two women having a web meeting
While video conferences are naturally more engaging than phone meetings, they still require as much planning and methods of interaction as in-person meetings. — Getty Images/AJ_Watt

Video conferencing tools have made it possible to hold business meetings completely online, allowing participants to tune in from anywhere in the world.

Thanks to video conferencing systems, business partners and employees no longer need to be in the same room to hold face-to-face meetings. By hosting online video meetings, business leaders get an efficient way of giving presentations. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, video conferencing has been a solution for businesses to continue productivity while keeping employees safe.

The post-pandemic business world looks different for every company — whether that means everyone is in person in the office, employees return to a hybrid environment or the workforce stays remote. As such, online meetings are an indispensable tool to stay connected.

Choosing your video conferencing software

Before you can host online business meetings, you'll need to decide what type of video conferencing system is best for you. These systems can either be software-only (no special equipment required beyond an internet-connected device) or a combination of hardware and software.

Software only: Desktop or app-based video conferencing systems

For businesses that need a simple-to-use and cost-effective video conferencing solution, a desktop video conferencing system is the answer. To set it up, simply download and install a video conferencing software onto any desktop or mobile device equipped with a strong internet connection, webcam, microphone and speaker. Within minutes you can connect to people anywhere. What’s also great about this system is its portability: Download the software on a laptop, smartphone or iPad to take your video meetings while on the go.

Hardware and software: Telepresence or room-based video conferencing systems

Organizations with a large in-office workforce may wish to invest in standalone cameras, microphones and monitors for their conference rooms, to simulate the in-person meeting experience. The hardware required for telepresence and room-based video conferencing systems need to be placed over a conference table or mounted on a wall. In addition, cameras need to be positioned at eye level. These systems are more expensive, but may be worth it depending on your business and meeting needs.

Some factors to consider when evaluating video conferencing system vendors include:

  • Participant capacity.
  • Picture and sound quality.
  • Real-time private and group chat functions.
  • File-sharing capabilities.
  • Software download vs. cloud, web or app-based service.
  • Ability to record/archive conferences.
  • Cross-operating system usability.
  • The provider's customer service.
  • The cost of the software.
  • Whether you require hardware to use software.

[Read: Choosing the Best Video Conferencing Service for Your Business]

Like an in-person meeting, virtual business meetings need a clear agenda if you want them to run smoothly and on time.

Best practices for online meetings

Having a successful video conference extends beyond having a great system in place. Some basic practices and etiquette rules should be followed if you want to maintain a professional image among your meeting participants.

Test your equipment. One inherent risk that comes with online business meetings is the potential for technical errors. Before you begin, be sure to test out your equipment including your camera, microphone and internet connection to reduce the chance of something going wrong during the meeting.

[Read: 5 Tips for Hosting a Successful Webinar]

Set an agenda and guidelines beforehand. Like an in-person meeting, virtual business meetings need a clear agenda if you want them to run smoothly and on time. In a Slack blog post, author Deanna deBara advises distributing an agenda that includes key talking points, the meeting structure, who's attending and what they'll be presenting, and any relevant notes or files that participants will need.

Increase audience engagement. When your participants are sitting behind a computer, it's easy for them to get distracted or disengaged from the meeting. To keep their attention, include elements within your meeting designed to keep them engaged. For instance, you may want to prepare a slide deck to present via your video conferencing system's screen sharing function. E-learning Industry recommends avoiding the static, traditional PowerPoint deck and instead incorporating animations, impactful visuals and participant interactions throughout your presentation.

Use private chat for an interactive experience. Another smart way to keep participants engaged is to allow for private and group conversations via the conference system's chat function. Instead of limiting attendees to a Q&A session at the end of the presentation, moderated chat sessions can help clarify points and answer questions in real time.

Whether your video conference is a quick progress update, a brainstorming session or a big company announcement, following these best practices can help your participants get the most out of your meeting and stay engaged throughout.

[Read: 3 Expert Strategies for Productive Meetings]

Like an in-person meeting, virtual business meetings need a clear agenda if you want them to run smoothly and on time.

Step-by-step guide to hosting an online meeting

Here is a step-by-step process of how to host an online video conference for any type of meeting or industry.

Prepare for the meeting

Set an agenda. As mentioned above, write and set an agenda for your meeting that clearly outlines all topics and discussion points. Be sure to leave time for participants to ask any questions and then distribute the agenda to all relevant parties.

Test the connection. Before you start your meeting, test your internet connection and conduct a practice meeting. Make sure you have a strong connection that allows all participants to see and hear you clearly. Have others join the meeting from different locations and have them report back the quality of the video and sound.

Schedule invite and participants. Work with all your participants to find a time that works with everyone to host your meeting. Once there is an agreed upon time, send an email invitation with the custom URL so they can join. In the email invite, clearly write the topic, date, time and any other relevant information so that participants are well prepared.

Know how you’re taking notes. It's important for posterity that all relevant information is written down so that you and your participants can access it after the meeting. Assign a certain team member to take notes on the meeting and make it readily available to whomever needs them afterwards.

Clear your background. Before the meeting starts, make sure there is nothing distracting or inappropriate behind you when you're speaking.

Have meeting files prepped. During the meeting you might want to share your screen or send a link to a certain document. Have all these relevant files prepared beforehand so you can easily access and distribute them during the meeting.

During the meeting

Greet all participants. When your meeting starts, greet all participants and introduce them to the rest of the group. Share their full name, title and what they bring to the meeting. This allows you to make everybody feel welcome and connect participants who may not have met before.

Mute participants. Once everyone's been introduced and the meeting is ready to begin, mute all the participants who will not be speaking. This ensures that no background noise will bleed through the meeting and cause distractions. If someone has a question or discussion point, ask participants before the meeting starts to utilize the software’s “raise your hand” feature to grab your attention or submit the question in the public chat.

Stick to the agenda. Because there's a lack of in-person connection, sometimes online video conferences can get off topic. Keep your participants engaged by sticking to the relevant talking points and discuss at a pace that moves quick enough to avoid losing their interest but slow enough so it doesn't go too fast and everyone’s questions are answered.

Provide contact info and action items. Every meeting should conclude with a purpose, either giving the participants something to do or think about. When concluding your meeting, provide specific, detailed action steps and necessary resources. You should also provide your name, email address, phone number and any other means of reaching you.

After the meeting

Send meeting files. As soon as your meeting has concluded, send any relevant files and resources to your participants. Sending pertinent files, information and action items ensures you and the participants won't forget anything discussed and everyone can look at the information while the meeting is still fresh in their heads.

Ensure all questions are answered. Meetings are constricted by time, so if you weren't able to answer all the questions of your participants, send a follow up email afterwards asking if they still have any questions. Answer and respond to these questions through email or conduct a follow up meeting if necessary.

Thank everyone for their attendance. Everyone's time is valuable, so at the end of the meeting share your gratitude with your participants for their attendance. Let them know you appreciate them taking time out of their day to join your meeting.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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