From conferences to reunions to team retreats, a lot of heavy lifting happens in the background to make gatherings feel seamless (those gift bags don’t stuff themselves).
As a meeting owner, you might even be surprised at just how much effort goes into building effective meetings to create an easier experience for others.
Imagine you’re preparing for a birthday party. Being a thoughtful host takes care and intentionality. You decide the cake flavor, shop, bake the cake. You make the invite list, send invitations, plan a playlist, and tell folks what to expect (casual or formal?). You also design the space and decorate to delight and inspire, and you plan moments of connection for the ultimate experience.
Planning a successful meeting takes the same care, intentionality, and planning.
Sounds like a lot? As a meeting owner, you can ask others to help. For example, you might delegate a facilitator to intentionally guide the conversation. The goal is to use your time — both sync time and async time — wisely to make sure you achieve your objectives.
Benefits of effective virtual meetings
Faster decision-making and alignment
Virtual meetings allow for quick decision-making as participants can easily share information, discuss options, and reach consensus in real-time. This leads to faster alignment within the team or organization.
Improved relationships and inclusion of others
Virtual meetings provide an opportunity for individuals from different locations or departments to connect and collaborate. By including diverse perspectives, virtual meetings foster stronger relationships and promote a sense of inclusion among team members.
Higher quality discussions and engagement
Virtual meetings can facilitate more focused and productive discussions. With the right tools and platforms, participants can share screens, present ideas, and engage in interactive activities, leading to higher-quality discussions and increased engagement from all attendees.
Less time wasted and increased productivity
Virtual meetings eliminate the need for travel and reduce time spent on logistics, such as finding meeting rooms. This saves valuable time and allows participants to focus on the meeting agenda, resulting in increased productivity.
More creative problem-solving
Virtual meetings can encourage creative problem-solving by providing a platform for brainstorming and collaboration. Participants can use visual work platforms, like online whiteboards, and other interactive tools to generate innovative ideas and find solutions to complex problems.
Positive group dynamics and team bonding
Virtual meetings can foster positive group dynamics and team bonding, even when participants are geographically dispersed. Through regular virtual interactions, team members can build rapport, develop trust, and strengthen their working relationships.
With all that in mind, we want to share some of our top tips for building better virtual meetings.
Related: Virtual meeting etiquette: 7 tips for attendees
1. Prepare for the meeting
Clear goals to decide sync vs. async
The foundation of a successful virtual meeting is a clear sense of purpose. What is the goal or task? What outcome are you hoping to achieve? What do you seek to accomplish?
Remember, your goal isn't to “have a meeting”, but to complete a task or achieve alignment on a decision. In your preparation, you might even decide you don’t need a meeting after all! This infographic helps visualize what tasks are best sync, in a meeting, and what tasks are suited for async work.
Prepare participants with an agenda and prework
Next, share your agenda in advance, ideally a few days so folks can prepare. Communicating your intentions before the meeting empowers your team to come ready to contribute, making sure the meeting stays focused and productive.
You might decide that some of your tasks are best suited for async, so you might ask your team to complete prework. If this is a new habit for your team, start small. And add some accountability — ask them to contribute some post-its under their name in a mural, or add an emoji to signify when they’ve read the article. The goal with prework is to save time in the sync meeting so there’s more time for connection and strategic decision-making.
Determine who and when
Especially with hybrid work models, meeting owners need to be very conscious of who is being invited to a conversation. Proximity bias, or the tendency of leadership to give preferential treatment to employees close physically, can negatively impact remote workers. Consider equity and inclusion when you’re making your list as well (hint: if your meeting doesn’t reflect the diversity within your team or company, you should make adjustments).
Plus, synchronizing schedules across different time zones and work routines can be a logistical challenge. It's critical to select a meeting time that accommodates the majority of participants, but with a global team, some team members will be impacted more than others. Avoid resentment and late nights by aligning on a time as a collective, and asking for feedback. If there’s not one good time for everyone, rotate meeting times (early morning week 1, late evening week 2). Taking care with scheduling fosters a culture of inclusivity, where everyone's time is valued equally.
Of course, for those who are asked to attend after hours, make sure they're marked as optional attendees, and are given the opportunity to participate async. You might send a video overview of the agenda in advance, a mural with spaces to contribute to the topics of the meeting, and even play a recording of the participant during the live meeting.
Short and sweet, and (maybe) skip video
Meetings are a massive drain on our time and energy, and impact our ability to get work done. Consider how your meeting format might help reduce burnout or help your team find more time for focused work.
If the purpose of your meeting is to connect, video can be a powerful way to observe body language, and even get to know your team or clients better by observing their environments. But video can also be a detriment, especially for those living in areas with limited access to good wifi, or traveling. Take this into consideration when deciding the expectations of your meeting, and document this expectation in the meeting invite.
