Lady attending a virtual meeting

Mastering Virtual Meetings: Tips and best practices for effective online interaction

  • May 21, 2020
  • Dan Rosman

I never used our office’s videoconferencing service before COVID-19 forced us all to work from home. Most meetings were in person, and any virtual meetings were telephone conference calls. Those days are over.

Videoconferencing is the best solution to interact with our co-workers and teams while gathering face to face is simply not possible. And, while current precautions make virtual tools mandatory for any required meetings, it’s safe to say that the firms that are investing heavily in these tools are unlikely to abandon them as things return to ‘normal’. As such, it’s important to develop a set of best practices for present-day dealings and for a post-pandemic future.

The OBA’s recent webinar Mastering Virtual Meetings featured Deborah Glatter, legal management consultant; Emily Larose, assistant general counsel, Electrical Service Authority; Philip Long, partner, KPMG; and Jon Clancy, director, marketing and IT, OBA. Together, the panel took a deep dive into best virtual meeting practices. The main takeaway: virtual meetings are important and a well-thought-out approach will deliver best results.

You Should Have Virtual Meetings with Your Team

We need to stay engaged with our teams while working remotely. Working from home disconnects people from the group and can feel lonely. Lawyers have high rates of depression as it is. Regularly scheduled virtual meetings help create a structure and routine. They provide equitable communication as everyone gets the same messaging at the same time.

While it may not come naturally at first for everyone, video meetings are better than telephone meetings.The awkward pauses so ubiquitous with telephone-only conference calls can be better managed. Document-sharing is easy. We see each other and read body language. There is a certain intimacy as we are let into someone’s personal space.  All of this enables us to connect better, and it also helps battle social isolation.

Have an Agenda and Keep Control

Just as with in-person meetings, video meetings require preparation. Create an agenda and circulate it at least 48 hours in advance. If you have lengthy materials, consider incorporating reading time into the agenda. It’s good practice to keep your PowerPoint or other visual aids as short as possible. 

Keep control of the conversation. Open discussions are difficult on a videoconference, especially if there are many participants. Circle the table after agenda items and ask each participant for comments or questions. This is better than letting people try to speak at the same time which can get unwieldy. Make sure that you have a list of participants. Otherwise, it is easy to skip people accidentally — and most lawyers do not appreciate being forgotten! 

Specific video-conferencing etiquettes are developing but some are universal. Arrive early and open the meeting a few minutes before it is scheduled to begin. Have your materials ready. Make sure to end the meeting as scheduled. If your meeting is longer than an hour, incorporate breaks into the agenda.

Be an Attentive Host

With many people working from home under less than ideal conditions, ambient chaos can find its way into videoconferences. At the outset, ask people to mute themselves to control background noise. You can mute them yourself if necessary, but those joining via telephone will not be able to self-unmute if they want to participate. 

Do your best to manage the meeting flow and direct attention appropriately, using all the tools at your disposal:

  • Make sure to monitor the chat window. The chat function can be useful if handled correctly, but can also become a distraction.
  • Spotlight speakers who will be speaking for a while. Turn off the camera for those not speaking.
  • Pay attention to what you are doing if your camera is on. It is easy to embarrass yourself if you think no one is watching.
  • Screen-sharing can be dangerous too, so you want to be sure that you share only a specific application and not your entire screen. You never know what email notification may pop up or what browser tab you forgot to close!

As with good writing and good advocacy, we never want our audience distracted by mistakes in the delivery that undermine the content. A well-prepared and thought-out virtual meeting will ensure that participants remember the substance of the meeting and not get side-tracked or sent astray by any errors, blunders, or missteps.

About the author

Dan RosmanDan Rosman is the principal and founding lawyer at Rosman Litigation, and a member of the OBA’s Law Practice Management Section Executive.