I’ve had several colleagues ask for tips on how to run a successful virtual meeting with clients and co-workers during the pandemic. People want to know how to look professional when you’re streaming from your home, especially when there may be kids and animals running around in the background. My clients are seeking advice on how they can maintain a level of professionalism during virtual meetings, including what they should wear, how to stay on task, and what to do if a child ‘virtual bombs’ your meeting. There are several unknown variables that could lead to a less than productive meeting. The way to prevent a virtual meeting from being a disaster is simple: preparation.
I am sure most of you, like me and my team, are on several virtual meetings daily during this time. I’ve put together a few tips on how to make the most of this new way of connecting with clients and colleagues.
Preparation is Key
Preparation is key, especially when meeting virtually with clients. Make sure to turn the video on before the meeting. I have conducted test meetings with co-workers to make sure my WebEx was working properly before meeting with a client. This is important because your clients are taking the time to meet with you and you don’t want to waste their time. Testing the technology will give you peace of mind which I believe always results in a more positive meeting and confident mindset.
Humanize the Room
Video is key to humanizing the room. Video makes people feel more engaged because it allows team members to see each other’s emotions and reactions. The people in the meeting are no longer voices on a phone line; they are the faces of your co-workers and clients together. Without video you’ll never know if the dead silence in a virtual meeting is happening because somebody is not paying attention or nodding his or her head in agreement. Also, make sure everyone knows each other on the meeting. It will only take a few minutes to have everyone do a brief introduction of themselves before starting.
Consider the Setting
There are simple ways to create a virtual environment that is both professional and personal. Make sure you are in a room with adequate lighting. Natural lighting is always best, so try to conduct your meeting in a room that has windows when possible. However, and this is important, never have a window behind you. It should always be in front of you or to your side otherwise the natural light will wash out your face. Keep the background simple and professional. Having family photos behind you offers a sense of intimacy. Having dirty laundry behind you does not.
Prework is Critical to Success
Don’t waste time by reading reports over the phone, this should be considered pre-work. Time is valuable and should be used to connect on important and critical business objectives. My boss is great at sending out a simple half-page email with reports that will be discussed during our meetings and he details his objectives, so we are all clear on his focus. Our team rarely gets off-task because we understand what is expected of us and we come prepared to collaborate and discuss. We are extremely efficient due to this focused style of meeting.
Use the Chat Window
Consider the chat window as a presentation add-on. When you refer to an article or shared document, link to it in the chat. If you run the meeting, put a link to the agenda in the chat. When others are speaking, respond with support or questions in the chat. The chat window is a unique opportunity in virtual meetings to elevate your presence, add dimensions to your ideas, and demonstrate that you’re fully present.
Dress to Impress
I have been asked several times in the past week about attire for virtual conferences. Although you might think everyone is more relaxed these days due to quarantine, I highly disagree. It is critical when meeting with clients to dress the same way you would for an in-person meeting. I’ve always believed that putting in effort shows a sign of respect to whom you’re meeting with. Not only that, but dressing in a professional manner subconsciously prepares you to perform in a professional manner.
Finally, we are all human and we are all in this together. If a virtual meeting doesn’t go exactly how you wanted, don’t stay up at night thinking about it. We don’t have the typical tech support assisting us from home that we would have in the office. Your dog might start barking at the most inopportune time, but these variables are not fixed and cannot be planned for. I have found that most people are understanding in this atmosphere. As I stated in my first blog post, we need to ‘lean in’ and support one another during this time. If your child runs behind you during a Zoom meeting, don’t sweat it. Prepare for what you can prepare for, ask for help from a co-worker if you need virtual meeting practice, ask your spouse or partner to take the kids outside during an important meeting. Just make sure to return the favor.