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Great virtual meetings don’t just happen. They require planning and preparation just to be good. Web meetings, teleconferences and video conferences can be a complete failure and a waste of valuable time and resources without proper preparation. To avoid this, as a virtual meeting planner, consider the six items to prepare for your meeting and suggested attendees below.

1. Determine the technology to use. Use only what is necessary for an effective meeting. Various meeting tools offer many options, but using too many can cause confusion, create problems, and lead to long meetings. If you use chat, instant messaging, tweet, or text features, it’s a good idea to arrange for someone to control that flow of information so the facilitator can focus on the meeting process. Be sure to leave spaces on the agenda to respond to questions and comments from those who use the communication features. If webcams are used for the meeting, there are a few additional things to consider:

  • The main room should be properly lit so that the speakers are not left in shadow or appear washed out.
  • Those who speak must know how to look at the camera when they speak as if they were conversing with a person. Check microphones or headphones to make sure everyone can be heard.
  • Everyone should check their appearance and clothing before going on air. For example, white, red, and stripes don’t usually look good on camera.
  • Use slides to emphasize points in your presentation that have little text in large fonts or images such as images and charts. Avoid lots of numbers or detailed text.

2. Schedule meeting times that are convenient for most attendees. If attendees are spread across time zones, consider holding ongoing team meetings at different times so everyone has a chance to meet during their standard business hours. It’s better to schedule less than two hours for virtual meetings and plan to hold more meetings than trying to squeeze too much into one day while people get distracted after a short while. One hour meetings are even better!

3. Invite only the people who need to participate in the meeting. Having too many people involved can get things off track. When sending the invitation, include the purpose of the meeting so people can opt out if they don’t think their participation is required. If a document needs to be reviewed or downloaded before the meeting time, please include it as a link in the invitation or as an attachment. Make sure the invitation includes how to join the meeting and information on how to install any necessary software before the start of the event. Also, consider including URL links to any online help for the tool being used. This information can prevent last-minute calls from frustrated attendees trying to get into the meeting. If you plan to invite people from outside your organization, consider your company’s information and document security requirements before you do so.

4. Create an agenda in advance. Try to limit the topics you discuss to two key items per hour. When making the agenda, use the 3Ts: Weather the article will start, ATM is the one who is going to speak, and Theme It is the topic being presented or discussed. Send the agenda to meeting participants with your meeting reminder at least two days before the meeting. This helps attendees prepare for presentations and discussions.

5. Plan to take notes. Ask someone to record the outcome of the meeting or select a tool that allows recording within the presentation documents. Having someone other than the facilitator record the meetings ensures that the facilitator can focus on keeping the agenda moving and the minutes coming out quickly after the virtual event is over. The option of having the facilitator or presenter record comments, changes, and decisions directly in the presentation lets attendees know they were heard and understood.

6. Send a reminder a day or two before the meeting. The reminder email should include the URLs or phone numbers and any login information needed to first attend the meeting. Followed by the agenda and a reminder of any documentation to be reviewed prior to the meeting. If presentation slides can be accessed before the meeting, include how to obtain them. Suggest that meeting participants log in 5-10 minutes before the meeting starts so they have time to troubleshoot any issues that may occur and are ready to participate when the meeting starts.

Using these tips as a virtual meeting organizer should prevent wasted meeting time and frustration caused by not being properly prepared. Consider which of these ideas will make virtual meetings go from bad to good, or from just plain good to great. Excel at preparing for virtual meetings and find out how effective and efficient these types of meetings really can be.

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