Management guru and renowned author Keith Ferarrzi says he once worked with a company that nailed virtual meetings.
The secret to their success, amongst other things, was a rule the management had implemented - there was a zero tolerance policy for multitasking during meetings. Offenders who were picked up doing other things were penalised with small monetary fines or a chore like cleaning the office coffee pot for a week.
Web and teleconferences have become a reality of corporate life now more than ever before. They are a great way of saving time and money, but the missing non verbal cues can cause miscommunication. Find smart ways of managing this and you have a great tool on your hands that can be much more effective than a face-to-face meeting.
As Mr Ferarrzi puts it, "Just a handful of simple guidelines can change them from awkward and dull to effective and energising".
Here are three tips for you to take your virtual meeting from good to great:
1. Call recording
The primary advantage of a virtual meeting is the fact that it can be recorded.
This is especially useful because participants are able to focus on what is being discussed instead of busying themselves with note-taking. Also, recording a call makes it easy for those who may have missed the meeting to catch up.
2. Better time management
Conference calls and web meetings by their very nature lend themselves to effective time management and richer discussions.
For a start, there is little opportunity for attendees to interrupt, because there are no visual cues and participants have to wait until one party is done talking to contribute their ideas.
In addition to this, it is much easier for people to break into smaller groups and discuss a particular topic. In a face-to-face meeting participants tend to take longer for the same task - first they need to go away looking for a quiet spot to discuss and then take time to reassemble in the main meeting location.
Bonus tip: Communication theorist, coach and HBR blogger Nick Morgan suggests planning a virtual meeting in 10-minute segments to make the most of participants' attention spans - research suggests regular 10 minute bursts are optimal in engaging attendees.
3. Instant contributions from experts
If you have ever wasted time sitting through an entire meeting to contribute only to a particular topic because it is your area of expertise, then you will appreciate how a virtual meeting offers the benefit of joining people in exactly when they are needed.
To make the most of a virtual meeting, limit the number of participants to those who are needed for the entire length of the meeting and add people to the conference call as and when they're required.