How to Lead Awesome Remote Meetings

A lot of us have switched to remote meetings in the past week, and if you’re new to remote meetings, or just need a few solid strategies to make your remote meetings productive and connecting, read on. 

Remote meetings happen in two formats: conference call or video conference call. We recommend video wherever possible with a platform like zoom, skype, GoToMeeting or Webex. When we can see each other’s facial expressions, it’s easier to stay focused, read each other’s emotions and feel connected. If that’s not an option for you, no worries, we have specific tips for conference calls in here too. 

Two essential things to keep in mind: 

  1. Use your words to express emotion. Especially on conference calls, where no one can see each other, we have to say how we feel because we can’t read it from your facial expressions. That’s why people say to over-communicate in remote meetings. 
  2. Meeting facilitators need to show up with clear, firm structure, call on people and keep the meeting moving forward. You have to be “on” and stay disciplined with your meeting plan, so you keep people’s attention and use their time well. 

Step 1: Before the meeting

  • Design your meeting plan + meeting outcomes (you will share this ahead of time) 
  • Figure out who needs to be on the call (tip: only invite the people who really need to be there, so people don’t find themselves in meetings and realize they didn’t really need to be there)
  • Get intentional about the kind of meeting you need to get the outcomes you want: 
    • Brainstorming; thinking up new ideas 
    • Input gathering; need to get people’s thoughts and feedback
    • Status reports, updates and huddles
    • Planning 
    • Decision making 
    • Problem solving 
    • Reviews and post-mortems; learning and next steps for completed projects and initiatives
  • Decide on the length of time the meeting should be and stick to it 
  • Send out your meeting plan at least a day ahead of time, a few days is best. Invite people to share any questions or additions they have to your agenda. We recommend question based agendas whenever possible. 

Step 2: Facilitate the meeting

Introductions

Take a few minutes to have everyone introduce themselves briefly (make sure you have a list of all the participants in front of you) 

State the intention and desired outcome of the meeting + timeframe

Start the meeting with a brief overview of what you’re intending to accomplish, and re-confirm your timeframe. 

Remind people of remote meeting “best practices”

  • State your name when you speak so we know who’s voice we’re hearing (for voice only calls) 
  • Stay present 
  • Chat questions in (if using video platform) 
  • Let people know that you’ll do your best to keep track of who has spoken so we can make sure everyone’s voice is heard

Give people things to do 

When people have something to do, they stay more focused. Here are some things people can do to support the meeting: 

  • Keep time 
  • Take notes about key actions, questions and decisions 
  • Be the “connection creator” (see below)- come up with questions at the beginning and end of the meeting to keep people connected 
  • Facilitate a portion of the meeting 

Create Connection 

This is worth it. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to ask an informal question to the group and have everyone answer. When people have a chance to have these small talk kinds of conversations they feel more connected, and turn out to be more focused and productive in your meeting. 

Here’s a short list to get you started: 

  • What’s one word that describes how you’re doing this week?
  • What’s one good thing in your world right now?
  • What are you reading?
  • What’s something on your bucket list?
  • What was your first job? 
  • Where is your family from originally?
  • Does technology excite you or scare you?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant? 
  • What’s one thing that you find really annoying?
  • What app could you not live without?
  • What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
  • What’s your favorite animal? Why?

Follow your plan/agenda

Facilitate your meeting plan. Pause regularly to check for understanding, invite ideas and thoughts

Tips to keep people engaged 

  • Keep track of who has spoken and call on specific people to get their thoughts, insights, feedback, ideas. 
  • De-reailers: If anyone brings things up that don’t connect with your agenda, don’t let them go far, before you ask them if they can team up with someone to work on that outside of the meeting and report back.
  • Disruptors: If someone continuously interrupts or disrupts the meeting, you should feel free to say something like “Let’s stay on track” and either keep moving or call on someone else to share their perspective, ideas etc. “Shelley, what are your thoughts on…”  

Use a shared virtual space to engage people in the meeting:  

  • If you’re building a work plan, or working on a project, decision or problem with action items and steps, we use Trello. Everyone can be in a Trello board and add cards. (Contact us if you need support setting up Trello with your team) 
  • For brainstorming and input gathering, Trello is again our top choice. People can pop up ideas all at once. A shared document is also great for this, like Google Docs. 
  • Mindmeister is a tool where you can create a mindmap, and everyone can see live how it’s being built. Great for project planning, brainstorming, decision making and problem solving. 
  • Noteapp is a virtual sticky note wall, again for brainstorming and input gathering. (We’ve used this on a virtual town hall call with 200 people).
  • Miro is also looking like a great tool for a virtual whiteboard. 

Get Clear on Next Steps 

  • Make sure that action items, questions and decisions are tracked as you go. 
  • As you wrap-up, agree on the following: 
    • What are next steps 
    • Who is doing what 
    • By when 
  • Check to make sure everyone understands 
  • Invite any quick clarifying questions

Summarize the Meeting + Thank yous

  • Summarize quickly anything you feel needs to be summarized 
  • Thank everyone for their time and participation 
  • If you have time and want to do a “closing question” or connection, do that. Our go-tos: 
    • What progress did we make today? 
    • What’s one thing you’re appreciating about your colleagues after this meeting? 
    • What’s one thing you’re looking forward to after this meeting? 
    • One word to describe where you’re at after this meeting (this is a good pulse check) 

Step 3: Follow-up 

With remote meetings, follow-ups that happen within 24-48 hours create trust and momentum. 

  • Send a message thanking people for being there and listing next steps or directing them to where they can find the meeting notes. 
  • Send reminders to anyone who needs to follow up on an item 

Jen Margolis

About Jen Margolis

My passion is helping people find and use their strengths to move toward their biggest vision. My career began as a community organizer with refugees and grew to designing and facilitating programs for international professionals including grassroots women leaders in Egypt. These experiences led me to management consulting focusing on strategic planning, leadership development, community and education based program development and executive coaching.