Online meeting best practices: 20 secrets to virtual meetings

The conversation about how much we all dread meetings isn’t a new one. There are too many of them. Most of them are colossal wastes of time. Heck, one in three people admit that they’ve felt drowsy or even fallen asleep in a meeting.

But, when that meeting is happening virtually and people are only dressed appropriately from the waist up? Well, it becomes even more challenging to keep participants engaged in the conversation.

Don’t worry – it’s tough, but it’s still possible. We’ve pulled together this guide of meeting best practices to do before, after, and during your remote meeting to make sure people not only stay awake but also actively contribute to the discussion.

What you’ll need to get started: 3 basics to have in your toolkit

Virtual meetings have their challenges, but rest assured that they aren’t insurmountable. We have plenty of online meeting best practices to get you over those hurdles.

But first, let’s make sure you have everything you need to run an effective virtual meeting. A few things you’ll want to have in your toolkit include:

  1. Reliable internet connection: This one is non-negotiable. Nothing throws your meeting off track faster than laggy audio or frozen video.
  2. Video conferencing solution: It’s not a complete replacement for in-person, face-to-face communication, but it’s a whole lot better than only using audio and allows you to pick up on facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.
  3. Miro: Miss collaborating around a shared whiteboard? It’s still possible, even if your team isn’t co-located. Miro is a visual workspace that your team can use to continue brainstorming and executing their big ideas virtually.

If you haven’t already, sign up for a free Miro account and create a board. Once you have that, dig into this big list of tips for running an engaging meeting. We even have some templates you can add to your board to make planning your virtual meeting even easier.

Meeting best practices: Before the meeting

Believe it or not, a lot of the magic for a successful online meeting happens before your scheduled meeting time. As the facilitator, it’s your responsibility to commit to some thorough planning and set your entire team up for success. Here’s what you’ll want to take care of:

1. Test your technology

Sign on to your meeting a few minutes early to ensure all of your technology — your video conferencing, screen sharing, camera, and microphone — are all working the way they need to. When the rest of your participants join, you’ll be ready to jump right into the meat and potatoes without having to waste time on technical troubleshooting.

2. Create the right environment

You might not be in the office, but you still want to have the right backdrop and space for a productive meeting. Find a quiet room where you’ll (hopefully!) avoid interruptions. Ensure you have decent lighting so everybody can see your facial expressions, and clean up your background so people don’t get distracted by something behind you.

3. Consider your attendees

We’ve all left a meeting and thought, “Wow, well I didn’t need to be there.” When mapping out the list of attendees for your meeting, ask yourself this: What am I expecting this person to contribute in this meeting? If you can’t answer that question, you don’t need to clog up their calendar. Resist the temptation to include people just to “keep them in the loop.” You can send them the necessary information and updates after the meeting.

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Struggling to filter through your potential attendees? This template has an entire section where you can outline the purpose of your meeting, and then sort through who absolutely needs to be there and who would be nice to have.

4. Outline your meeting agenda

Repeat after us: Every single meeting you host should have an agenda. No agenda, no meeting. Your agenda should spell out your meeting goals, priority tasks, other tasks to address, and any other notes or reminders.

This agenda template will help you quickly pull together a meeting agenda that keeps your entire team on track.

5. Share your meeting agenda (and ask for feedback)

Your agenda isn’t just for you — it’s for your whole team. Share the agenda with all of your attendees ahead of the meeting so they have time to collect their thoughts and show up prepared. Make sure that you also pass along any resources or supporting documentation they need. At the same time, ask if anybody has anything else they want to discuss in the meeting that should potentially be added to the agenda.

6. Develop some ground rules

To have a productive meeting, you and all of your team members should have shared expectations about behavior and etiquette. Outline some ground rules for your meeting, such as:

  • Keep your microphone on mute when you aren’t speaking
  • Avoid interrupting when others are speaking
  • Stick to the items listed on the agenda

Meeting best practices: During the meeting

Today’s the day! Your meeting will get underway, and you’re excited to have a productive and engaging conversation with your participants. But you also know that the best-laid plans tend to fall apart. Here’s how you can execute a meeting that lives up to your expectations:

7. Introduce your attendees

Particularly if you’re hosting a cross-functional meeting or a conversation with people who normally don’t work together, make sure you dedicate a little bit of time at the start for introductions so everybody knows who’s there.

