We all know what being unprepared during a meeting looks like — you know, that guy who doesn’t know how to use the technology in the meeting room to start his presentation or simply doesn’t know what’s happening during the meeting because he didn’t do his homework beforehand. Being well prepared for your video conferencing meetings not only saves you embarrassment during the meeting itself but also makes the virtual meeting more efficient and engaging. In this guide, we'll show you how to properly prepare for a virtual meeting, from getting the basic technical stuff right to how you should present your ideas and actively contribute to the meeting’s success.
4 Tips for Preparing for a Virtual Meeting
1. Get the basics down
The most basic aspect of being prepared for a virtual meeting is knowing how to use the online meeting technology being used. Before the conference call, make sure you know how to connect to the call and how to share your screen. If the call is being hosted on an application you’ve never used before, take a minute to download the app or install any necessary plugins. While some video services like Lifesize run natively in your web browser, others may require additional installation steps.
Next, you should always check your audio and video settings. Most online meeting apps will have a settings feature that lets you verify your camera and microphone are working as expected and that your preferred audio source is selected (headphones vs. speakers). During this process you can check the framing of your video and make sure you have proper lighting in place to ensure that both you and your surroundings look professional. If you are presenting during the meeting, make sure you close all unrelated tabs and mute notifications on your laptop.
2. Share knowledge before the meeting
Now we’ll turn to the less technical side of virtual meeting preparation. How much you need to prepare before your meeting depends on how much responsibility you have during the meeting, but some overarching principles can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the virtual meeting for all participants. First, everyone should know the topics being discussed and the goals for the meeting well before the start of the conference call. If you are leading the virtual meeting, make sure you create a meeting agenda and send it to your entire team before the start of the call. The agenda will address key talking points and define the meeting outcome so that everyone can come to the virtual meeting informed and prepared.
Accompanying meeting documents should also be sent with the meeting agenda. For project working groups, it may be worth setting up a shared documents folder or creating a channel in Microsoft Teams or Slack to keep materials. Just make sure that, whatever approach you take to sharing, you do this securely and, ideally, according to a zero-trust security strategy.
If you are a meeting participant and have not received an agenda before the start of the conference call, reach out to the meeting organizer to ask what topics and material will be discussed during the meeting. Effective virtual meetings rely on everyone to read the meeting material and prepare beforehand. As Nancy M. Settle-Murphy points out in her book Leading Effective Virtual Teams, not preparing for meetings is an ethical violation against your team, because if others have to take the time to catch you up, it’s stealing time from the team — and that’s a disrespectful habit.
3. Do your homework
Prereading the material that relates to the meeting is just the beginning. You should also take the time to think about your opinions on the meeting topics and prepare questions, remarks and comments. You don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes you only need to have thought-provoking questions and be able to explain why it’s important to explore those questions to really stand out in a meeting.
As you research the meeting topics, try to come up with fresh ideas and realistic new strategies for accomplishing the meeting goals. If necessary, create relevant visuals that help support your comments and ideas and that you can share during the virtual meeting.
If the meeting topic is expansive or you’re unfamiliar with it, try focusing on one key contribution you can make during the meeting and make your comment count. You don’t need to say a lot to get noticed. Instead, be the team member who contributes high-value facts, ideas and solutions to a specific topic in a way that is easy to understand and digest. Your opportunity to speak during the virtual meeting may be limited, especially if there are bigger personalities on the call, so prepare to keep your comments short and precise.
Performing effectively in a virtual meeting is a skill that must be learned, like most things in business. Before the meeting, write out your comments and practice saying them out loud until you can comfortably speak about the meeting’s topic and your strategies and ideas with ease. Remember, practice makes perfect.
4. Go further
If you start with the preparatory steps above, you should be in a good position to speak with confidence and make valuable contributions to the meeting. During the conference call, listen attentively, take notes if necessary and be proactive in sharing your prepared comments when the time is appropriate. While you want to be seen and heard, it is important to let other meeting participants contribute as well. Only interject when you know you can make value-added comments to the specific topic that is being discussed.
All the ideas and suggestions presented during the meeting need to be implemented. Even if this isn’t your responsibility, take the initiative to write out the next steps and potential needs to get the project goals accomplished and send to your team. Check out our related post on Meeting Minutes for more tips and a template that you can use to track action items and next steps. Making an extra effort to follow up after the meeting shows management and your team that you plan and think ahead.
Finally, you should also recognize that the skills that you (and your team) learn through virtual meetings have much wider applications. As several analysts have noted, unified communication is key to increasing operational efficiency, and so the principles you apply to your virtual meetings can also be deployed to increase your customer base.
Ultimately, effective virtual meetings start with effective preparation. If everyone is well prepared, these meetings can be a powerful tool for coming up with innovative ideas, accomplishing goals and pushing the company forward. But if someone does come to the meeting unprepared, make sure it’s not you.