The preparation put into a meeting determines how effective (and productive) it will be. Virtual meetings require even more preparation to accomplish the meeting objectives with the available technology.
Steps to Prepare for a Virtual Meeting
Inevitably, some meetings will be impromptu or called on an emergency basis. But if you are scheduling a meeting in advance, give some thought to where you will hold the meeting. Because everyone at UW–Madison has access to Outlook 365 (which includes Microsoft Teams and Webex), using one of these tools ensures your participants can join. (Webex also allows guests to join, so if your meeting participants will be both internal and external to the university, you may want to use Webex.)
Both Microsoft Teams and Webex integrate with Outlook calendars, so you can schedule the meeting by creating a calendar invitation directly within the tool. This is optimal for a couple of reasons:
- Participants can join the meeting from the calendar invitation itself (leaving no doubt as to whether they are joining the right group at the right time).
- You can use all of the functionality of Outlook, including changing the meeting time and attaching meeting materials to the calendar invitation.
Communication in virtual meetings can get challenging as the group gets bigger. Consider inviting the key people who should be participating as “required” and extending “optional” invitations to those who just need to know about the meeting. This signals to the optional attendee that they shouldn’t expect to have to play much of a role but still allows them to hear the information firsthand.
Note: If this is the first time that many of your participants will be using the technology, or if they are new to it, you may want to provide a brief overview or direct them to the appropriate beginner resources: Gctting Started with Microsoft Teams or Getting Started: Webex Meetings.
Creating a meeting agenda helps ensure you are able to cover everything you need to and participants come prepared (assuming you send the agenda out ahead of time).
Here are some tips for creating a meeting agenda (you can download this template to use):
- Clarify meeting objectives. What do you need to cover? What do you hope to accomplish? How you structure your meeting should be aligned with your objectives. For example, you might want to:
- Inform participants.
- Get information from participants.
- Consult participants on decisions.
- Engage participants in collaborative decisions.
- Develop connections or build trust.
- Establish a sense of cooperation or teamwork.
- Consider how to accomplish each objective in virtual space. For example:
- If you are simply informing participants, you could do this via email, unless you also want to get their reaction and/or feedback.
- If you are interested in participants’ reaction and/or feedback, you may want to use a structured approach like the Focused Conversation method.
- If you want to engage participants in collaborative decisions, you’ll likely want to include features such as polling.
- Estimate how much time each agenda item will take. Especially as people are still adjusting to new technology and telecommuting, you may want to allow extra time for agenda items.
- Avoid an overcrowded agenda. A good rule of thumb is to limit agenda items to a short list. A typical agenda for a one-hour meeting might have 2-3 substantive agenda items (more if they are largely informational or if a brief consultation will suffice to meet your objectives).
Once your agenda is prepared, post it in the meeting invitation or send it out to participants (make sure participants have the agenda far enough in advance to properly prepare for the meeting).
Test the technology a day or two before a virtual meeting. This includes:
- Checking video and audio capabilities.
- Ensuring you know how to use relevant features, such as sharing screens and documents, using the chat box, and muting participants’ audio. For help, here are:
- You can use the polling function to ask simple questions that are then documented. For information on how to do this, see: