If you think it’s more difficult to lead a meeting when it’s conducted online, you have plenty of company. Nine out of ten meeting organizers say virtual events are more challenging, according to a recent poll by the software company Slido.

Picture your own experience. One minute you’re looking at a spreadsheet, and the next you’re wondering what to eat for lunch. Maybe you’re even tempted to take a quick look at the carryout menu from that new Indian place.

Keeping a group engaged requires more effort when you’re logging in from separate locations. 

Use these ideas to make your next online meeting a success.

Steps to Take Before Your Meeting:

  1. Choose video. For the closest thing to being in the same room, choose video. Attendees are more likely to stay alert when they’re on camera. Plus, being able to see facial expressions and body language enriches the discussion. 

  2. Run a test. Safeguard precious meeting time by checking your technology in advance. Test for video and audio quality. Have microphones and other devices on hand if needed.

  3. Distribute your agenda. Ask attendees to read the agenda and supporting materials in advance. This gives them an opportunity to process their thoughts, plan appropriately for the meeting, and seek input from others if needed.

  4. Rehearse thoroughly. Practicing what you want to say will increase your confidence and enhance your performance. Record yourself if it helps.

  5. Be flexible. Ideally, each participant will log in from a quiet and private location. However, it makes sense to accommodate employees who may still be adjusting to remote work. That might mean having to feed a baby or reminding others to stay on mute when they’re not speaking. 

Steps to Take During Your Meeting:

  1. Greet each other. Log in early so you can spend your first minutes socializing. Small groups can ask for brief updates from each participant. Larger groups may want to introduce themselves. Knowing each other’s names and roles will make it easier to interact.

  2. Assign jobs. Giving each employee something specific to do reduces the risk that they’ll zone out. Rotate responsibility for taking minutes or using an app to collect questions. Ask staff members to prepare brief presentations on subjects related to their responsibilities and expertise.

  3. Engage a facilitator. Put someone in charge of keeping the meeting flowing smoothly. You can use a staff member or hire a consultant. Having a facilitator helps with guiding the discussion and encouraging active participation.

  4. Consider breaking out. Separating into smaller groups often leads to deeper conversation and greater inclusiveness. Choose video platforms with features that support such options.

  5. Vary the agenda. Attendees may start checking their Facebook page while listening to long speeches. Grab their attention with fun activities like polls and quizzes, as well as regular breaks.

Steps to Take After Your Meeting:

  1. Wrap it up. Meetings are different when employees won’t be running into each other in the hallways afterward for casual conversation. Spend your final moments reviewing what you’ve accomplished, including clarifying deliverables and next steps. Give each employee a chance to comment.

  2. Ask for feedback. For more input, send out a written evaluation survey. Ask each participant what they liked and what they would want to change. 

  3. Send a podcast. Record your session, so you can give your team a podcast afterward. It will help update anyone who was unable to log in. Attendees may also want to refresh their memory or have documentation to clear up potential misunderstandings.

The secret to leading a successful virtual meeting is making your session valuable and fun. Experiment with techniques that encourage interaction and collaboration. You’ll be able to accomplish your objectives while enjoying the safety and convenience of connecting online.