Running an Effective Teleconference or Virtual Meeting

Virtual teams are becoming commonplace, but the old rules for running a meeting don't necessarily apply. Managers need to learn new skills to keep people engaged and to use the time (and technology) effectively. These tips will make your next remote meeting a success.

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Settle-Murphy agrees that technology must match the objectives. She says, "Select technology tools that best support different kinds of virtual meetings: communication, data gathering, idea generation, team building, problem solving, decision making." Technology should assist in meeting effectiveness, not drive the meeting process. "Don't become enamored of glitzy features that may contribute little to meeting your objectives. Design your agenda first," she says.

An online meeting moderator needs to know how to:

  • Put everyone on mute, and toggle mute off.

  • Post questions using the Web collaboration software.

  • Retrieve responses and questions from the Web collaboration software.

  • Transfer control to another participant and get control back.

  • Change the window being shown.

Upgrading your whiteboard can also help. "Most Web conferencing and data collaboration applications come with a whiteboard tool, but they all require you to use a mouse," Lichtman says. "If you are in a field that requires a lot of hand-generated graphics, like networking, consider getting a rear-projection SmartBoard, tablet PC or Wacom tablet that will allow you to whiteboard with the same degree of control that you would get with a regular whiteboard. Your colleagues, partners and prospective clients will thank you!"

Technology is great—when it works. Test the technology an hour before the meeting, Mittleman adds. Every time, he insists, no matter how routine. Then set things up for real a few minutes early. And, he says, "Have a technology backup plan. Think through carefully what you will do if the virtual technology fails. Will you postpone the meeting, or hold it anyway with backup technology? Don't make this decision on the fly; already know."

The challenge for presenters in remote meetings is to move beyond a simple analog of showing slides on a projection screen in front of a room and more fully involve the remote participants in true collaboration, says Molay. "Web conferencing features have made this easier with functionality suited to the task. Make use of things such as file sharing, interactive text chat, polling, whiteboards and cobrowsing to take participants to Web applications of interest."

Author's Note: When I began asking questions about this topic, I never imagined it would generate as many responses as it did—in a mere 24 hours. For space reasons, I had to leave out plenty more pet peeves (as well as their solutions), such as "Don't drag the speakerphone across the table, as it makes a terrible noise to people on the phone. Lift it, please." So I invite you: Add your own hard-earned wisdom about online teleconferences to the comments below.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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