10 tips to help ace your next online meeting

With most of us still confined to our home offices – at least for now – the virtual meeting is likely going to remain as our primary way to gather for updates, to present, to learn, exchange views and meet potential new clients.  So whether that means using Connect, Google Hangouts, Fuze, Skype for business, WebEx, Zoom or just a simple FaceTime call, there are some easy ways to help you leave a positive impression with those you’re meeting with.

Seriously, is all this necessary – a meeting’s a meeting, right?  Well, you’d be surprised. We’ve spent a lot of time with clients and agencies recently, twiddling thumbs while the technology gets sorted out, participants search to unmute themselves, only to watch everyone scramble to finish within allotted meeting times. And since none of that leaves a good impression, the answer is yes – this could probably save everyone some future headaches.

So here’s how to ace your next meeting:

1. 60 minutes max

First things first, set-up or request your meeting so that it’s no more than sixty minutes – if you need, or think you’ll need more time – build in a break to allow for a breather.

Unlike face-to-face meetings, online meetings can be more intense, causing ‘meeting fatigue’. Simply put, in face-to-face scenarios it’s easier to mentally zone-out for a minute or two, pour a cup of coffee, check your notes or just look round the room so you know who’s looking where and who’s focusing on someone else or looking at the screen in the front of the room.  In an online meeting, you can’t do that – if you’re not looking at the camera, it could be construed as not paying attention or disinterest which makes meetings more intense.  So if you need more time, build-in a ten minute break and let everyone resume refreshed. 

2. Smaller meetings

Online virtual meetings benefit from fewer resources trying to chime into the conversation within the confines a computer screen.  If there’s value in having more resources in the meeting, consider introducing your larger group but allowing those not having key roles in your presentation to log-out or rejoin later.  If it’s easier, consider breaking the meeting into two distinct calls with smaller, more focused groups in each.

3. Allow for introductory small-talk

When you’re in a new business situation and perhaps meeting a client for the first time, introductions and small-talk can set the foundation for the right chemistry between teams. Even if teams know each other, a friendly ‘hey, how was your weekend?‘ is natural. While that may not seem important, it’ll likely happen organically anyway, so build-in a few minutes for teams to introduce themselves, find common-ground or points-of-view and set the stage for the meeting ahead.

4. Be your own tech person

Before your meeting starts check your computer – make sure it’s plugged in (trust me, you’d be surprised…), make sure the camera is clean and working, the microphone is free of dust (which causes crackling) and works properly, and – most important – you know where your mute button is! Muting yourself when you’re not talking helps limit extraneous noise you may not realize or expect, like finger tapping, incoming texts, email messages and outside noises such as dogs barking or doorbells.

5. Raise the camera

If you’re joining your virtual meeting on a laptop, try raising your camera by placing it on a few coffee-table books.  Remember, if you push your screen back – even by a few centimetres – you’re going to give people a view of your nostrils and… well, unfortunately, we’ve seen quite a few nostrils recently.  Raising your screen helps eliminate the nostril view and also helps prevent you ‘looking down’ on your audience, meeting them eye-to-eye.

6. Fix the view

Where possible, try and position yourself against a neutral background. While everyone understands you’re likely sequestered at home, a simple, neutral background without distractions will help focus the attention of your audience.

Your home lighting is equally important and easy to manage: Lights from above – particularly if your screen is tilted – can make your face disappear or create a long shadow under your chin.  Lighting from the side, or moderate lighting in front of you, will help you appear ‘closer’ and clearer on screen.  If you have space on your desk, place a sheet of white paper directly in front of your computer under your face so light reflects up creating a crisper, clearer you.

If you’re an agency in a pitch situation it’s worth coordinating your collective backgrounds ahead of time. This will help your potential client visually identify your agency as a cohesive team. We saw one situation in which someone used a fighter jet cockpit as their virtual background which just wasn’t appropriate in a business meeting and became distracting.  So if you’re using virtual backgrounds as a team, pick something neutral and coordinate.

7. Dress the part

No matter what the meeting, or where you may be located, you need to dress as if you were in the meeting face-to-face. So whether your dress code is typically formal or smart casual, don’t show up in a T-shirt just because you’re at home – others will notice.

And if your home background is a dark colour, consider a white or light coloured shirt.  If you have a light backdrop, try a darker shirt or jacket so you don’t disappear in the background.

8. Don’t eat

As tempting as it may be to munch on a donut during the non-speaking parts of your meeting, please don’t.  Remember, it’s your head and shoulders people are looking at and the focus will otherwise be on what and how you’re eating.  So, just for now, resist and stick to water when you need it.

9. Arrange your content

Depending on the meeting software, meeting participants can show up across the top, bottom, or in the case of Zoom down the right hand side of the screen.  This means that if you’re sharing your desktop or presenting on PowerPoint, content across the top, bottom or down the side will essentially be covered by participant faces.

Try and familiarize yourself with the meeting software ahead of time and adjust your presentation accordingly so everyone can see what you’re referencing.  Remember also that less is more when it comes to online presentations and you can always include more detail in your leave-behind link or download. 

10. Pay attention to body language

And finally… just because you’re in a virtual online setting, doesn’t mean participants aren’t going to be exhibiting giveaway body language signals in the process. And the same goes for you.

Take time to pause, ensure your content is clear and meaningful with your audience, and stop to invite questions. If you hit a roadblock, you’re better asking why something’s not resonating than continuing with a presentation from which people are disengaged. 

While none of this is rocket science, these pointers can make the difference between disjointed, disorganized and disappointing, and exemplary and engaging.  And that can be the difference between winning and losing.

So take what works for you here. And for goodness sake, make sure you’re disconnected from the meeting before eating that donut.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc  offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: sea turtle

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