It’s undeniable that technology has streamlined the way professionals do their jobs, making it possible to better prioritize tasks, complete projects with greater speed, and produce higher-quality results. It has also opened new doors for online communications, and made it possible for us to conduct meetings with partners and employees who are across the world or remote workers and contractors who don’t share an office.
But how can we conduct productive online meetings, and what can we do to minimize technological hiccups?
While we may be very familiar with running in-person meetings, even the most seasoned business professional sometimes has no clue how to plan a meeting when one of our attendees is off-site. No matter how experienced you are with online meeting tools, sometimes mistakes happen and things go unexpectedly awry.
Here are 5 tips to help your online meetings go smoothly, or to ensure you can recover gracefully when technological disaster strikes.
Related Article: 11 Tools for Tracking Your Remote Staff's Productivity
1. Choose the Right Online Meeting Service for Your Needs
We are pretty much all familiar with the most popular web conferencing services. GoToMeeting, Join.Me, and Google+ Hangouts are all great options, and allow you to share your desktop, use clear audio and video communication and even share documents. But don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and consider the individual needs of your business.
Image via TeamViewer
For instance, if you are selling software, it is probably much more important for your employees to be able to share their screen without lag. While all of the aforementioned virtual meeting services allow you to share your screen, you might be better off with TeamViewer, a meeting software which was designed to troubleshoot remote computers.
Different services often excel in certain features, so think about your primary use for the meeting service, and choose wisely based on what’s most important.
2. Test Your Internet Connection and Audiovisual Components Before the Meeting
While you may use the internet in a certain location frequently for search engine results, email and other basic work activities, video conferencing demands much more bandwidth than you might think.
Also test the speed of your connection in the planned location around the same time that you intend to conduct your meeting. Even if you get great speed early in the morning, many internet providers throttle speeds at peak demand times, and you may end up experiencing the tell-tale lag that results from a slow connection during the afternoon.
Image via Local Internet Service
Likewise, always test your audiovisual equipment long before your meeting to make sure it’s functioning properly. Familiarize yourself with the video, audio and screen share settings in your chosen meeting software, and be prepared to help others troubleshoot any difficulties they might have on their end.
This will save you valuable time when starting your meeting, and ensure that all parties remain stress-free and relaxed.
3. Send Out a Thorough Meeting Agenda, and Give Detailed Instructions on How to Join
Not everyone is an internet whiz, and you may very well be meeting with someone who has never used an online meeting platform. When you send your invitation, make sure to include thorough instructions on how to join, what to expect, and how to contact you if there are any problems.
Also include a detailed agenda that outlines what you want to talk about and approximately how much time you expect to spend on each topic. One often unforeseen complication of online meetings is that people cannot see some of the typical nonverbal cues that hint that you, as the organizer, are ready to move on.
By setting rough goals for how long you want to discuss each issue, you give yourself an opportunity to refer back to the agenda and move things along. This can be useful for in-person meetings as well.
4. Always Have a Backup Plan
No matter how well you’ve prepared for your online meeting, it isn’t humanly possible to control everything and sometimes things just don’t work out. Maybe you lose your internet connection, your attendee can’t get connected or can’t get the meeting service up and running, or your laptop crashes unexpectedly. Always have a Plan B, just in case.
Consider investing in a cellular modem or wi-fi hotspot as a backup if you conduct online meetings regularly from a location that experiences service glitches. Verizon and AT&T have quite a few reliable models, and while you probably don’t want to use this as your primary source, occasional back-up service is very affordable.
In case your problem ends up being with a particular online meeting service, have an alternate meeting link already set up on another platform that you can email to attendees in case your service of choice isn’t working out for everyone. This way you’ll waste no time creating a new video call on the fly. Also have a backup phone line available to supplement your audio if it’s too garbled, as this is a common problem that can stop your meeting abruptly.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Reschedule
If Plan A and Plan B both fall through, it’s always better to reschedule than to try to soldier through and waste the precious time of your coworkers and clients. Accept defeat, apologize, and immediately try to find an alternative online meeting time or service that works for everyone.
Don't patronize an attendee who cannot figure out how to launch the service on their computer. Try to be understanding, and do everything you can to help them figure out the problem before your next meeting. While online meeting technologies may seem simple to you, it’s a platform that some people may have not yet mastered, so keep this in mind and be accommodating.
Online meeting platforms are a simple way to incorporate face-to-face contact into business meetings with remote workers, long-distance clients and off-site freelancers, but they also present their own unique challenges. Streamline your process and conduct more efficient, productive and enjoyable online meetings by planning ahead and incorporating these 5 tips and tools.