For casual 1:1 catch-ups, or connecting in a social capacity, it's sometimes helpful to chat by phone or even FaceTime. This can allow participants to get outside while they talk (“walkie talkie”), or show each other a tour of where they live.
2. Design your collaboration space
Start with a template
While you could choose to design your own canvas, it's much more efficient to start with a ready-built template. You can choose from hundreds of pre-built Mural templates, which have been carefully designed to jump-start your next session. You have a great selection of templates to choose from covering topics like strategy and planning, design thinking, Agile ceremonies, building team connection, and lots more. Templates are completely editable, so you can make them your own and they'll guarantee to save you a lot of time.
Choose where you want conversations to happen
Now that you have your canvas set up, your next goal is to consider where you want all the action and discussions to happen. For asynchronous communication, you might consider embedding your mural into your MS Teams Team Channel and assigning all pre- and post-work in the channel. You can also keep relevant discussions going in one place.
If you want people to take action within the canvas, you can leave comments and @tag specific people or all participants leaving them a note directly in the canvas. They'll get notified via email or in MS Teams based on their preferred settings.
Create spaces for people to collaborate
The sessions you run may vary in size, so make sure you create enough space for participants to collaborate in. Include reflection zones for people to document their thoughts, comments, and questions so you don’t lose any relevant intel.
Clear titles, instructions, and timings
Set your participants up for success by adding in titles, instructions, and timings in the collaboration areas. Design inclusive spaces by using a combination of text and visual cues (Using icons and images) to cater to different thinking styles.
3. Set the tone
Provide a warm welcome
Like a thoughtful host, it's important to make people feel welcome and comfortable from the start. A nice way to do this, especially if it's in a smaller group, is to greet and acknowledge people personally as they join your session. Having a welcoming presence will help you put participants at ease and build rapport.
Encourage collaboration and sharing of voices
45% of business leaders who are women say it's difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. A key role of the facilitator is to lay out the ground rules for participation and ensure inclusion. Kindly articulate your expectations of your participants, for example, active participation in the Mural canvas, active listening when others are speaking, valuing all comments and ideas equally, being kind and encouraging even when there are conflicting ideas, etc. These expectations will help set the scene to encourage collaboration.
Craft moments of connection with icebreakers and energizers
Crafting moments of connection will help you bring magic into your session. This is an integral to bringing people together and getting them to work collaboratively together. The most successful and inspiring workshops and meetings we've been to are ones where we have been able to personally connect with other participants and work with them to achieve a common outcome.
Icebreakers and team-building activities are a great way to build moments of connection into your session. Whether you use icebreakers at the beginning of the session to warm people up, or energizers in the middle of sessions to give people a break and re-energise the group, or wind down the session with a cool-down activity, the goal is to make space for people to connect on a human level.
Use this share your office space template to take a peek into you in your colleagues’ working world. Alternatively, why not add a moment of affirmation with our kudos wall template. We have a whole range of other icebreaker templates to inspire you.
4. Be accountable
As a facilitator, it's your role to be accountable for the successful running of the session. This means staying on time, engaging participants, making sure meeting objectives are met, encouraging equity of voice, and documenting outcomes and action. There's a lot to consider when running a session, so for bigger sessions don’t be afraid to assign a co-facilitators. In fact, we actively encourage it. Here are some words of wisdom for staying accountable during your sessions.
Stay on time
Use the Mural timer feature to time box activities and to keep track of time during your sessions. You can also have someone prompt transitions to keep the flow going. When planning your agenda, aim to end a few minutes early. This will allow time for Q&A at the end of the session. Time is precious, and finishing at the 50-minute mark gives participants a comfort/coffee break before their next meeting.
Document decisions and key consideration points
Sometimes expected participants end up missing sessions or having to drop off early. Document decisions and key consideration points to share with those not present. This will help them stay informed as to what was decided. Use the voting feature to help gain alignment and reach consensus, or use icons to help visualize the vote.
Having your activities, decision points and decisions documented in a mural aids transparency and helps keep relevant stakeholders in the loop with the decisions that are made. With minimal effort, you can quickly organize your content and get it ready to present as a share-out. You can even export this to other shareable formats should you want (PDF, PPT, etc.). This is a huge time saver.
Related: 5 tips to take more effective meeting notes
You’re not alone
Building better virtual meetings requires intentionality, careful planning, design, and facilitation.
Don’t do it alone. Mural's Professional Services guides your hybrid or remote team into the world of virtual collaboration to help you transform the way you work. If your team is looking to improve your virtual meetings, the team can help assess your existing meetings and help you design and facilitate better workshops, team meetings, Agile ceremonies, and more.
Get in touch with our Professional Services team to learn more.
For more tips on effective virtual work, check out these 6 essential steps for building an async-first culture.