As Melbourne went into its second lock down, I felt a distinct shift in the energy of my colleagues, our clients and myself. For all the laughter at pets and children interrupting presentations, the cries of “you’re on mute” and the jokes of “are you wearing pants?”, there was an absolute sense of video conference fatigue.
The reality of this new way of meeting and communicating was setting in:
communication in a virtual world is hard.
Even after we all have access to a Covid-19 vaccine, we are now in a world that, rightly so, no longer has any reason to discourage entirely flexible workplaces. As a result, there will always be at least one or two people attending our meetings via a tiny box on a screen.
Since the world effectively shut down in March, I’ve been on an average of eight regular virtual meetings a week both internal and external as well as having to pitch multiple times for new work, sometimes to teams in five different time zones. Some of these have been amazing and some have been absolute failures.
As I sat on a regular call last week, I realised I’d not been listening for twenty minutes because I’d been distracted by scrolling through options for a new collar for my dog. As one one of the most senior members of our team, this really wasn’t good enough. I knew we had to change it up. The novelty of virtual work has worn off and the reality is, we’ll be working in some version of this for a very long time.
So, I put the challenge to our team. I tasked them to come back with ideas on how we make each meeting we have productive, enjoyable, connected and valuable. We researched, surveyed friends, colleagues and clients and we came up with a toolkit we have all agreed to use and hold each other accountable to, providing feedback along the way.
We purposely called it a tool kit over rules or a checklist, as there is no one size fits all approach. But, even in the few days since we’ve discussed it, we’ve all seen a noticeable positive difference in not only how we communicate, but how we feel about our day to day work from home experience.
We’ve enjoyed the changes so much we thought we’d share it!
This is a living, breathing tool kit so we’d love to hear from you.
What have you found that works? What else can we change?
During these times we know that sharing ideas and ways to improve our day to day experiences really matter, so we hope this sparks some inspiration!
Chief Strategy Officer, AKA Australia.
AKA Australia’s Virtual Meeting Toolkit
Our meetings are based on three: connection, collaboration and feedback.
Before you start, get clear on the purpose of your meeting. Why are you having it? What do you need to achieve? Build the agenda around this. Let’s keep the meetings active.
- Is It Needed? Check if you really need the meeting. Do not have it if both you and the client feel it’s not going to be a productive use of time. If you’re not on the call, keep in touch with the client that week and show presence on the account
- Pre Plan Send out an agenda and the meeting’s goals before the meeting. Ask people to read it and prepare feedback or suggestions. The goal is to minimize presentation time, maximize discussion time. Prepare what you are going to say so you can speak with confidence, even when the neighbour starts up their leaf blower.
- Keep It Tight! This is not Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Let’s respect people’s time. Set your default meeting time to 45mins. Can a 30min catch up be 20min?
- Quality Over Quantity. Noone wants to sit through 95 slides so let’s cut those presentations back. What is relevant? What is practical? What is impressive? The rest can be in an appendix for people to read.
- Plan To Start And End On Time. Nothing kills momentum like a 15-minute delay because people need to download software. Meeting presenters should log in five minutes early to ensure that all is working smoothly. Ending meetings late is a tremendous source of stress for people, so don’t run over.
- Check In With Clients. With your clients, periodically create mutual expectations about what makes for a good remote meeting. Surface expectations, like “let’s keep all contributions to no more than 60 seconds so everyone has a chance to speak,” and give colleagues a chance to reply.
- Presenter, Know Thyself: Understand yourself and your habits – what sort of prep you need, when do you do your best work? Give yourself the best environment and prep to run a productive and valuable meeting. Involve your team. Share the love and the workload – then you’ll have back up if things get derailed.
- Mix it up! The weekly presentation of a similar agenda can get stale quickly. Make your meeting a deep dive into one topic, or a workshop with clients on one particular area. Involve the participants in what is going to be most useful to them.
- Smile! You’re on Camera: Set the mood! We’re happy to see each other and our clients!
- Posture Please: How does your body language read to others? While you feel comfortable your client might think that by slumping down in your chair makes it look like you’re watching Netflix on your other monitor. Talking with your hands is also a great way to show people you are passionately engaged and that’s what they pay us for!
- About Face: Be aware of your ticks. When nervous, people can comfort themselves by engaging through face-touching behaviors (smoothing their eyebrows, tugging at earlobes, to itching their nose, playing with hair.) On camera in a meeting they make you appear insecure, nervous or ill prepared.
- Find Your Light: No one is asking you to be a ring light influencer, but we need to be able to clearly see your face and expressions.
- Pssst! WE CAN SEE YOU: Remember people can see you the whole time. Nod, smile, react, even if you’re on mute show that you’re actively listening. Also, we can see you when you’re emailing someone else.
- Get Moving: If the meeting has been going for more than an hour, feel free to ask people to get up and move to change up the energy. Even with a quick game at their desk, it will reengage and lift the energy.
- We’re All a Little Different: Be respectful that cultural differences mean people communicate, respond and engage differently. Investigate any norms for others you may need to adopt. Also, one size does not fit all – shape your meeting to fit the group. You know your client. Shape these tools to fit their needs.
- Start The Meeting Well. As the meeting leader, your mood and attitude matters. It sets the tone. Start the meeting with energy, acknowledge country, show appreciation and gratitude, especially during this stressful time. Doing so increases the chances of a more positive meeting mood state, which promotes more creativity, listening, and constructiveness.
- Keep The Water Cooler Chat – But Keep It Under Control. This chat is important to keep bonds and relationships strong, but do not let it run the meeting. Keep it under control and call time on it after a few minutes. If you are leading the meeting don’t be afraid to interrupt and get things started.
- Slow Your Speaking Speed. Participants are getting about 25% less visual cues that they would get in real live. So slow it down so they can take it in!
- Why Are We Here? Remind everyone of the goals and desired outcomes for the meeting
- What’s In It For Them?: Everything you present this to be tied back to what it means for the participants. Why is it relative? Don’t leave them to join the dots themselves, that’s what we’re there for.
- This is not a Ted Talk. Actively Facilitate. Say goodbye to the tumbleweed silences. Use people’s names, engage them one by one. Make it specific and personal. Look and see if they’re engaging and if you need to call them back to the meeting. Don’t let people ramble or go off course; kindly interrupting, if necessary, is your job as a meeting leader.
- Not The Host? Tread Lightly: There’s no need to make a huge deal if you accidentally drop off and have to reconnect. Just quietly come back to the room. Don’t interrupt with, ‘Sorry I dropped off, bad connection, I’m back now! Sorry!’ That’s more disruptive than dropping off and on.
- Are you talking? No? Then Mute Your Freaking Microphone.
- DO NOT EAT. No one wants to see you chewing up close. Gross.
- Look ‘Em In The Eye: Look at the camera when presenting. If you’ve got two monitors, put your notes just below the camera on your computer. Hide yourself if you can, it’s about them, not you.
- Share The Screen Only If Necessary: Only do so if absolutely necessary. It’s better to let your online attendees see you and each other. If you’re not using the doc, take it down from the screen again.
- End Meetings Well. With a few minutes left, be sure to clarify takeaways. Identify the individual directly responsible for each action item. Don’t let anyone leave your meeting wondering what was accomplished or what the next steps are. Finish strong, don’t let it just fizzle.
- Follow Up. Thank people, share action points. Remind of next meeting time. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, they will remember how you made them feel.
The entire team signs up to giving respectful feedback in real time, both positive and constructive, based on these guidelines and our desired business reputation.