6 Tips for Success in Virtual Meetings

What do a military operation and a classic Hollywood production have in common? And how can they inspire us to become better in the virtual meeting rooms? Flemming Ulrich Østergaard, expert in digital communication, gives his recommendations as well as good advice you can use today.

Most of us still meet primarily in virtual meeting rooms. Circumstances have forced us to change our behaviour, and we’ve had to act quickly to get a framework in place. The technology is available, but what about the content? What actually defines a good meeting facilitator – and participant – in the virtual space? Read along, as we take a closer look at this.

Be precise and clear like a military leader

Flemming Ulrich Østergaard teaches at Copenhagen Business Academy and started using virtual teaching even before Corona. He believes, Corona or not, that virtual teaching will gain more and more ground, and therefore is a need for an increase in the skills and mindset of teachers. We cannot just transfer the classic blackboard teaching style to the virtual classroom. Other means are needed and here Flemming believes there is a lot to learn from both the military and Hollywood.  

“From my past in the Danish defence, I’ve learned that in military operations it is vital to have a clearly defined framework, clear instructions and relatively short but frequent activities. Communication to military units often takes place from a distance and through several channels, which requires a high degree of precision and clarity. I use those elements in my own virtual teaching, and when I teach others to be good hosts in the virtual space,” says Flemming Ulrich Østergaard. 

Use Hollywood tricks to capture and maintain attention

Flemming has made virtual facilitation one of his areas of expertise, and he is course leader and lecturer at Atrium’s course on effective virtual meetings (“How to become a great virtual meeting facilitator”). On the course he also teaches you some classic Hollywood tricks. 

“Human beings are easy to distract, so it takes a lot to maintain our attention. They know all about that in Hollywood, where every minute counts if they are not to lose their audience. The same goes for the virtual meeting room. You lack physical proximity, and at the same time you are in fierce competition with all the other attention thieves your meeting participant are exposed to non-stop. Setting up a cliff-hanger is just one of several Hollywood tricks we can use to our advantage in teaching,” says Flemming Ulrich Østergaard.    

Conversion to virtual training

For a highly specialised education provider such as Atrium, it is important never to compromise on neither professionalism nor communication. This mantra has to be upheld, when physical courses are converted to the virtual format: 

“Although we were, fortunately, already well underway with virtual initiatives, it is no mean feat to reorganise a corps of 400+ lecturers at such short notice. Like so many other organisations, we have been busy. Today, I can say with confidence that we continue to deliver rewarding learning experiences to our course participants – also in virtual meeting room,” says Maibritt Thoft-Christensen, Educational Program Leader at Atrium.

Atrium’s own urgent need for change was indirectly the reason why the course “Do’s and Don’ts in Virtual Meetings” saw the light. This course has now been replaced with an extended version: How to become a great virtual meeting facilitator. “We know that many companies have quickly got the technology for online meetings in place, but from there and to mastering virtual facilitation, there is still a long way to go. Therefore, it is only natural that we now offer that help to companies in the form of a course on effective, virtual meetings,” explains Maibritt Thoft-Christensen.      

6 good tips from the expert

We have asked Flemming Ulrich Østergaard to provide his good advice to you, who either facilitates meetings or frequently needs to participate constructively. Here are the six tips you can use today:

Advice for you as a host

1.  SET THE FRAMEWORK
  Create context by articulating what is not visible. Invite the audience into your room, tell them, if there are others present with you, or if you handle papers or the like that you occasionally turn your attention to. Create calm and clarity by making the ‘house rules’ clear, e.g. that everyone put their microphone on mute when they are not “on” or that questions are asked in the chat.
2. INVOLVE THE PARTICIPANTS

Uphold the 7-minute rule to never talk for more than 7 minutes at a time: Then something must happen. Give the floor to someone else, split into groups, ask questions to be answered quickly in the chat panel. In addition, take breaks at regular intervals and close each segment with a cliff-hanger before the break to ensure that you participants will return on time when the break is over. 

3. THINK VISUALLY

Drop the infamous busy slides. It is a bad idea to use crowded PowerPoint slides in the physical meeting room and close to catastrophic in the virtual space. Think about what visually sums up your message, keep it simple and cut down on the number of words on your slides. Consider what is pleasing to the eye and supports your message.

4. HAVE THE COURAGE TO FAIL

Don’t shy back from being curious about the online format and experimenting with the form. You still have the advantage that virtual teaching and meetings are new to everyone, and it is allowed to fail. Allow yourself to explore: it makes the experience far livelier and more inspiring for both yourself and your listeners.    

Advice for you as a participant

5. GET INVOLVED

Maintain your focus by engaging in what is going on. Ask questions and express your opinion, also concerning the format. If the meeting facilitator speaks for too long, then suggest taking a break, a break-out session or anything else. This helps create variation and involvement. 

6. BE PREPARED

It’s banal, but worth underlining. Preparation is the prerequisite for you to get involved in a qualified way. Make it clear to yourself in advance what is particularly relevant to you in the meeting/course and what you want to get out of your participation. By sharpening your focus in advance, you set yourself up for success.

Good luck with your virtual meetings and sign up for our course on constructive virtual meetings if you want to sharpen your ability to facilitate meetings online.