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Improve Your Online Meeting Etiquette

Jamie Davidson April 30, 2019
6 Business Etiquette Tips

Did You Know that Proper Manners Help Make Your Online Meeting More Productive?

Online meetings are an invaluable tool for connecting with everyone. From prospects and clients to coworkers and remote team members around the world. With a simple conference call or the click of a link to a web meeting, you can carry out everything from sales calls to status updates with worldwide participants – and with the addition of video conferencing, it can feel as if you’re in the same room. But, have you stopped to consider your business etiquette?

As anyone who’s ever participated in an online meeting or conference call knows, there are a few undeniable differences between face-to-face meetings and their audio or video equivalents. The business etiquette required in these circumstances is subtly different. Be aware of these differences. Using the tips below will help you avoid committing an unintentional faux pas in your next online meeting.

Preparing for Your Online Meeting 

It’s poor business etiquette to waste people’s time. Meetings that don’t serve a clear purpose definitely fall into this category. The feeling is also amplified in conference calls when parties at multiple locations have to go out of their way to participate or are unclear of the meeting intention. Preparation on the part of both the call’s organizer and its attendees is the key to a successful online meeting.

If you’re the meeting organizer

Before the call, send a meeting request with an attached agenda to all attendees describing the purpose of the call, who will be attending, and any expectations for what needs to be achieved during the session. We have a variety of meeting agenda templates for you to choose from.

  • If you expect that people will have read certain materials before the call, provide them well in advance and clearly state your expectation 
  • Let attendees know ahead of time if you need decisions to be made during the call. This way they so that they can prepare.
  • Avoid human error by using a calendar integration to schedule your meeting. This ensures that the dial-in information and meeting link will be correctly provided to your attendees.

It’s also a good idea to set roles before beginning the meeting. If you’re the host, you don’t have to also take notes, keep aware of the time, and run the Q&A. We know that the human brain isn’t designed for multitasking. In fact, when you’re doing more than one thing at a time, all you’re really doing is rapidly ping-ponging between the two tasks and this can lead to a loss of up to 40% of your productivity.

In online meetings, trying to be both the leader and the note taker will slow down the conversation, as well as potentially cause you to miss important pieces of information. Instead, either assign someone else the responsibility of note taking or use a conference calling service that can record the meeting. You can then share the recording with participants or play it back later to transcribe meeting minutes.

If you’re a meeting participant

There’s nothing worse than getting invited to a web meeting without any clue what it’s about or what questions may be asked of you.

  • Review in advance any materials sent to you. B proactive and ask ahead of time about expectations if the organizer of the call hasn’t provided upfront information. You want to be as prepared as possible.
  • If appropriate, offer to help pull together information for other attendees. This can be especially helpful if the organizer won’t have time to prepare adequately, and this also shows your initiative to your team leader.
  • Always be ready for a video conference. Even if your meeting invite doesn’t specify that video conferencing will be used on the call, being camera-ready means you won’t be caught off guard if face-to-face is the preferred way to communicate.

6 Tips for Proper Meeting Protocol

Tip #1 Stick to a Schedule

No one enjoys sitting around on an empty conference line, listening to hold music and waiting for the host to show up. If you’re running an online meeting, start promptly out of respect for attendees’ time. When latecomers join, don’t repeat what you’ve already covered. Instead, catch them up later – after the call – rather than wasting the time of everyone who arrived on schedule. To avoid making participants late for other meetings or taking them away from other priorities, be conscious of your end time as well.

One of the best tools in your arsenal for staying on schedule is your agenda. Make sure you follow the timetable set out in advance. Your attendees are expecting this pace also. If they know the schedule you’re trying to stick to, they’ll be able to help you stay on track rather than wasting time figuring out what else to cover or interjecting with unrelated items.

Tip #2 Minimize Distractions

Distractions make a significant impact when you’re participating in an online meeting. It’s tempting to think that – just because you aren’t in the same room as your fellow attendees – they won’t notice that you’re scrolling through your phone or composing an email on another screen.

