The current coronavirus pandemic has caused millions of employees across the country to work from home for the first time. Many do business now using online meetings and virtual presentations – a difficult transition if you pride yourself on personal service and customer care. But there are ways to keep web conferences or presentations friendly, professional and productive.
BEFORE THE MEETING
Get technical. Familiarize yourself with the technology you’ll use. Does it have a video component or is it audio only? Can you share documents or screens with other attendees? If you’re unsure of how to use the technology, ask for help and learn it. Practice with someone. If you are uncomfortable, it will show. Your company should be able to provide support for technology it provides. If you provide the technology for your own business, seek help from your service or IT support vendor.
Consider Plan B. Have a backup plan in mind in case you lose service mid-meeting. How will you reconnect or follow up with attendees? Would a group email or conference call work?
Plan your questions. Set an agenda and distribute it in advance. Prioritize it so that you cover the most essential information first.
Minimize distractions. Before you start your call or virtual meeting, eliminate background noise or distractions. Turn off ringers on other phones. If possible, close the door to the room and let your family or others who share your space know you’ll be in a conference.
DURING THE MEETING
Be friendly and relatable. Be mindful that since you’re NOT there, it may require extra effort or a different way to show your engagement with your audience. In a virtual meeting, there’s no opportunity for a handshake – or elbow bump. Even with video conferencing, eye contact may be difficult. You will need to make up for those lost social graces.
- Be grateful! Thank everyone for their time. If they gave you something you requested, acknowledge it
- Don’t just launch into your questions
- Ask how everyone’s doing; just as if you were there
- Have a high energy level – people can sense your level of enthusiasm
- Remember to smile (you can “hear” a smile)
Account for all participants. Introduce yourself briefly and ask everyone else in turn to introduce themselves. After introductions, mute all the callers if your software allows it. If not, ask callers to mute themselves until it’s time for them to speak. This helps reduce unwanted background noise and prevents people from talking over one another.
Explain to your audience how the meeting will progress. Suggest that people re-introduce themselves before they start speaking so that everyone knows who’s talking. Talk about what happens if someone gets disconnected or has connection problems; explain the backup plan.
Get to it. Quickly go over the agenda and ask if everyone received a copy.
- Go through your prepared questions to make sure you hit the primary reason for the call or presentation.
- Allow all participants to contribute. Ask open-ended questions but make sure they are specific and concise. Many times, the response to an open-ended question will answer several of your other questions.
Special conditions. If you can’t see your audience, be hyper-vigilant on verbal cues.
- Really, really listen
- If answers are getting short – you may be running out of time
- Try to not lose control of the call or virtual meeting; keep people on target and on mission
- Observe normal etiquette; let people talk without interrupting
Keep track of the time. Just as you would in a conference room, be respectful of attendees’ time. Keep a clock where you can see it and stick to the time allotted for your meeting. If you can’t get to everything, you may need to follow up later.
Next steps. Discuss what attendees should expect from you next – follow-up emails, copies of the presentation, other documents. Before signing off, thank them for their time.
AFTER THE MEETING
Send a follow-up email. Be sure to include all attendees. Remember to share any resources you promised. Some video and audio conferencing systems allow you to record the session for later review; if so remember to send a link. In your follow-up communication, thank attendees again for their time.
Communication and preparation are key to a smooth virtual meeting. Your attention to these tips will help you serve your internal and external customers through the crisis. When you are again able to do business in person, they’ll remember the support you offered them.