by Wayne Turmel

I don’t have to break out the latest Gallup poll or some other survey to convince you that meetings, at least most of them, can be a giant waste of time. Whether it’s lack of preparation, unruly participants or some other issue, most meetings fall short.

For leaders of virtual employees, the time spent meeting is especially important. It may be your one chance this week to pull your entire team together, or perhaps, the only time this week you will actually talk to your staff. Meetings allow dispersed employees to connect, build rapport and trust, problem-solve more efficiently, and so much more.

The problem is, virtual meetings often get off to such a bad start. People arrive late, technical problems occur, employees ignore the agenda and so on. If a meeting starts off wrong, it can be hard to get things back on track. That’s why you need to avoid these big mistakes:

Setting up the meeting while people are logging in

In a traditional meeting, that few minutes before you get down to business actually serves a number of purposes. People need to give you important information or check their assumptions. They can ask important questions that might otherwise delay the proceedings.

If you’re busy fiddling with technology, they don’t have that opportunity. If you can set up the meeting well in advance (and in some platforms you can) it’s always a good idea. If not, log on early enough that your head will be in the game when it’s time to begin.

Refusing to set ground rules

If you want people to talk over each other, demand attention for their particular agenda item at the cost of everyone else, or not participate because it’s too frustrating, this is the way to accomplish your goal. By setting ground rules, you set expectations for behavior. Once people know explicitly what’s expected of them, you can actually hold them accountable and coach them for the future. Just getting people to agree to a set of behaviors will actually go a long way to creating team cohesion.

Letting technology get in the way

Many meetings get off to a crummy start because you are constantly interrupted by people arriving late. Most web platforms and conference call tools allow you to mute people on entering. At the very least you can get rid of the “beeps” and other notifications when someone joins. Coach your people to enter quietly and perhaps announce their entry by chat when they’re in. The people speaking shouldn’t have to deal with interruptions and distractions. Or even consider not allowing people to join in late unless they have told you beforehand and offered a valid excuse. It’s one way to curb the rude behavior.

Failing to establish objectives for the meeting

When a meeting has a specific objective, keeping participants focused is easy. If what’s happening at that moment drives towards the objective, it’s fine. If it’s off topic or not moving things forward, it’s not. In a truly functional team, the members are comfortable holding each other to task. If you choose not to be specific about what the meeting is supposed to achieve, it’s a lot harder to manage.

Winging your open remarks 

Off-the-cuff commenting usually guarantees that you forget to say something important, or that you jump right in without a clear focus or objective. Either way, you don’t seem very professional or in control. People form their opinions of you and your meeting in the first few seconds. Make sure that you jot down all the points you want to cover, read through them a few times, and take a few seconds to take a deep, calming breath and to focus your thoughts. You’ll see calm and in control, and that is the best way to start the meeting off on the right track.


Wayne Turmel is the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. For 20 years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It- a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar


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