For more productive meetings, throw away your conference table

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If your meetings are long, awkward, and unproductive, you’re not alone in your misery. A study of 2,000 managers reported in Industry week revealed that at least 30 percent of the time people spend in meetings is a waste of time.

Related: 7 Secrets To The Most Productive Meetings

You know how it goes: you get an invitation with a vague title like “project update”. You decide to attend even if you don’t know the purpose of the meeting. When you arrive in the conference room, you greet a few equally confused colleagues, as well as a few poor souls who have joined the meeting by phone.

The meeting begins. The organizer gives a long “status update” and then asks for “comments”. Participants who like the sound of their own voice challenge. Everyone else is looking at their hands. The organizer realizes that she forgot about the people on the phone, but they couldn’t overhear the conversation anyway. You sigh loudly and realize you’re late for your next unnecessary meeting.

The problem is, despite advancements in technology, the way many companies encourage collaboration has not changed in decades. By default, we always meet around conference tables while very often virtual meetings using WebEx, Join.Me, Adobe Connect, etc. offer another option with many advantages.

Virtual meeting expert Dana Sednek said that “in some cases, virtual meetings can have better results than face-to-face meetings.” For example, a situation may require many contributions in a short period of time, or it is not possible to meet often enough, or you have stakeholders whose agendas or personalities hinder effective face-to-face meetings.

Not all meetings are better virtual. In a survey of 2,000 business people around the world, Crowne Plaza found that face-to-face meetings are always the best for building relationships, making deals and negotiating. Savvy managers know they need to start their initiatives with face-to-face meetings and can maintain performance over time by hosting virtual meetings while they are away.

So if your daily meetings are making people unhappy, maybe it’s time to throw the conference table and move the meeting online. Here are five tips for amazing virtual meetings.

1. Set clear expectations for participation. Virtual meetings rarely succeed when participants are calling from their car, the airport, or their children’s football game. Sednek observes: “Colleagues may think that just because they can call they are always ‘there’, but that prevents full engagement. When using web conferencing technology, remind everyone to connect, not just call.

2. Provide two-way communication. Make sure to structure your meeting to include two-way communication. Sednek suggests what she calls the “3-12-20” rule. For a 30-minute meeting, allow only three minutes for opening remarks. For a 60-minute meeting where you need participant feedback, allow 12 minutes. Even if the main purpose of the meeting is to explain a concept or procedure to participants, do so within the first 20 minutes. Leave the rest of the time for questions, discussions and clarification.

Related: The Value of Virtual Meetings

3. Crowdsource your comments. You can get more feedback in less time when you move your meeting online. Sednek notes: “In face-to-face meetings, if you want feedback from everyone, you have to go around the room and ask everyone what they think. In a virtual space, you can remove this question in the form of a chat. Crowdsourcing takes less time and ensures engagement and feedback from all group members.

4. Learn to tolerate silence. In any virtual meeting, you will inevitably come across quiet and uncomfortable moments that Sednek calls “crickets”. Don’t immediately assume a deal or fill the silence with extra chatter. “Silence,” she said, “means either people need a moment to overcome a reluctance to speak, or the question needs to be rephrased into something that will elicit a useful response.”

5. Build a community. In our always-connected world, project teams often live thousands of miles apart. What is usually lacking is a sense of community, which hurts. Sednek explains: “A relaxed online meeting is a great way to give teams time to bond and encourage them to feel part of a culture,” says Sednek. She suggests a “virtual water cooler” where team members can chat throughout the day.

If you ever don’t know how to run your meetings, remember two things. First, make it a meeting that you would like to attend. Second, remember that real progress begins once everyone is on the same page, disconnects, and gets to work!

Related: Setting Up Real Virtual Meetings


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