Making online meetings more efficient

So we’ve all got used to more online meetings in the last year, and I’m sure everyone will agree that they’re not going to go away. Have we learned to manage them properly though? Certainly we’ve all got the hang of muting ourselves when we’re not contributing, and people are a lot better at remembering to turn their microphones on again when they do want to talk. But I still see a lot of participants looking surprised and mumbling “Sorry, could you repeat that?” when asked a question …mainly because they weren’t paying attention. On a recent call, the chair asked all of us at the start to “Quit your email and social media applications please”, and I thought that was a smart and reasonable request.

I’m also seeing more (but not enough) meetings being opened well in advance of the scheduled start time. This is great. It’s infuriating to sign in punctually, then watch the start time go by with nothing happening because the meeting organiser was having some sort of a problem, technical or otherwise. Open the meeting up 5, 10 or even 30 minutes early, even if – as an organiser – you have your camera and microphone off. Better still, use the time to chat with people informally as they arrive, just as some of the best presenters do at in-person seminars.

Finally, if your meeting is important or large enough to warrant it, have some backup plans, including an alternative organiser who can run it. Sometimes the reason a meeting goes wrong also makes it hard to inform participants, so alongside the invitation, perhaps confirm that in case of problems, you will attempt to email them within a few minutes of the start time to explain and with alternative arrangements. And have a list of participants’ email addresses ready to do just that!