Online conference calls, webinars, and meetings were already quite popular before the Covid-19 crisis, but what happened starting from March 2020 exponentially changed the number of virtual meetings. The CEO of Cisco, Chuck Robbins told CNBC: “In the first 11 business days of March, we’ve had 5,5 billion meeting minutes”. He also added that there were 3,2 million meetings globally on Webex in one day, and that didn’t include one-on-ones. Those were only the multi-individual meetings.
With the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping across Europe and other countries, it doesn’t look like online meetings are going away any time soon. As for me, I have transferred 90 percent of my business online and Zoom has become my main communication tool with my clients. Below I have prepared a list of nine tips and rules to follow in order to make these meetings professional and effective.
1. Dress the same way as you would at the office
Although it is pretty tempting to stay in your comfy home clothes while on the call, I would suggest dressing up the same way as you would do when going to the office. At least the top part of your outfit. Obviously, for the people you are on the call with, seeing you dressed up is a sign you are behaving in a professional way. But also, for yourself, maintaining a daily routine is important.
2. Test your tech
Always test your technology before your meeting. Are your camera and sound working? Is your battery charged? Make sure you put yourself on mute when joining the meeting and when you are not talking, in order to avoid background noise. Another tip is to test your camera before the meeting, so you can make sure the lighting is good and that the camera is positioned correctly, so that people are not looking directly into your nostrils or that you are not looking down on them.
3. Be aware of your background
Make sure that not only you look good and professional on the video but also your background is neat and tidy. Keep the background as plain and simple as possible and avoid showing your bed, open cupboards, piles of clothes etc. If creating the right background is difficult or impossible, use a digital background instead if you can. Also, make sure that your kids or pets are not disturbing you and others during the call.
4. Avoid distractions
Although it could be tempting to check your phone or emails while listening to someone else talking since no one will see it anyway, avoid it at all cost. First of all, someone could ask you for your input on a discussed topic at any moment - it would look quite unprofessional if you didn’t know what was discussed. Secondly, you would want others to give you their full attention as well, it is simply a matter of respect. And thirdly, our brain is very bad at multitasking, so you are not doing yourself a favour by overloading your brain which is already tired after a day(s) full of online meetings.
So, the best advice is to:
- Put your phone on silent mode
- Close your email programme
- Switch off notifications on your computer
5. Have all the docs ready
In order not to get caught off guard, make sure to have all the materials ready for the meeting. If you are the one hosting the meeting, make sure you have either sent the presentation upfront to the participants or that you have it ready on your computer to be shared. If you are the participant, check what is required for the meeting, read all the information upfront and make sure you have all the documents at hand, to avoid diving under your desk to pick up printed materials.
6. Be specific and to the point
First of all, make sure you balance how much you listen and how much you talk. That of course will matter depending on the type of meeting. However, there are a couple of general rules you should follow:
- Avoid disturbing others while they are talking
- Make sure you actively participate in the meeting
- Be specific and to the point (meaning, respect others’ time and do not share long stories full of irrelevant details)
7. Stay present
I know it can be quite challenging to stay fully focused during your sixth conference call of the day. Yet staying present and focused will help you get the most out of the meeting. The best way to stay present is to sit in an upright position. Avoid sitting back, hanging in your chair or staring out of the window.
8. Be aware of the things you might be missing
The specific thing about online meetings that makes them very different from face-to-face meetings is that we are not able to observe the body language of others. Remembering that approximately 65% of the meaning of the message is being derived from nonverbal communication, we need to make sure that we convey the right message and that we might not always read the message in the right way.
Paying attention to the tone of voice we are using and the position of the upper part of our body is very important. Also, if you have doubts about whether you understood the message, make sure to check afterwards.
9. Take breaks in between
Having many virtual meetings is very tiring. In order to stay present during the meeting, we need to give our brain a break afterwards. Many of my clients start complaining about “online meeting fatigue”. So, make sure to take enough breaks in between meetings. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Stare out of your window. It is a great activity for our brain to do after the meeting (not during!). It allows our brain to wander around and recuperate.
- If you practice yoga, you can stand on your hands or head in order to make sure your brain gets an extra dose of oxygen.
- Take a walk outside. Nothing works better for us and our mind than a walk outside.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Stay safe and healthy and feel free to share any other tips based on your own experience.