For More Productive Meetings, Throw Out Your Conference Table Virtual meetings, a necessity for dispersed teams, offer many advantages, if structured correctly.

By Tasha Eurich

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If your meetings are long, awkward and unproductive, you're not alone in your misery. One study of 2,000 managers reported in Industry Week revealed that at least 30 percent of the time people spend in meetings is a waste of time.

Related: 7 Secrets of the Most Productive Meetings

You know how it goes: You receive an invitation with a vague title like "project update." You decide to attend even though you don't know the purpose of the meeting. When you arrive in the conference room, you greet a few equally confused co-workers, along with a few poor souls who have joined the meeting via telephone.

The meeting begins. The organizer gives a long-winded "status update," then asks for "feedback." The attendees who love the sound of their own voice chime in. Everyone else stares at their hands. The organizer realizes that she's forgotten the folks on the phone, but they couldn't hear the conversation anyway. You sigh loudly and realize you're late for your next pointless meeting.

The problem is, despite advances in technology, the way many companies foster collaboration hasn't changed in decades. We're still defaulting to gathering around conference tables when quite often, virtual meetings using WebEx, Join.Me, Adobe Connect, etc offers another option with a host of benefits.

Virtual meeting expert Dana Sednek says that "in some cases, virtual meetings can have better outcomes than face-to-face meetings." For example, a situation might call for lots of input in a short amount of time, or it's not possible to get together often enough, or you have stakeholders whose agendas or personalities get in the way of effective face-to-face meetings.

Not all meetings are better virtual. In a survey of 2,000 businesspeople worldwide, Crowne Plaza found that face-to-face meetings are still best for relationship-building, closing deals and negotiating. Savvy managers know that they need to begin their initiatives with face-to-face meetings and can sustain performance over time by conducting virtual meetings during their time apart.

So if your day-to-day meetings are making people miserable, perhaps it's time to throw out the conference table and move the meeting online. Here are five tips for amazing virtual meetings.

1. Set clear expectations for participation. Virtual meetings rarely succeed when participants call in from their car, the airport or their kids' soccer game. Sednek observes, "Colleagues may think that just because they can call in that they are still "there' but this prevents full engagement." When you're using web conference technology, remind everyone that they'll need to log in, not just call in.

2. Ensure two-way communication. Make sure you structure your meeting to include two-way communication. Sednek suggests what she calls the "3-12-20" rule. For a 30 minute meeting, allot only three minutes to preliminary remarks. For a 60 minute meeting where you need input from participants, make it 12 minutes. Even if the main purpose of the meeting is to explain a concept or procedure to the participants, get it done in the first 20 minutes. Leave the rest of the time for questions, discussion and clarification.

Related: The Value Of Virtual Meetings

3. Crowdsource your feedback. You can get more feedback in less time when you move your meeting online. Sednek notes, "In face-to-face meetings, if you want feedback from everyone, you have to go around the room and ask everyone their thoughts. In a virtual space, you can pull that question out in the form of a chat." Crowdsourcing takes less time and ensures engagement and feedback from everyone in the group.

4. Learn to tolerate silence. In any virtual meeting, you'll inevitably encounter quiet, uncomfortable moments that Sednek calls "crickets." Don't immediately assume agreement or fill the silence with extra chatter. "Silence," she says, "means either the people need a moment to get past a hesitation to speak or that the question needs to be rephrased to something that will elicit a useful response."

5. Build community. In our ever-connected world, project teams often live thousands of miles apart. What's usually lacking is a sense of a community, which hurts. Sednek explains, "A casual online gathering is a great way to give teams bonding time and encourage them to feel part of a culture," Sednek says. She suggests a "virtual water cooler" where team members can chat throughout the day.

If you're ever at a loss for how to run your meetings, remember two things. First, make it a meeting you'd want to attend. Second, remember that the real progress begins once everyone gets on the same page, logs off and gets to work!

Related: Setting Up Real Virtual Meetings

Wavy Line
Tasha Eurich

Organizational psychologist and best-selling author

Tasha Eurich is a New York Times best-selling author. She holds a doctorate in organization psychology and writes about psychology and the workplace. Eurich’s research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and she regularly speaks to audiences around the world, including her recent TEDx talk. As the founder of The Eurich Group, she helps companies from start-ups to the Fortune 100 succeed by improving their leaders’ and teams’ effectiveness.


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