Professional Development

Why your virtual meetings suck

Karin Reed, CEO of Speaker Dynamics, talks about how — and how not — to run an effective virtual meeting.

Virtual meetings don't have to suck.

(Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels)

Whether you work remotely, hybrid or on-site, chances are high that you take part in virtual meetings.

In fact, you probably take part in a lot of virtual meetings. Whether you enjoy or hate them, they’re a necessary part of tech work today.

If you’re in a virtual meeting rut — or if you still haven’t quite gotten the hang of how to run a virtual meeting that doesn’t suck — Karin Reed, CEO of Speaker Dynamics and co-author of books including “Suddenly Hybrid” and “On-Camera Coach” offered some advice as part of Technical.ly’s 2022 Introduced video series.

Here are six reasons why your virtual meetings might suck, and what you can do to make them better:

1. You don’t put effort into planning

A productive and effective meeting takes planning, Reed says.

“[People] just think, ‘Oh, if we get all these people in the room together, the magic will happen,’ and too often it does not,” she said. “So we end up with a variety of issues: First of all, people don’t have an agenda, so they don’t know why they’re there. Or they get into the meeting and you’ve got one person who dominates the conversation, and nobody else can get any airtime at all. You have people who just use it as an opportunity to complain about things that they don’t like, even if it’s off-topic.”

2. You let meetings go on too long

The combination of more and longer meetings now, compared to what most people had when meetings were in person, is enough for employees to grow to despise virtual ones.

“Our days are filled with things that typically we don’t like, didn’t like before we went virtual, and we don’t like them now, even more,” Reed said. “So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make them better because, honestly, it’s the only way you are going to get business done.”

3. You don’t value the benefits the technology offers

A virtual or hybrid meeting is not the same as a meeting that takes place entirely in one boardroom, yet often people treat them as if they are and thus take the offerings of virtual meetings for granted.

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“It’s actually great that we have the technology to do this, because imagine if we didn’t — whenever you couldn’t meet face to face, it would have been back to that phone meeting, and it’s a medium that is not nearly as rich as if you can incorporate video as well,” Reed noted. “We talk [in the books] about some of the best practices on how to really leverage the technology to make sure that you can move things forward, but it starts with the basics: start on time, end the meeting on time, make sure you have an agenda, follow your agenda, stay on track. Those are the things that you should be doing, which most people haven’t been doing forever, but you don’t have the opportunity to make up for the missteps in a virtual meeting as easily as you could if you’re a face-to-face meeting.”

4. You schedule virtual meetings that don’t need to be virtual meetings

When remote work and virtual meeting platforms became essential in 2020, people started using them for all kinds of work communication beyond standard meetings, and remote workers started to burn out.

“We’re using [these platforms] too much,” said Reed. “And that gets back to the whole idea that you have this meeting explosion where these chunks of time are occupying space in our calendar that shouldn’t necessarily be meetings. So much can be done asynchronously, which means that, for example, if you’re sharing a report, do you really need to share that report in live meetings, or can you record yourself and share your screen so people have the opportunity to digest it on their own time? It gives them flexibility to fit it in at a time that makes more sense relative to the workflow.”

5. Your meetings are not collaborative

Building off the last point: Spectator events don’t need to be scheduled meetings. Meetings should require collaboration, and that should go beyond going around the “room” for updates, Reed says.

“As far as like the weekly standup, I think they have a purpose, provided that it requires collaboration,” she said. “If you’re just doing a round-robin reporting on what happened, why does that need to be something where everybody gets into the room if there’s no expectation that there’s going to be commentary afterwards?”

As an alternative, Reed suggests something she learned from another CEO, which is to have employees record updates as audio files that are then uploaded to a specific site. The clips can be downloaded and listened to at the listener’s convenience: “It’s almost like his own personal podcast which gets updated [with] what’s going on in his business.”

6. Your meeting attendees aren’t engaged

The meeting planner is responsible for the agenda and keeping things on track, but the attendees’ engagement (or lack thereof) can also make or break a virtual meeting.

“I would say that it has to be a joint responsibility of the attendees, as well as the meeting leader, to ensure that that meeting is effective,” Reed said. “The meeting leader needs to be proactive and facilitating the discussion. … The meeting needs to be proactive, but it also means that the meeting attendees need to step up. They need to stay engaged, they need to put down their phones, they need to close that tab that they’re looking at, checking their emails, and be focused on the meeting at hand because that’s the only way you’re going to get something out of the meeting.”

Watch the full interview here:

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