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Guru's Guide for How to Run an Online Meeting

Apr 25, 2008
Businesses are embracing online meetings. Knowing how to run a meeting with web conferencing software is a crucial skill -- one that can give you a leg up on your competition.

Online meetings can save you money on travel, boost communication between workers and clients, even increase sales. If you run them right. Follow these 8 tips and you'll be ahead of the game.

1. Start with a written agenda, from the beginning. Don't take this lightly. Without the usual visual and verbal cues online meetings can be harder to keep on track.

2. Learn how to use your internet conferencing software. Invest a half hour in yourself and learn the application. If you're worried about the cost, most of the vendors offer free trials - sign up for one and practice.

3. Make sure everyone's prepared. Participants seem less likely to do their prep work (homework, if you will) for online meetings. I recommend a quick "how are you doing" phone call to anyone needing a nudge.

4. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Your verbal tone almost always follows your face. It's a subconscious reality. Call center trainers often give staff a mirror to hang on the wall of their cube as a reminder to smile. If you're the leader you'll want to aim for an expression of friendly confidence.

5. This should be obvious, but just in case: keep the noises out of the background. Have dogs? Put them in a different room. (Mine are guaranteed to bark at a car 5 minutes into a call.) Ask participants to turn their cell phones to vibrate. Don't use a keyboard near the phone. No eating. You get the idea.

6. Have minutes be taken by another attendee. You will be using your computer to present content (PowerPoint, Spreadsheets, whatever) and should never ask people to watch you type meeting minutes. It's like watching paint dry...

7. Do participants understand (or agree on) the key points? We don't have facial expressions to help us know if everyone's in agreement. Instead, online meeting leaders have to ask specific questions after each major topic -- use that feedback to gauge the participants' understanding.

8. Manage the participants. Some online meetings tend to mushroom - people pull coworkers into the conference to listen in "just in case" and suddenly you have a lot of unexpected inputs. At the very least, you should know who's participating. Start the meeting with a request to quickly list who's in each location - your participants will appreciate knowing who's hearing their input.

These tips will take you a long way in your desire to run a successful online meeting. Still feeling uncomfortable? Sign up for a free trial with a internet conference vendor (see resource box for helpful links) and practice a bit with a friend. You'll both emerge knowing exactly how to run a meeting online.
About the Author
Tyler spent a lot of time with web conference software while working as a traveling consultant. Find out more about getting web conference free trials at his website.
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