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Virtual meeting on computer screen AndreyPopov-GettyImages
Short story: To make virtual meetings work, get prepared, keep things short and simple, and create a way to handle questions.

How can we do virtual meetings effectively?

After nearly a year of practice, the author shares some lessons learned.

By the time you read this, I hope that vaccine or nature has induced herd immunity to the coronavirus in the human population. So many have been hurt by this, physically, financially and emotionally, and it needs to end soon. And it needs to end before I’m stuck on one more virtual meeting.

The quaint novelty that was the virtual meeting in a pre-COVID-19 world has become a mainstay for communication. Maybe some of you readers don’t mind them, but I’d rather have a toothache for a week than participate in one of these lovely events. Conducting one feels like talking to the intro for the Brady Bunch, only the TV is on mute and the characters are probably just surfing through Facebook instead of interacting.

Woefully, this unfortunate communication method is likely to persist past the pandemic. With more practices covering multiple locations, as well as the vast distances we cover in beef medicine, the benefits in time and money saved on travel are undeniable. So, if we are condemned to a computer-bound fate, how can we make it an effective way to communicate information?

Test your equipment

First we need to make sure we have an operable system to conduct the virtual meeting. “I can’t join the meeting” will likely be one of the most-used phrases of 2020. Nothing makes people grouchier and more disinterested right out of the gate than waiting around because of technical difficulties.

Test your equipment with select people prior to the meeting. Start with the people you know have tech savvy to work out the initial kinks, then reach out to the folks who perennially have trouble with technology to walk them through the process step-by-step. That way on the day of the meeting, you know how to run your equipment and the most likely offenders won’t be coming in cold.

Keep segments short

Once your meeting starts, a major challenge is keeping people interested. Long-winded lectures are a no-go. Think about videos on the internet—most of them are no longer than 10 minutes for reason. That means information needs to be administered in similar-length sections.

The best option is to keep presentations short. Say what needs to be said and then switch speakers. With a longer presentation, consider breaking up the monotony with a poll. Having people click or type in a response to a question leads to more interaction.

Develop a discussion system

One of the most frustrating things about virtual meetings is attempting to use them for discussion. Because we don’t have our normal cues to facilitate discussion in a virtual meeting the way we do in person, conducting a group discussion virtually can be chaos. Some people talk too long and others never have a chance to speak up. Add to this a situation in which you have a location that has people together, discussing, while others are on the virtual portion only, your moderator is in for a tough job.

To keep everyone involved and allow all to hear what is said, pre-discussion ground rules need to be set. For example: Are all questions and comments typed in? Is there an indicator the moderator can watch for to open a certain person’s dialogue capabilities? Does each person speak in a specified order?

Whatever way you choose to organize the meeting, it is best to have a moderator dedicated to coordinating the process. That way the discussion leader can focus on the topic at hand, not losing his or her focus in technical traffic control.

As much as I detest them, I will concede that virtual meetings have been very useful to get information disseminated this year. Through trial and error, we’ve become more effective with them. Learn from our mistakes to make your experience run more smoothly and you’ll probably see them as a handy way to communicate remotely. I only say probably, because it’s still weird to see all your coworkers stacked on your screen like the Brady Bunch.

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