Distracted behavior in an online meeting hurts everyone, especially if distractions mean that the organizer has to go back and repeat information that’s already been shared. To reduce potential distractions and stay engaged:

  • Turn off or silence your phone (if you aren’t using it to call in)
  • If you’re calling in on your phone, do not work on other projects on your computer. Stay focused on the meeting.
  • If you’re using a web conferencing system to connect, close down all other apps and browser windows to eliminate notifications
  • Avoid rustling papers, eating noisy foods or making other distracting noises in the background.
  • Be careful not to interrupt others when they’re speaking. Though, this can admittedly be difficult if lags in audio responsiveness make it unclear when other participants start and stop speaking. This is a significant reason to invest in a conferencing solution with the highest quality HD audio.

Another great tip: mute your mic when you aren’t speaking. We’ve all heard conference call horror stories about people who assumed they were on mute only to share private or unsavory information to an unintended audience.

Meeting manners don’t go away just because you aren’t physically present with the other participants. Put the golden rule to work here: do unto other online meeting attendees, as you would have them do in your meetings.

Tip #3 Start the Call Right

Online meetings should always start with introductions. If you’re hosting the call, make sure everyone is properly announced so that all attendees are aware of who’s on the line. If people don’t know each other, a round of brief introductions that increases awareness of everyone’s roles and responsibilities can make the rest of the call go more smoothly.

Once introductions have been made, briefly remind participants why you’ve gathered. Include the reason for the call and any necessary objectives or outcomes. This is also a great time to go over any housekeeping items or ground rules for the call. This can include asking participants to shut down notifications, but it’s also a good idea to set expectations regarding questions. If you have a prepared presentation, for example, you may ask that attendees hold their questions until the end – rather than have a more informal discussion, where back-and-forth is appropriate.

Tip #4 Keep It Professional

Online meetings often feel less stressful than in-person meetings, which can make it feel tempting to relax, kick back and be more casual than you would around others in the same room. But even though participants can’t see you at home with your bare feet kicked up on your desk, your casual attitude will carry across in the sound and tone of your voice.

Whether you’re participating in an audio or video conference call, maintain a professional posture and appearance. Dress the way you would as if you were meeting participants in person – don’t assume that pants are optional on a video call. Fellow attendees may only be able to see you from the waist up until you unexpectedly need to stand up!

Tip #5 Plan an Effective Wrap-Up

At the end of the call, don’t just close the line. Instead, end with a quick recap providing decisions made and actions agreed on. In addition, let everyone know what to expect next such as:

  • That you’ll send out meeting minutes, send a link to the conference recording You’ll follow up with answers to questions that you weren’t able to provide during the meeting
  • You’ll follow up with answers to questions that you weren’t able to provide during the meeting 
  • You’ll make arrangements for the next web meeting or follow-up with participants using different channels

And of course, thank everyone for their time. A successful online meeting requires active participation by every attendee. Show your appreciation for their efforts by saying thank you before closing down the line.

Tip #6 Give Some Grace

At the start of this article, I mentioned that there’s a big difference between in-person meetings and online conference calls. And while the tips I’ve shared help bridge that gap, there’s one additional note I’d like to leave you with – and that’s to be patient with participants and allow some grace to any miscommunications that occur.

Video conferencing allows you to receive more of the physical cues that play a role in communication, but when you’re on an audio call, you’re essentially flying blind. As Drake Baer writes for Fast Company, “When people communicate face to face, there’s a whole bunch of information being transferred that isn’t even verbal. The way you hold your body shapes your confidence, your eye contact indicates whether you look careless, creepy, or cool.”

Because you’re only receiving part of the full communication process on a conference call or an online meeting without video, comments may be misconstrued. Without the full context of body language and facial expressions, the tone can be misinterpreted. Subsequently, if you leave an online meeting feeling less than positive about what was said, take some time to investigate more thoroughly. You may be able to resolve potential issues by remaining open to the possibility that signals were missed during the call.

Putting it All Together

Online meetings and video conferences are an efficient means of communication and invaluable methods for bringing people together. But without preparation and processes intended to make them as effective possible, they risk wasting participants’ time without actually achieving anything of value.

Follow these six online meeting etiquette tips during your next session, and hold your team members to these same standards. By elevating your online meeting experience, you can ensure your next call runs smoothly and remains productive for everyone involved