8 steps to hosting a productive virtual meeting

Here are some dos and don’ts to help you get the most of your next virtual meeting

By Catherine Adenle - April 20, 2020
Team meeting on Zoom
A global team meeting at Elsevier.

With many companies pushed to adopt a remote working culture, virtual meetings have become even more commonplace, with employees using them to connect professionally and even socially. However, even when virtual meetings are a normal part of a team’s everyday workflow, making them efficient and productive can be challenging.

As a global business, Elsevier has been supporting its employees with remote communication and working since before the pandemic. Here are some dos and don’ts for making virtual meetings run smoothly.

"The biggest mistake people make is assuming that influencing when you are meeting face to face is the same as influencing when you are interacting virtually. It's not. The rules are different because people respond differently when they are interacting virtually." — Lee E. Miller, influencing trainer and author of UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want.

Pre-meeting preparation

1. Create a virtual agenda.

You wouldn’t go to a face-to-face meeting without an agenda, so why would you do that for a virtual meeting? Whether in-person or virtual, meetings need a purpose, and a clear purpose for each attendee is the quickest way to enable team engagement.

Create a clear meeting agenda, and share it in advance with all those who will attend. Make it clear that the agenda is flexible, and if there are further points that others would like to discuss, they can add these and re-share the agenda with all attendees. This will provide an open and collaborative environment where participants feel that their input is valued.

2. Come prepared with information and feedback.

Where you or your colleagues have added items to the virtual agenda that involve yourself or your team, ensure you have all the necessary information and feedback to share with your fellow attendees.

While you’ll sometimes get unanticipated questions, preparing as much as you can beforehand will help you be more involved in the discussion and more confident.

“I usually pick a convenient time for all the participants, especially if it includes participants from different locations. I also encourage them to log in at least 3 to 5 minutes before the start time to ensure we have stable and uninterrupted audio and video connectivity.” - Deepthi Unni, Publishing Services Manager, Elsevier

3. Comb your hair and turn on your webcam.

Do you need to see reactions as you share new information or introduce a new initiative or product? Do you need everyone to watch a presentation or demo in real time? Then you will all benefit from an online meeting tool that has both video and audio functionality at the very least. Research shows that 55 percent of communication is body language, while another 38 percent is tone of voice; both are necessary to create a communal atmosphere during a virtual meeting.

When everyone is separated by distance, the next best thing to being physically present is to use the video function. There are many virtual meeting tools to choose from, from hosting a group Skype meeting, using Microsoft Teams or Zoom, or creating a Google Hangout link on your calendar invites. If you work in an organization, you must use what is recommended for cybersecurity reasons.

“I endeavour to join a virtual meeting promptly, be ready to be ‘live’ via camera as it's more engaging. I try to be mindful of everyone on the call, especially during this unprecedented time. After the meeting, I make sure that I shut the virtual meeting environment down properly especially if I have been sharing anything virtually” - Avtar Banse, Senior HR Business Partner, Elsevier

By having your video activated, as a host, you are humanizing the conference call to imitate a face-to-face meeting as possible. Activating video is a good virtual meeting etiquette, and if you’re not keen to share your living space with your colleagues, remember that many tools let you select a virtual background.

During the meeting

4. Connect with your colleagues.

To make a virtual meeting productive, it’s vital to keep team members engaged, including people who are less likely to speak up. That means making every attendee feel as comfortable as possible to get involved in the conversation.

The best way to get the conversation off to a good start and get everyone feeling settled is to do a personal-professional check-in at the beginning of your meeting. This can include informal exchanges or an ice-breaker. After that, remind attendees to mute their microphones if they are not speaking.

5. Encourage collaboration and accountability.

People want to be heard and respected during an online meeting, just like they do everywhere else. Do what is necessary to encourage collaboration during and after your virtual meeting. Make sure everyone knows which ball is in whose court.

For a virtual meeting to be productive, stay focused on what’s important. Report-outs can often be time-consuming and may not be ideal when there are many items to discuss on an agenda. A good way to prevent a weighted discussion is to encourage a separate session where individuals can collaborate and refine a solution or process. This will enable those more closely involved in a project to be accountable for its development and progress.

6. Do not go on mute or multitask.

Turn off all notifications and make sure your mobile phone is on silent. Avoid unnecessary distractions. When in doubt, just practice common courtesy. As host, you mustn't go on mute unnecessarily and leave the room to get coffee, answer a call or dip into your emails. Why? You may miss vital information, cause disengagement or worse – be seen as unprepared or disinterested. We should all strive to set high standards, and these should not slip because of physical distance.

“When meeting online I give myself plenty of time to connect to it. I make sure that I have functional audio. A headset works best so the sound isn’t muffled. Once on, I make sure I can hear who’s talking clearly. It’s also a good idea to ask participants to mute themselves to prevent any background noise. If you use video, it makes for a much more effective virtual meeting!”Mark Gannon, Publisher, Elsevier


7. Formalize the coffee area conversation.

Remember those post-meeting conversations in the coffee area at the office over a cup of water, tea or coffee to vent frustrations or discuss excitement with colleagues? In a virtual environment, accommodate time for this type of reflection. If this does not seem appropriate to tag onto the group meeting, float this as an opportunity for those who’d like to arrange a short catch up post-meeting. This will generate more discussion, questions and facilitate great understanding.

8. Send follow-up notes.

For a meeting, it’s vital that someone is assigned as the note taker. That way, follow-up notes can be sent out with key discussion points, actions and who these will be assigned to. This ensures that everyone is on the same page in terms of what was discussed and is also handy to refer back to, particularly if meetings are recurring progress updates.

For a virtual meeting to be productive, every person needs to come away with a clear objective. The key things to share in your follow-up are:

  • Key deliverables and next steps
  • Who is doing what by when
  • Who is responsible for following up and reporting progress on each item or task
  • When the next virtual meeting or check-in will be


Written by

Catherine Adenle

Written by

Catherine Adenle

Catherine Adenle is Director of Employer Brand at Elsevier. She is also a well-known blogger for change and career management. Based in Oxford, UK, she joined Elsevier more than 20 ago from Heinemann Books International.

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