8. Outline responsibilities

Take your introductions a step further by not only sharing who is there but why they’re there. This will clarify roles and expectations and also give everybody context about who’s handling what.

9. Loosen things up with an icebreaker

If you have your sights set on a collaborative meeting where attendees are excited about working together, start with a quick and lighthearted activity that instantly makes everybody a little more comfortable.

Need some icebreaker inspiration? Use this template. It gives everybody the chance to share a picture of something on their desk and/or share something they learned recently.

10. Establish the meeting goal

You spelled out your meeting goal on your agenda, but don’t assume that it’s top of mind for everybody. Before you get into your discussion topics, reiterate your meeting’s objective and clearly state what you’re aiming to achieve during that conversation.

11. Share the meeting structure

Are you using a specific structure or framework for your meeting? For example, maybe you’re doing a start, stop, continue retrospective. Spend just a few minutes reiterating how that structure works so everybody is on the same page about how the meeting will flow.

Not using a set structure for your meeting but still want to be organized? This meeting organizer template for remote teams can help you organize your thoughts and discussion items.

12. Invite collaboration

Keep in mind that the most engaging meetings aren’t lectures or seminars — they actively invite collaboration from participants with designated exercises and activities. From brainwriting to sketching, incorporate some chances for participants to chime in. Our brainstorming templates have plenty of easy exercises you could use.

13. Ask questions

Beyond activities, asking questions is one of the most straightforward ways to ensure adequate participation and collaboration. Ask questions for the entire team to consider or ask specific attendees to chime in with their insights. This isn’t about putting people on the spot, but instead is about finding ways to give the floor to some of the less gregarious members of your team who might feel like they can’t jump in with their own suggestions.

14. Steer the conversation

Even with your agenda up on the screen, it’s likely that your participants will still get hung up on the occasional tangent. You’ll need to be the one to jump in and course-correct when necessary. The best way to do this is to create a dedicated spot on your Miro board where you can all jot down any “backburner items” you want to revisit in a different meeting or conversation. That way you’re acknowledging those tangents, without them hijacking your meeting.

15. Take thorough meeting notes

Taking notes during your meeting is a surefire way to avoid any crossed wires or confusion down the line. You should jot down the basics of your meeting (like the date, objective, and attendees), the agenda items, discussion and agreements, action items, and any other notes you want to keep track of. Keep that somewhere safe and accessible so that everybody can easily refer back to it.

Want to keep your meeting notes organized? This template has designated spaces where you can jot down all of these important details.

16. Agree on action items

You can have the most positive and productive conversation during your meeting. But, if you don’t cap it off with clear action items, it’s going to feel like a waste of time. End your meeting by running through a list of what needs to be taken care of and who’s going to own each task. That way, people sign off with a crystal clear understanding of what they’re responsible for.

Meeting best practices: After the meeting

Your meeting has ended. That’s it — your job is done, right? Not quite. There are a few more things you’ll want to do to make sure you wrap up that conversation on a high note.

17. Send a meeting summary

You know those meeting notes you documented so carefully? They aren’t just for you. Send them to all of your attendees so they have a recap of what was discussed and what action items are coming up next. It’s also smart to send these notes to any other stakeholders who didn’t attend the meeting but should be kept up-to-date on those conversations.

18. Revisit your backburner items

On your Miro board, you likely jotted down some topics or questions that didn’t belong in that meeting but didn’t deserve to be forgotten. Now’s the time to figure out how you’ll address those — whether you need to look up more information, schedule a dedicated meeting, or something else. Don’t forget about those!

This product backlog template is an easy and organized way to store and prioritize all of those random ideas and tasks.

19. Collect feedback

Meetings aren’t set in stone. Instead, they should be a constant learning experience. One of the best ways to improve your future meetings is to ask attendees for their opinions. What do they think went well during your latest meeting? What do they think could’ve gone better? Gather their insights and use those to make strategic changes moving forward.

20. Audit your recurring meetings

Finally, take a close look at your upcoming meetings, especially any recurring ones. Are those still productive and important, or have they turned into any glorified catch-up sessions? If you identify any meetings that aren’t as impactful as they need to be, consider reducing their frequency or eliminating them altogether.

The 20 online meeting best practices we outlined above will help you plan and host a productive and engaging conversation. For more help running engaging virtual meetings, explore our expansive library of ready-made templates, find your other favorite tools in our marketplace of 80+ integrations, and get inspired by expert meeting facilitators’ personal tips.

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