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How to make virtual meetings informative and engaging

Today’s society is a global one, with more people than ever connecting not in person, but through the Internet instead.  This isn’t just happening in the social realm; it’s also happening in the workplace.

With companies expanding and operating branches in many cities and countries, holding virtual meetings where employees join in a videoconference is now becoming the norm. It’s also the main way telecommuters stay in contact with each other.

The latest statistics show that 3.3 million Americans telecommute at least half of the time, and that number continues to grow, according to Global Workplace Analytics. In fact, the study reported that the number of federal employees who telecommute has increased 421 percent since 2005.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that videoconferencing is only going to become more valuable as society becomes more technology driven. But not everyone loves those virtual meetings. There can be a lot of potential distractions when workers aren’t physically in the same room with their bosses during important meetings. So what can you do to make sure to capture your employees’ attention when holding these virtual meetings? Here are some top tips to make your next meeting not only informative, but engaging as well.

Always Use Video

It seems like an obvious choice, but many virtual meetings are still done with telephone conference calls. Not being able to see the other participants can create a sense of disconnect, where workers immediately zone out and only half pay attention to what’s being said. Being able to see everyone who is participating in a virtual meeting is a great way to hold your employees accountable. You can physically see if they’re paying attention or doing something else like checking their email or text messages, according to the Harvard Business Review. Using video also helps eliminate those awkward silences that can sometimes happen during conference calls over the telephone. With video, you’re able to see how other employees are reacting to what’s being said and reply as needed.

Many companies that specialize in virtual conferencing consider video extremely important. In fact, Blue Jeans believes that every call should be a video call, and it’s working to design the technology that will make that happen.

Prepare in Advance

One of the most important things to do before your meeting is to prepare. Since you aren’t going to physically be in a room with the attendees, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect. Do your homework and create a detailed agenda ahead of time that can be emailed to each attendee. You also should prepare by testing out your videoconferencing equipment, according to Inc. You want to make sure everything is working properly so you won’t have to deal with any frustrating hang-ups if the picture isn’t working or nobody can hear the sound. A well-prepared conference is one that runs smoothly and doesn’t let technology get in the way of communicating.

Break the Ice

Instead of just starting a virtual meeting with business, try breaking the ice to warm everyone up and get them talking. Take five minutes or so to go around and hear from everyone who is participating. One specific idea that helps warm up a cold conference is to ask participants to share their success stories since the last meeting, as suggested by Forbes. Getting people to talk about something positive is a lot easier than asking them to share problems, and will help build momentum and get everyone to contribute to the conversation instead of being a passive listener. This also helps foster a sense of collaboration.

Ban the Mute Button

Finally, create expectations and rules just the same as you would if everyone was together in the same conference room. You wouldn’t let employees sitting in front of you stick in a pair of earplugs and completely tune out what you or another presenter is saying. Therefore, you should enforce a no-mute-button rule. Muting the dialogue not only means that some of your employees aren’t getting the important information they need from your virtual conference, it also means there’s no chance of discussing important topics with them. Instead, you can expect an awkward silence that can quickly kill the meeting’s momentum. Make sure everyone involved in the meeting knows this expectation, and any others you may have, up front. And if employees break a rule, penalize them. Implement a penalty for offenders, but one that’s fair and even a bit fun for everyone else. One company uses a spinning wheel to determine punishment, according to the Harvard Business Review. The needle could point to penalties such as cleaning the office fridge or bringing in coffee creamer. It’s amusing and engaging for everyone in attendance, but sends a message at the same time that not paying attention is not an option and has consequences.