By Wayne Turmel

In a recent post “5 Sure Ways to Ruin a Meeting Before it Even Starts,” we talked about the worst things you, as leader, can do when you begin a meeting. This week, we are going to focus on one of the reasons virtual meetings start off all wrong: starting late.

In fact, when we lead classes in making virtual meetings run more efficiently, the first question we always get is: “How can we get them to start on time?” The bad news is that there’s no silver bullet that will solve the problem. The good news is there are some simple things you can do to help your odds of starting (and finishing) on time.

The reason meetings run late fall into two main camps: People just not showing up on time and technical issues that can slow things down. Here are simple tips for addressing both sets of challenges:

  • Start at quarter after the hour. The number one reason people are late to virtual meetings isn’t simple rudeness or incompetence; it’s over scheduling. Even the most dedicated team member can’t be in two places at once, and if the 11 o’clock meeting doesn’t end on time, there’s no way to be on the noon call as well. Try scheduling meetings for 12:15. That will build in some buffer time in people’s schedules.
  • Log in early. Doing so doesn’t mean you can’t get other things done. One best practice many teams have with online meetings, is to encourage people to log onto the “virtual” part of the call 10 minutes early, then go back to answering email or whatever they’re doing. That allows us to deal with common technical challenges, like unannounced software updates, that can be frustrating.
  • Use the “add to calendar” feature and make it a rule. How many times has your meeting been delayed while you answer panicky last-minute requests for the log-in information and phone number? Most meeting platforms have a link to automatically load information into people’s calendars (Outlook, Gmail etc) which is shared across all their devices. Make it a habit to include that link in the meeting invite and insist people make a habit of using that link. When you get those panicky emails, coach your team to use that link in the future. At some point this becomes a performance issue, so treat it as such.
  • Start when the critical players are present. Most meetings don’t require the presence of everyone, at least at the beginning. When you have decision makers, or enough of the team to get started, begin. There’s probably enough housekeeping that needs to be done that you have a little wiggle room.
  • Disable tones and announcements. One of the most frustrating things at the start of a meeting is to be constantly interrupted by a tone or recorded announcement that says “So-and-so has entered the meeting.” Disable those tones. You can see people’s name on the attendee list, or people can wait until a break in the action to let you know they’re present. It’s up to latecomers to match the flow of the meeting, not bring it to a screeching halt.
  • Record the meeting. People who are late can go back and catch up.

By using those tips, you’ll reduce the amount of time you waste getting your meetings up and running. You’ll also start to create a culture of accountability and responsibility for the success of the meetings.

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. 

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