If you’re like most professionals, you spent a lot of time in virtual meetings in 2020 and will in 2021 — more than you ever thought possible in, say, 2015. And if you’re like most professionals meeting virtually, you’ve lamented the fact that they could be better.
Virtual meetings suffer many of the same drawbacks as traditional meetings, including poor organization, bloated time slots and disinterested attendees. But they also suffer from a batch of problems uniquely their own, including intermittent delays, connectivity issues and the dreaded patterns of ongoing interruptions.
And of course, virtual meetings aren’t going anywhere. Many businesses that transitioned to a remote work environment will remain that way indefinitely, and even if they don’t, you’ll still be required to join and organize at least some meetings remotely in the future.
So how do you host better virtual meetings?
The easiest step you can take is improving the quality of your video calls. If your video feed suffers from stuttering, lag or other technical issues, it can disrupt and compromise an otherwise effective meeting. Accordingly, this should be your highest priority.
Check your virtual meeting service provider and see if there are any inherent issues with them. If you’re using a problematic platform, chances are good there will be many customers like you complaining about the quality of service. Consider switching to a different provider if you have consistent issues that appear to be unfixable.
Otherwise, there are some simple fixes that can help you boost quality:
Next, plan the attendance of each meeting carefully. The fewer participants you have, the fewer opportunities there will be for interruption and the less total hours you’ll spend on the meeting. Accordingly, you should aim for the smallest meeting size possible.
On top of that, it’s important to ensure that each attendant is able to participate fully. Inform them about the nature of the meeting in advance and ensure they have everything they need to connect efficiently, including updated software, physical equipment and the knowledge of how to join.
This is important advice for any meeting, but make sure you come in with a plan. You shouldn’t be holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting; you should have a clear agenda in place and some kind of goal to achieve. By the end of the meeting, you should have a new piece of information, a new conclusion or a finalized decision. Make sure everyone in the meeting understands the purpose of the meeting before they join and use your agenda to keep the conference on track.
Interruptions are going to happen no matter what, but you can minimize them with a “talking stick” style approach. Keep everyone muted until it’s their turn to speak and encourage your participants to avoid interjecting unless absolutely necessary. You can also use text chat as a backup for conversation and to share insights without people talking over one another.
Video calls have served as a practical replacement for traditional meetings. But here’s an important truth: Most of the time, you don’t need traditional or virtual meetings for effective communication. In many cases, there’s a better alternative. Depending on the structure of your organization and the type of message you want to communicate, you could turn to an email thread, a project management platform or even a form of cooperative blogging.
Even if you perfect the virtual meeting, you’ll still need to rely on a variety of communication channels and techniques to ensure all your messages are conveyed effectively. Make use of the wide variety of tools available to you. If you follow these strategies, you should be able to host better virtual meetings (and possibly adopt some better communication strategies in general). Communication in your organization will never be perfect, but you can make strides to improve efficiency and clarity for everyone involved.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur