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7 Secrets to an Excellent Meeting
September 5, 2013 by Zoom

We’ve all been there: Someone organizes a meeting (that “someone” could be you), everyone has high expectations, and suddenly the meeting turns into an awkward, boring disaster. If this sounds familiar, don’t fret. It happens to the best of us. Although Zoom Video Communications gives you a platform by which to have clear-as-day meetings with up to 25 participants, it still needs you to complete the experience!

You’re going to need to work on your meeting-fu by developing 7 habits that make every meeting a success:

1. Plan ahead.

To avoid a meandering discussion and awkward silences, you need to put on your architect hat. You don’t just begin building a brick house by laying bricks. You need to plan the space, lay the foundation, and then lay the bricks. The same is true of any other work you need to orchestrate. Don’t just sit there twiddling your thumbs. Make an agenda!

  • In the agenda, outline your objective and chief topics. What are the big ideas you’re going to discuss in the session? It doesn’t have to be chronological at this stage. Worry about timing at the end of your planning.
  • Give each topic a priority rating. How do you measure it? For starters, you can put numbers next to each item, with 1 representing the highest priority and any subsequent numbers representing something less important. “Perhaps no one really needs to hear about the rabbit Jimmy purchased last week as our company mascot. I’ll give that a 5.”
  • Assign subtopics to each main idea. This branches out the discussion. If you want to be creative, add priority ratings to those subtopics. This way, you can make decisions “on the fly” during your meeting as to whether you’re going to discuss a certain subtopic or not. Time constraints dictate whether or not you cover something.
  • Make the outline easily accessible during the meeting. For this purpose, during a video conference, the advantages of having a second monitor attached to your computer are clear. Holding the meeting on one monitor while consulting the outline from the other boosts your productivity during the meeting. On the other hand, if you don’t have a second monitor, put the outline in writing and have it sitting at your desk at least a half-hour before the meeting begins.
  • Email the agenda to the other meeting participants before the meeting. Give it to them a few hours in advance to leave enough time for them to offer suggestions.
  • Check out meeting agenda samples.

2. Begin meetings in the late morning or early afternoon.

For a successful meeting, timing is everything. Don’t start a meeting before everyone has had a chance to eat breakfast or check their email (unless you want them conducting these activities during your meeting!). Similarly, you shouldn’t plan on having any sort of engagement when people are already tired from a long day and are anxious to get home. Evenings and early mornings are out of the question. The most polite meetings are planned like picnics. Start them in the late morning or early afternoon, around 1 or 2 pm. At this point during the day, people are already over any caffeine hangovers, have the kids at school, full from breakfast or lunch and don’t feel as stressed as they would at any other point of the day. They’re more likely to sit up and participate.

3. Show up to your meeting on time!

There’s nothing on this green earth that leaves a worse impression on your participants than showing up to the meeting after they do. Show some respect for their time and enter your meeting before they do. Zoom makes this simpler by not enabling participants to join until you’ve entered (unless you check “Enable join before host”). However, you still should show up at least five minutes before the official start time to greet your early birds and entertain them before other guests arrive.

4. Keep it short.

As meetings progress, they become less engaging. If your participants are just listening to you talk, no one can guarantee they’ll still be paying attention to you after 10 minutes. If you have something to say, keep it short and sweet when possible. During the meeting, if your participants no longer seem to be as engaged as they were in the beginning, mark the time. It’s a good signal of when to stop. However, there’s something else you can do to rescue the meeting…

5. Get participants’ participation!

Try a standing meeting - Zoom Video Communications

Try a standing meeting

There’s a reason why participants are called “participants.” If they have no opportunities to provide input, they’ll disengage quickly. When in a meeting, if one of the participants starts whipping out their phone, that’s on you, not on them. You have to make sure they are part of the discussion. Ask for input regularly. At each subject you present during your meeting, ask whether participants have any concerns. If one participant seems easily disengaged, focus more attention on that person. This by no means is an invitation to act like a school teacher, though. Ask something like, “Hey, Dianne, what kinds of ideas do you think would make our dashboard design more appealing to middle-aged customers?” Be sure that your questions target something that interests the participant. Here are some other ways to keep participants actively engaged:

  • Introduce some rituals with your meetings. For example, have all participants bring a mug of coffee to your meetings, or have them start off by saying their favorite part of their day so far, or something that is on their mind.
  • Have participants stand up. This is easier said than done. However, standing in an upright position is more beneficial for posture and overall longevity. A standing meeting can also be more productive, as those who are sitting have a tendency to drag out the meeting, sitting back and reiterating comments as opposed to getting the point.

Speak up - Zoom Video Communications6. Speak up.

Don’t make participants ask you what you said. The worst thing to hear while you’re talking is, “Can you please repeat that?” Speak with a clear and firm tone, but pace yourself slowly enough so every vowel is emphasized. Just make sure you’re not talking like a slow loris (if they could talk, that is).

7. Wrap up right.

Last impressions are almost as important as first impressions. Avoid using catch phrases or boilerplate blurbs when ending a meeting. Establish closure by summarizing the major discussion points and action items. Ask your participants if they have anything to add. When they’re done (or after a brief period of silence), say something that brings closure; something like, “Well, that seems about it for today.” After this, thank your participants for their time and wish them well. Make sure you mean it. Show them you’re honored that they made the effort to show up. Also, don’t forget to be the last person who leaves the meeting. Follow up with an email to all participants recapping action items developed in the meeting.

There’s no such thing as a perfect meeting. But if you follow these steps, you will at least achieve a more productive meeting and happier participants. You’ll never yawn at the sound of your own voice again!

Zoom is a key component to an excellent meeting experience. Haven’t tried Zoom yet? Sign up for a free account today.