Six Tips for More Effective Online Meetings

12 November 2020

“Meetings should be like salt – a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation” (Entrepreneur and author of “Rework”, Jason Fried)

While the capacity for digital meetings and interviews has been around for some time, they have only truly gained popularity this year. Covid-19 lock downs around the world have forced companies to make alternatives to their usual systems and digital meetings have become an everyday occurrence for most in the workplace. The question is, do they work as well as regular, face-to-face meetings and when it comes to interviewing for new appointees is there something being lost in the system?

In April, one of the world’s leading research and advisory companies Gartner conducted an in-depth analysis of hiring in the digital world and found that while the capacity for digital meetings and interviews to be as effective as real world arrangements does exist, they often are not as effective, because simple errors are made which decrease their efficiency.

Consequently, meetings that eat up time without achieving much are more common online. Participants can experience connectivity problems and communication delays. They can also face problems in holding the discussion in a structured manner, and multiple people can start speaking at the same time.

When it comes to interviewing potential employees, these problems can exacerbate an already tense scenario for the candidate thereby resulting in a less than ideal interview.

“There are several important strategies HR functions must use to effectively conduct virtual interviews so as to ensure a positive candidate experience and effective assessment by the hiring manager or other interviewers,” says Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

So just what can be done to make your online meetings and interviews more effective?

1.Invite as few people as possible    

Researchers at one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations SINTEF stress that it is important to keep meetings as small as possible. Their work has led them to conclude that when meetings have more than twelve participants, most will be unable to speak, may disengage and will leave the meeting unsatisfied. Remember, the more participants, the shorter the time available for each to be an active part of the conversation.

2. Use video chat when possible    

While our primary method of communication is our voice, one should never underestimate just how much is “said” non-verbally. Being able to see one another goes a long way to gaining trust and rapport with interviewees and meeting attendants and is also an important part of getting good data. According to research scientist Nils Brede Moe, it’s much easier to feel a human connection when you can see someone’s face, and it helps both of you read the situation and each other’s feelings better.

The person conducting the meeting is also better able to control the flow, and time issues if people can see these non-verbal cues.

3. Have a clear agenda and defined goals  

Holding meetings with vague agendas is never a good idea, but this is even more true online. Structure is vitally important online so be sure to prepare a formal agenda with all the key issues to be discussed in the meeting and sort them according to your business needs. Also clearly mention what role you expect from each participant in the meeting and just how long the meeting will take. This agenda should be sent to each participant well in advance, so they are able to accurately prepare.

Setting a time limit for each agenda point will help to extract a lot more value in the limited time you have. If participants know a point only has ten minutes for discussion, they will stay focused and the meeting will not go off track.

4. Open the meeting room early   

Most meetings begin punctually at the appointed time, but SINTEF suggests that the meeting room should rather be opened 15 minutes before the indicated start time so that participants are able to test their audio and video before the meeting starts. Participants who log on after the meeting commences quickly disrupt the flow and interaction of the meeting and everyone should be in place and ready to go at the appointed time.

5. Share notes and record the meetings  

Given that employees are now conducting meetings from home and may therefore be distracted, or have sound or connection problems, it’s a great idea to simply record every meeting and send people links to the recording at the end. Some online meeting services have a record function built in, whereas others may require you to download an extra app such as Pio Smart Recorder or GoToMeeting.

Another good trick for the end of the meeting is to send each person a list of the action points identified for each agenda item along with the name of the person responsible for its delivery. This way everyone knows exactly where they stand and can look up the relevant areas that apply to them if necessary, on the recording.

6. Appoint a moderator    

Whether conducting a panel interview or a meeting, chairing the discussion can be much harder online, particularly if not all participants have their video on. It is therefore a good idea to appoint a meeting moderator who will give people permission to speak and keep the conversation on topic.

The moderator should also be aware of the words they are using and attempt to be as clear and concise as possible. They should use people’s names when addressing them as it is not always clear who is being spoken to directly, and instructions should be repeated at the end of each agenda point to ensure everyone is on the same page.

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