A lot of us are spending more and more time on virtual meetings, and that doesn't seem likely to change any time soon. If that's the case, it might be worth it to get the most out of those meetings. After all, there's no question that virtual meetings are very different from the in-person variety.
In many cases, they're also pretty bad. Virtual meetings, meaning those held over videoconferencing, are exhausting. They're also frequently poorly executed and not very engaging.
The goal here isn't to make virtual meetings more like in-person meetings. Plenty of those are just as bad. The goal is to make them better.
By the way, there are definitely things you can do to improve the security of your video meetings, or to make yourself look your best sitting in front of a camera all day. This, however, isn't about any of that. No matter how good you look, bad meetings are still bad meetings. Here's how to fix them.
1. Encourage engagement
There's no question that in any virtual meeting, the biggest problem is a lack of engagement. That's largely due to the fact that it's far too easy to zone out and work on whatever else you need to get done when you're just one of a dozen or so faces on a screen.
If your team isn't engaged, however, what's the point of meeting in the first place (which is a good question that we'll cover in a minute)? If you're the only one talking, it isn't a meeting--it's an announcement. With a few rare exceptions, you probably could have done that with an email.
If you want your team to ask questions or share their thoughts, ask someone a question. Call on someone, and then, based on what they say, ask someone else, "What do you think about what she just said?"
Do that a few times and not only will you foster meaningful conversations, but your team will understand that you value their opinions as well. They'll also become conditioned to the fact that their engagement is not only encouraged, but also expected.
2. Shorter is better
Virtual meetings are exhausting. They just are. There's even science to back that up. One way to combat that is schedule meetings for the least amount of time needed to accomplish the objective.
Set a time box for your meeting and stick to it. If you need more time, honor the request you made, and find another time to pick up the conversation, or figure out if the rest can be handled offline. At the same time, if you get done sooner than you expected, give back to everyone that little slice of their lives.
3. Be intentional
Face-to-face interaction is almost always the most effective form of communication. Still, that doesn't mean every decision or conversation requires a Zoom meeting. Some meetings are better off as Slack conversations or emails. Meet only when it's necessary. Usually that will be when a decision requires give and take, or multiple perspectives, and it's simply easier to get everyone in the same room (or Zoom room).
4. Have a purpose and an agenda
Make it clear to everyone what the purpose is. Specifically, what is it we're trying to solve or accomplish. By the way, if you're not clear on either of those things, that's an entirely different problem you need to solve, and you should probably do that before you meet.
5. Don't measure productivity by meetings
Just because you stay in five virtual meetings today doesn't mean you accomplished anything. That isn't to say you can't accomplish anything if you follow the other tips I've laid out. It does mean that meeting for the sake of meeting isn't helpful, and confusing participation with productivity is an equally dangerous mistake. That's not good business--it's just busy-ness.