In an office setting, leading a meeting meant reserving a room and ensuring that you spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. Virtual meetings, though, come with a different set of challenges. Leading an online meeting involves managing the technology as well as the participants.
For instance, during online meetings, connectivity issues can slow things down or impede the flow of communication.
What’s more, in a virtual meeting, “only one conversation can take place at a time, and it's more difficult to pick up nonverbal cues,” which can make for awkward discussion, said David Schaeffer, an education innovation specialist with the New Jersey Society of CPAs, located in Roseland, N.J. This lack of nonverbal feedback can make it hard for leaders to know when someone wants to speak.
To ensure your next virtual meeting runs smoothly, follow this advice:
Test your tech ahead of time. Make sure you’re ready for the videoconference by checking the basics. Test your internet connection, troubleshoot hardware, and check that your camera and microphone are working, said Gabrielle Luoma, CPA, CGMA, co-founder and CEO at MOD Ventures LLC, an accounting and advisory firm based in Tucson, Ariz. “Leave yourself enough time to contact IT support if something isn’t working well,” she advised.
Start on time. Be mindful of when you set the meeting to start, said Jason Cherubini, CPA, CGMA, founder of Seraphim Associates International, a finance and accounting consultancy firm located in Baltimore, Md. “The worst way that I have seen Zoom meetings start is with a delay waiting for more participants to log on and then abruptly starting at no predetermined time,” he said.
If you expect people to join late, go over information the latecomers don’t need to hear before they join, he suggested.
Remember mute. Start the meeting by reminding everyone to use the mute function to avoid people talking over one another and wasting valuable time, Schaeffer said. You can also change the settings of the meeting to automatically mute people when they join.
Make sure everyone gets airtime. Remember that virtual group conversations can become unwieldy quickly, so monitor the discussion closely to ensure everyone has a chance to speak. “Larger groups can be dominated by one or two individuals,” Schaeffer said.
To prevent this from happening, he said, “establish the objective of the meeting upfront.” Then, if a discussion gets off track, you can refer back to that objective and ask for input from others. In that way, he said, “you can easily refocus the group and get everyone involved again.”
Appear on camera. Keep your video camera on when you can. “While it may be tempting to hide behind that great company picture of yourself” that appears when you’re not on camera in Zoom, Luoma said, “people will connect with you more readily if they actually see you talking. Adding a face to a name to a voice is a powerful tool.”
However, be sure that attendees know they can turn off video if the meeting’s quality declines. “The more people there are using video, the worse the audio clarity tends to be, which is the most important part of the call,” said Rolf Bax, chief human resources officer for Resume.io, a career prep company based in the Netherlands. “If I'm meeting with clients, I use video at the beginning for the interpersonal touch, and if the quality starts to suffer, I suggest switching to audio only.”
Be professional. When on camera, remember that, while you aren’t around others, they can still see you, Luoma said. Keep behaviors neutral. Don’t cross your arms because that can demonstrate boredom, and avoid snacking or eating a meal. “Small sips of water are permissible, but no one likes to be reminded that their call is being squeezed between lunch and another meeting,” she said.
Set the agenda. Once the meeting begins, remember that time is limited, so briefly lay out the agenda and how participants can make the most of the time, Bax said. “Lay out the ways you will run the meeting and what is expected of participants,” he said.
Think visually. Think about sharing a screen for more visual topics that would be cumbersome for others to follow, Bax said. “It is easier to show people the path I take” when sharing a screen, he said.
When you’re dealing with substantial or complex numerical data, though, send that information before the call, Cherubini said. That way, you can focus during the meeting on presenting only the key points, and your audience won’t “need to go scrolling through screens filled with hard-to-read data sets,” he said.
Don’t overshare. Before you share your screen, make sure email and other notifications won’t be visible. “At the very least, these are distracting and interrupt the flow of the meeting,” Schaeffer said. “They can also be embarrassing and at worst, expose your meeting participants to private or inappropriate information.”
Know when to exit. If you’re coordinating the meeting, be the last to leave, Luoma said. “Being available for last-minute questions is a plus, but [staying to the end] also demonstrates you are in control of the entire meeting,” she said.
While virtual meetings are different from physical ones, there’s one tip that remains the same, regardless of the delivery method: “The key to keeping people paying attention is to ensure that the information you are supplying is relevant and interesting, without dragging on,” Cherubini said.
— Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.