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How to manage a virtual meeting

Since 2020, 1.5 million Swiss people have been teleworking most of their time. That means a lot of virtual meetings, video conferences, phone calls with and without cameras, and other types of meetings where people are in different places. Therefore, we do not see others in the same way as when they are in the same room: eyes, gesture, facial expressions, tone of voice are interpreted differently. Documents are shared and each participant views them on their own screen: the interaction is not the same.

Virtual meetings were not born with the arrival of Covid. They existed long before. In the company where I worked, they were a way of bringing together geographically dispersed employees. But then it was fun, it was a technological challenge. With teleworking, it has become a necessity.

Be ready

Since I still see meetings where a participant spends 10 minutes asking: "Can you hear me?" when the microphone is off (real experience), or wondering if the speaker is the one whose picture I see on LinkedIn, or waiting for someone to find his or her document, etc., I have compiled the elements that I think are necessary for a good, effective, enjoyable and successful meeting.

Be ready before the session:

1. Technique: test the image and sound. Make any necessary adjustments. If you are not sure, call a friend or colleague and adjust the sound once and for all, with or without headphones, the camera, the position of the computer, your posture, the visual behind you, your hair, etc.

2. Technology: make sure your software, platform or application is working properly. Be set up early, so that you only have to click on the conference link, sometimes, it takes several minutes to log in.

3. Make sure that the relevant colleagues are present. There is no need to waste time for other people. Some speakers can be invited during the session, and released when they have finished their part. Don't forget anyone, it's upsetting to be called at the last minute.

4. Documents: open the documents you need. Close any windows on your computer that are not needed, in case you have to share your screen. Keep a good old pen and paper handy.

5. Message: be prepared. Tailor your speech: you don't talk to the screen like you do around a table. A short explanatory diagram prepared in advance, or a list, can improve communication: what message do you want to get across? what decisions, information, approvals do you need? are your messages relevant to everyone present? If not, arrange another session with the person concerned.

6. Listen to others: this is even more important when they are not in the same room. Understand what others are saying, it avoids repetition. Do not speak at the same time as others.

7. Use the threaded messages: write your question or comment there, you will avoid interrupting the person who is speaking, the items written will not be forgotten and can be taken up later.

8. Visual appearance: you don't need a nose job, but whether you are a man or a woman, take care of your image. Even if you don't intend to turn on the camera. Your attitude will be more professional. If you have an important meeting, I would even add: put on shoes. Your posture is different on screen, even if we only see your face and shoulders. In pyjamas, we don't have the same posture as in a suit. I would also say: "look like yourself ": there is nothing weirder than photos that are so professional, or edited on social networks, that you are no longer recognisable in real life. Everyone recognises Angela Merkel at the market, because she is always herself.

9. Think about the decoration behind you: watch out for the plant behind your head that makes you look like a lion. A neutral wall, a few pictures or postcards will give a nice effect.

10. Adjust the light: if there is not enough natural light, opt for a selfie lamp, which can be found everywhere at a reasonable price and which emits white light without dazzling you.

11. Avoid long meetings: many people tell me that they spend all day in virtual meetings, but when do they do their work? It is better to have several shorter sessions, where you cover the essentials and move on with the topic in between. Don't hesitate to say "I'll call you back when I've finished point 2".

12. Manage your children: they're cute, we all understand, but... if your children are around and old enough to understand, explain to them that they don't need to walk behind you 50 times gesticulating, that they can get their own snack, and that you're the one who will tell when the meeting is over. If your children are smaller, stop your microphone and camera for 30 seconds and show them what is going on. They will understand that there are other people, that they can't come to your lap and have to wait to talk to you."

There you are

Your virtual meeting will be pleasant, useful and will help you to progress in your work without wasting time. Now, a nice coffee or hot tea and let's be productive, there is more to life than work...

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