to keep in mindis that you’re part  of a larger meeting, so your presentation has to help theoverall meeting outcomes.When you prepare, be sure you know specifically what the group expectsof you, especially in the context of the overall meeting. If you’re not sure,ask!Know your  outcomes as well so they don’t get lost in the overall meetingobjectives.When you speak: • Start strongly: State your main point powerfully, explain your structure (e.g., “I’ll give you three reasons …”), and be clear about what you want them to do when you finish. • Keep it simple: Be succinct, stick to your main points, and don’t over- use technology. • Take control: Be upbeat and energetic, speak quickly (but not too quickly!), and own the environment.End your presentation strongly. Be clear about what you want them todo next and finish on time.10. Manage technology.Unfortunately, technology glitches are not a matter of “if”; they are a matterof “when.” Proving that you can manage these situations will do more thanalmost anything else to demonstrate your professionalism and authority.Prevent potential problems.Use the most reliable technology available. For example, try landline ratherthan cellular phones, corded rather than cordless headsets, and reliablehigh-speed Internet. You don’t need the best technology in the world (and itmight be outside your budget anyway), but these simple things can make abig difference in reliability.
  • 7. Urge your participants to use the best technology as well so they don’thave problems on their end.If possible, test the technology beforehand. You can’t always reproduce theexact environment of the real meeting, but a simple test can usually identify– and prevent – many of the problems that could arise.Manage problems that occur.Even with careful preparation, some problems will still occur. So anticipatethem and be ready to manage them.Here are some common issues and workarounds: • If some people can’t be heard (because their microphone is not working), they can contribute via text or chat messages, which the chair can then read out to everybody else • If participants in video conferences have low Internet bandwidth, they might need to participate by audio only. • If you’re making a slideshow presentation, send a PDF version of the slides to all participants in advance, in case they can’t see the presentation when it’s live.Recover gracefully.Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t resolve the technologyproblems, and some participants will not be able to join the meeting at all.In the most extreme case, you might even have to abandon the entiremeeting.If this happens, here are some things you can do to recover gracefully: • Record meetings as a matter of course, so you can send the recording to those who couldn’t attend. • Have somebody take the minutes, so important discussions and decisions are available to those who couldn’t attend. • If you’re working against a deadline, don’t wait until it’s too late to convene the meeting – so you can re-schedule if necessary.
  • 8. Finally, the best way to get better at online meetings is to join more ofthem and to participate more in those you attend. Don’t avoid onlinemeetings because you’re uncomfortable and unfamiliar with them. Instead,embrace and use them as an opportunity to make a valuable contribution –and  improve your meeting skills at the same time.About Gihan PereraGihan Perera is a consultant, speaker and author, who helps thoughtleaders and business professionals leverage their expertise. He is theauthor of the book Webinar Smarts and coauthor of the book BestPractice Conference Calls, among others; and Forbes magazine ratedhim the #5 social media influencer in book publishing. He blogs and his website is the sponsorOnline Meetings Made Easy.GoToMeeting is the extremely simple, extraordinarily powerful web conferencing service fromCitrix. It integrates HD video conferencing, screen sharing and audio conferencing, allowing youto collaborate effectively online in a face-to-face environment. Hold unlimited meetings for onelow flat fee and attend meetings from a Mac, PC and mobile devices. GoToMeeting will changethe way you work – and perhaps a whole lot more. To learn more, visit more best practices, visit