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7 Powerful Tips for Highly Productive Online Meetings

Max Freedman
Max Freedman
Researcher

If anything could make meetings worse, it's having to travel across the country to attend one. Here's how to hold productive online meetings.

Business meetings are an integral part of any organization's daily schedule. According to Harvard Business Review, senior decision-makers spend almost 65% of their time meeting with different functional heads to gather updates on work progress. But anyone who's worked in a corporate setting knows that business meetings can eat up a lot of time as well.

This is particularly true if you're holding an online meeting and the participants are in different locations. Despite advancements in communication and technology, it's still a challenge to conduct effective online meetings, because participants can experience connectivity problems and communication delays. They can also have difficulty holding the meeting in a structured manner if multiple people start speaking at the same time.

How to make an online meeting fun

Before planning an online meeting, brainstorm ways to keep your remote workers engaged. Listening to a manager read from a cue card won't reinvigorate your team. Here are some fun ways to liven up an online meeting:

  • Make introductions. Go around the virtual meeting room and ask everyone to introduce themselves. This acts as an icebreaker and sets the tone for the meeting.
  • Introduce brainteasers. Start with a team-building exercise before getting down to business. Make it a contest to see which team can build the most creative object out of Lego bricks or finish a puzzle first. A funny interactive quiz could also break the ice among online meeting attendees.
  • Play a guessing game. Another icebreaker is to play a game of I Spy. Ask each participant to describe a unique item in their remote work area and have team members guess the object.

Bottom LineBottom line: Use icebreakers and team-building exercises at the start of a meeting to engage participants and eliminate some of the awkwardness of connecting online.

How to hold productive online meetings

With remote working arrangements on the rise, even conventional businesses will see an increase in online meetings in the coming years. To help you conduct more productive online meetings, here are seven tips that can be implemented immediately.

1. Have a well-defined agenda.

A meeting with a vague purpose can lead to confusion and wasted time. Do not hold an online meeting without a clear agenda. To make things easy for everyone, prepare a formal agenda with all the issues to be discussed in the meeting, and sort them according to your business needs. Also, specify a role for each participant. Send this agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting, and confirm that everyone received it. Finally, set an automated meeting reminder using Google Calendar.

TipTip: All business meetings should be essential, including remote meetings with your team. Keep meetings structured to avoid reduced productivity.

2. Appoint a meeting moderator.

A meeting without a moderator may go off track. By appointing a moderator, you give that person the authority to control the proceedings. No one can speak without the moderator's permission, and the moderator keeps everyone focused. This is particularly important in online meetings, since issues with internet connectivity and audio or video quality can lead to miscommunications.

3. Prepare your system in advance.

Ask all the participants to restart their computers at least 20 minutes before the meeting. Make sure your camera and microphone are working and that your meeting software supports multiple participants. For one-on-one meetings, you can opt for a standard video calling service like Skype. However, for meetings with multiple participants, a specialized application like Zoom is preferable. Our full review of Zoom highlights how it can help you conduct online meetings much more professionally.

4. Set time limits.

Time-capping your meetings can significantly boost your productivity and help you extract more value in less time. For example, you can set the meeting duration for 30 minutes and earmark 10 minutes for each of the agenda points. This way, the participants will stay focused, and the meeting will not go off track.

5. Minimize distractions.

Distractions can cause miscommunication in online meetings. To avoid them, make sure all your participants are sitting in a private and well-illuminated room. Also, it's better to use headphones and a collar microphone than your laptop's speakers and mic to ensure clear communication.

6. Conclude with specific action items.

Many meetings end with vague promises and assurances from the participants. It is the responsibility of the moderator to extract action items for the agenda points and get acknowledgment from all the participants. The key is to create an action item, assign it to an individual or group, and agree on a deadline. Without these three things, no action item can be tracked effectively.

7. Share meeting notes.

Once your online meeting concludes, send a summary of the meeting notes to the participants. List the action item for each agenda point along with the name of the person or group responsible for its delivery. Ask all the participants to confirm receipt of the summary and their understanding of it.

TipTip: Take notes and remain present throughout the online meeting. Multitasking shows that you don't value participants' time.

Conducting online meetings with people from different locations can be difficult to manage. If you prepare in advance and ensure that your meetings are well structured, moderated and communicated, online meetings can be an extremely effective means for connecting your company's stakeholders and employees, as well as saving you money on travel.

Now that you've learned the basics of holding great online meetings, you must decide which platform you'll use to host them. You have all kinds of options on this front, and we've listed just a handful of the most popular ones below. [You can read more about the options we recommend as the best video conferencing services for small businesses.]

1. Zoom

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all online meeting platforms, Zoom is great for gathering hundreds of people in a time-unlimited virtual setting with a user-friendly interface. Zoom is especially well known for its chat tool, hand-raising tool and flexible meeting formats (webinars, panel presentations, breakout rooms, traditional meetings and more). However, to host more than two people in meetings lasting longer than 40 minutes, you'll have to pay for higher Zoom tiers, which start at $149.90 per year.

2. Google Meet

Google Meet is an online meeting platform that integrates fully with your Google Calendar. When you add an event to your Google Calendar and invite people to it, Google will automatically generate a Meet link you can use on the day of the meeting. The premium tier also includes tools such as breakout rooms, polls and attendance tracking, as well as additional business features. Plans start at $8 per user per month. Our review of Google Meet provides an in-depth look at the service.

3. GoToMeeting

Our review of GoToMeeting shows how this online meeting platform is geared toward small businesses with its diagnostic reports and automated provisioning. GoToMeeting offers additional employee training and demo-sharing solutions, not to mention video conferencing hardware. Its plans start at $12 per month.

4. Microsoft Teams

Our Microsoft Teams review highlights how this online meeting tool stores files and chat histories in the same interface where you start your calls. Since Teams is a Microsoft product, it allows you to collaboratively edit Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets with other meeting attendees.

On the Microsoft Teams free tier, meetings can last no longer than 60 minutes, with paid plans starting at $5 per user per month. It's the least expensive of the services listed here, but if you play your cards right, your online meetings can be free no matter which platform you choose.

Image Credit: EvgeniyShkolenko / Getty Images
Max Freedman
Max Freedman
business.com Contributing Writer
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.