My business relies entirely on virtual meetings. I use them to meet with my staff. And all of my client meetings are virtual too.
In the beginning, I wondered if virtual meetings would be as effective as meeting in person. I worried about losing the sense of immediacy and close connection that come from face-to-face interaction. I wondered if virtual meetings would inspire the kind of follow-through I expect from in-person meetings.
But in more than three years of virtual meetings, I’ve learned that not only do they work well, but in most cases, they are more efficient and more effective.
In-Person Meetings for Fun. Virtual Meetings for Work.
The other day, a client in the city where I live emailed me to schedule the final meeting for what has been a very productive and successful project. For seven months a group of six people has been meeting every other week via conference calls.
For a brief moment, I thought of suggesting that we have this final meeting in person rather than as a conference call. But then I realized that our meetings are super-effective in part because they are conference calls.
So, instead of suggesting that we meet in person for the final meeting, we scheduled the final call. And on that call, we planned an extra in-person party to celebrate what we’ve accomplished.
Why Virtual Meetings Work So Well
- They’re Efficient: Virtual meetings are super-efficient for both volunteers and staff. No time travelling to the meeting. No scramble to find parking. And no travel time after the meeting. What might take three hours for an in-person meeting will take only an hour or less for a virtual meeting.
- They’re Effective: Extraneous information tends to fall away from virtual meetings and people focus more tightly on the agenda than when you are in the same room. Virtual meetings encourage clarity, simplicity, and discipline. A conference call (audio or video) doesn’t lend itself to just hanging out. People want to get on, discuss business, figure out what the next steps are, and get off.
- They’re Usually Short: Virtual meetings are often an hour or less. People tend to call in on time and expect to finish on time too. You can often get done in 30 minutes what might take more than an hour in an in-person meeting.
Seamless, Inexpensive Technology
People of any age are comfortable with virtual meetings. Simple conference calls are free and easy. Video calls are slightly more complicated, but with a little coaching and set-up, they work just fine too.
Most platforms like zoom.com or anymeeting.com or gotomeeting.com allow for easy on-line scheduling and automatic reminders for participants. Most platforms allow for easy screen sharing so you can review documents together. And you can easily record your meetings so that people who aren’t able to attend can listen afterwards.
Five Tips to Running an Effective Virtual Meeting
- Meeting Size: Virtual meetings work well for up to five participants. More than that and your meeting will be more of a presentation than an engaging meeting.
- Email the agenda in advance: Just like traditional meetings, virtual meetings work best when they are well organized and have a clear, logical agenda that is distributed in advance.
- Voice Recognition: Make sure all of the participants introduce themselves, giving their names and a brief check-in. It takes a while before you can recognize participants only by the timbre of their voices, so in the first two or three meetings, ask everyone to state their names whenever they speak.
- Strong Facilitation: The facilitator should make it a point of inviting each person to participate. Because you can’t see one another, it’s harder to know whether or when to speak. So in the beginning, middle, and end of the meeting the facilitator should call on everyone. Start with a check-in and end with a check-out. And in between, ask for everyone’s thoughts on the discussion topic.
- Clear Follow-up: Save the last five minutes of the meeting to create a list of next steps. After the meeting, send an email in which you provide a simple, clear list of the action steps, who is responsible, and by when they should be done.
A Remarkable Bonus
Wealthy and powerful people don’t have much time. Many of them travel or live in different places from season to season.
If you use virtual meetings to conduct the business of your organization, you will expand the sphere of people you can reasonably expect to volunteer.
Virtual meetings are efficient and effective. In my opinion, they are the hallmark of an effective organization.
Andrea Kihlstedt is one of the foremost writers and speakers on capital campaign fundraising. Her book Capital Campaigns, Strategies That Work, now in its fourth edition, is one of the primary texts in the field. Her firm, Capital Campaign Masters, helps organizations in the very early stages of planning capital campaigns through online materials and virtual coaching.