Online Meetings: How To Make Your Virtual Calls More Productive

As the world increasingly shifts to online workplaces, and remote working, a good understanding of making remote meetings work is critical.

There has been a massive uptake in adopting virtual boardrooms to cut down on costly travel for meetings, training sessions, and conferences. With the recent pandemic, an even more significant number of companies have taken the virtual route.

Online meetings have become a regular part of our day’s workflow, and they are here to stay. So how do you make them efficient? How do you make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction? And how do you make sure you cover everything before the meeting ends?

We previously shared how to make a virtual conference more effective, but an online meeting or Zoom call is a different structure and requires more active engagement with the audience.

We asked our TAB community to share their tips with you. Here’s a look at everything you need to know about running effective remote meetings with teams spread across the planet.

#1 Set the ground rules, and for larger meetings, assign a co-host and breakout rooms

As with any good meeting, you need to set some ground rules for participation and ask everyone to comply. Examples of ground rules include:

  • Staying on video.
  • Staying on mute until you address the group.
  • Using the raise/lower hand to manage Q&A, especially with a larger group.

Over time, consistent norms help everyone use the time in the meeting more effectively.

If you are hosting a larger meeting, I suggest pairing up another person as a co-host for the meeting. One person can play the technical support role and manage tasks such as admitting people into the room, assigning people to breakout rooms, recording the meeting, spotlighting key speakers, placing essential information in the chatbox to share with the group, and sharing questions addressed in the chat. The other host can focus on presenting and otherwise leading the discussion and engaging the group.

Breakout rooms are great tools for giving people a chance to talk one-on-one or in small teams and dig into details or brainstorm together. The host of the meeting can send messages to the people in breakout rooms and visit each breakout room to ensure everyone is on task. The host can then close the breakout rooms giving the groups a minute or two notice to wrap up and regroup in the main room.

Recording the meeting and making it available to all attendees and perhaps those who couldn’t make it gives everyone a chance to keep informed of issues discussed, decisions made, and action items assigned. This allows everyone to stay up to speed on a project even if they missed the meeting.

Electra Govoni, Owner at TAB Boston Northwest 

#2 Communicate expectations and agendas ahead of time

Every meeting should serve a specific purpose and an agenda should be set ahead of time. Communicate the purpose of the meeting with your team and get feedback on their understanding of the purpose and need for it.

Before the meeting, the purpose should be set out, along with the duration of the meeting, the frequency of the meeting, and if preparation is required, what the participants should be prepared with and when.

It’s also ideal if each team member knows the role they play in the meeting.

After the meeting, participants should be clear on key takeaways, action plans and if there’s a follow-up meeting.

Marlise van der Merwe, Owner at TAB Logan 

#3 Deliberately position yourself to include body language and tone just as you would in a face-to-face conversation

Virtual meetings lack interpersonal communication. The required structure reduces team collaboration, spontaneity, and psychological safety. Body language makes up 55% of communication, 38% is tone, and both are compromised in a compressed, virtual, 2D format. To make virtual meetings more effective and productive, we need to overcompensate in these two areas. Ways to do this include:

  • Stepping back, putting some distance between you and the camera to create a 3D space.
  • Stand at an acute angle to the camera, replicating the optimal seating position in a face-to-face meeting.
  • Utilise a whiteboard behind you to draw, take notes and capture the conversation.
  • Speak from your diaphragm as if you were presenting to extend the range of your voice.
  • Start the meeting with housekeeping, encouraging participation, letting your attendees know it’s a safe space, and how long you will be together, as well as the meeting’s objective.

At first, this will not feel natural. But over some time, it will become routine. Be persistent, ask for feedback, and you will find that others start following your lead. This will result in more effective and productive virtual meetings.

Daniel Wong, Owner at TAB Brisbane Inner North


#4 Don’t fill the allotted time just for the sake of it 

Always distribute an agenda to the attendees before the meeting. Most importantly, be wary of just filling the allotted time even if the meeting’s outcome has been achieved.

Bob Green, CEO at TAB North Shore

#5 Make sure you have the right tech set up ahead of time

Ensuring you have the right equipment set up correctly ahead of time will make sure participants can hear and see everything properly.

  • Have a great camera to catch the room
  • have a big tv screen for zoom members
  • Have a great boom speaker so everyone can hear the zoom people
  • Have a good microphone for zoom people to hear the people in the room
  • Ensure you start with the person in the room first and then move to the zoom one next
  • Do not have more than 4 on zoom and 5 in the room

Crystal Petzer, TAB Pittwater

#6 Make it a conversation rather than a lecture

If you need to deliver information during a virtual meeting, find a way to turn it into a conversation instead of a lecture. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Give the topic to someone on your team to present.
  • Break the topic up into pieces and have each team member present part of the information.
  • Invite an expert (or experts) to your meeting and ask them questions about the topic. Invite your team to ask questions as well.

If you don’t need to cover a lot of information during the meeting, then have a different person from the team run the meeting each time you meet.

Doing any of the above will increase engagement and make your virtual meetings more effective.

Laura Drury, Owner at TAB Focused Directions

#7 Provide relevant and pertinent documents before the call

Exchange digital documents (like PDF, XLS, DOC, PPT) before the call or even after the virtual meeting. Important documents that contain information important to the topic being discussed can be sent before the meeting with an explanation in the email body. This allows the other party to review the information before the call, saves the time spent in detailed explanations, and minimises the Q&A session during the meeting. Other documents might become pertinent as the discussion progresses during the virtual meeting. Send these documents after the meeting rather than interrupting the discussion. A good explanation in the email body and some Q&A responses are generally more efficient than the time it takes to explain everything during the virtual meeting.

Joe Palmer, Owner at TAB North Texas

#8 Announce a batting order for each section of the meeting

It is harder to see whether people are engaged during an online meeting than when face to face. In a face-to-face meeting, we can look at the other participants’ body language during the meeting and read into it. A tapping pen, staring off into space, sitting up straight, slouching — all of these can be observed easily. On a Zoom call, it is difficult to tell whether a person is staring at the screen because they are paying attention to the speaker or reading emails, or watching YouTube. To combat this, I announce a “batting order” at the start of each meeting section. My batting order is the order that I will be calling on people for an opportunity to ask questions or give feedback. Even if they don’t have anything to add, they know they are called on to speak to ensure they pay more attention. I also change up the batting order over the course of the meeting so the participants don’t get too comfortable with the order and allow distractions until it is their turn to talk.

Doug Kerr, Owner at TAB Etobicoke/Mississauga