Tips and tricks for conducting virtual meetings
July 15, 2015

As the world expands thanks to ever-developing technologies, more accounting firms rely on virtual meetings to conduct daily business. According to a study by travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel, 96 percent of all businesses engage in these electronically orientated meetings, be it audio or video conferencing. While virtual meetings do present fresh opportunities, they also have unique challenges. Operating within a virtual meeting is not the same as face-to-face meetings and requires certain etiquette and ways of thinking. 

Always be prepared
Speaking to Inc. magazine, Donna Dennis, president of Leadership Solutions Consulting, noted virtual meetings have one noticeable downside: There's little interaction outside the meeting proper. Attendees can't discuss questions or concerns either before or after a meeting. It's often this extra time that helps align people's thoughts. To that end, it's the responsibility of the meeting's organizer to ensure that everyone's prepared. That means working out meeting times that are agreeable to everyone, sending the agenda and any accompanying handouts at least one business day before and then keeping attendees in the loop with updates. It also means creating a space where people are comfortable and able to engage. The best way to do this  is to keep the meetings centered on a few topics at most; anything more, and attendees should be allowed short breaks. Without the benefit of being physically on site, they'll need as much help processing as possible. 

Know the technology
Despite breakthroughs, technology isn't perfect and glitches frequently. With that in mind, the best plan of action is to understand the technology before a meeting begins. Take a few minutes to experiment with services like email, a document archiving service or a scheduling program. That way, during the actual meeting, you'll waste less time figuring out the programs and where certain reports might have ended up. Encourage attendees to do the same to cut down on any unnecessary questions and help sustain the meeting's momentum. If there is some kind of technological hiccup, don't panic—it might be the perfect time to take a break and allow everyone time for analysis. If you're still uncertain about technology, it's a good idea to get someone more knowledgeable to do the actual button clicking. This way, you're better engaged with the audience and appear as more authoritative. 

Be sociable and engaging
Given the lack of proximity within virtual meetings, it's hard to connect with others. As a result, the meeting's organizer needs to be extra diligent in including everyone. That might begin with some chit-chat, which not only forges bonds, but also lets the organizer learn people's distinct voices. Better yet, if video is an option, opt for that; it cuts down on any confusion and also better simulates face-to-face interaction. Regardless, always give people plenty of time to share their thoughts or to ask questions. As an extension of that, don't be afraid of a little silence. Between technological delays and people not wanting to interrupt, it's an inevitable occurrence in most virtual meetings. Still, too much silence, or even too much discussion, can hamper productivity. That means an organizer shouldn't be afraid to speak up, direct traffic and mute people's lines if necessary.

If time and resources allow it, try separating meetings as either virtual or in-person. This helps streamline communication, as there's little need for switching between audiences, and can also reduce noise pollution.

A final note
As helpful as virtual meetings are, they shouldn't be the sole option. According to a report by the Crowne Plaza hotel chain, 24 percent of businesses surveyed thought they lost revenue without face-to-face contact. Rely on virtual meetings to discuss reports and other data-centric areas. Then, allow for in-person meetings whenever possible. This dynamic will enforce a distinct bond between attendees, which in turn will only improve subsequent virtual meetings.

Nexus: G-WEBCD6