Over the past two years, as teams have adapted and shifted to hybrid, remote, and flexible working arrangements, meetings have moved online, impacting how millions of people spend their work days.
It hasn’t all been positive.
Since February 2020, there’s been a 153% increase in the number of weekly meetings the average employee has each week. That number continues to rise, despite many teams slowly returning to work.
As a result, we’re now working longer hours and more weekends than before, all in an effort to accommodate the ever-growing number of meetings that clog our calendars—many of which, it turns out, aren’t even that beneficial to us.
Recently writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review, professor and researcher Steven G. Rogelberg suggested that “only around 50% of meeting time is effective,” especially when done remotely. That’s a lot of wasted time.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement.
So, rather than tell you to abandon your Zoom accounts and return to in-person meetings entirely, we’ve put together a list of advice from productivity experts and trusted business leaders on how to run more effective virtual meetings.
To make the information easy to digest, we’ve sorted it into three distinct phases—Before, During, and After the meeting—and created an action plan for setting up and running a great meeting virtually.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin!
How to Run a Successful Meeting Over Zoom (A Step-By-Step Guide)
Phase One: Before the Meeting
Much of the groundwork for any successful meeting begins long before the invites get sent out and accepted by contacts.
Start By Questioning Whether You Really Need to Have a Meeting
Much like Tiger King and making sourdough bread before it, the phrase “this meeting could have been an email” has become ubiquitous during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with good reason:
A recent survey by Survey Monkey found that nearly a third of respondents have asked themselves, “why am I here?,” during a meeting in the past year.
Our days are increasingly filled with remote meetings, taking time away from deep work and meaningful concentration.
So, before you draft an agenda or send out an invite, think hard about whether you need to have a meeting at all or if your time would be better spent communicating asynchronously over email or Slack.
Project planning, goal-setting, and weekly scrums to level set for the week ahead are all good examples of instances that probably require a meeting—essentially, anything that requires collaboration, problem-solving, or brainstorming either one-on-one or as a group.
A discussion about Doc Antle’s recent money laundering charges? Maybe not so much.
Set a Clear Agenda
Before emailing out any invites or deciding on a time to meet, you want to craft an agenda.
Including an agenda in your meeting invite serves three main purposes:
- It lets invitees know what your meeting is about, so they can politely decline if the meeting isn’t relevant to them or suggest someone else who should join
- It details the topics of discussion in advance, so it can be adjusted if there are any disagreements on the agenda items
- It provides a sense of direction, helping the host get the discussion back on track if the meeting starts to lose focus
If you’re stuck on the first point when crafting your agenda, Rogelberg suggests organizing it as a set of questions rather than a set of topics to be broadly discussed.
“By framing agenda items as questions, you have a better sense of who really has to be invited to the meeting,” he says. “[Then], once the questions have been answered [during the meeting], you know when to end the meeting—and you can easily gauge if the meeting has been successful.”
For the second point, David Lancefield, a guest lecturer at the London School of Business, says to be clear with what’ll be discussed and “invite clarification beforehand.”
“Avoid assuming that everyone agrees with the agenda. Encourage people to call out clarifications or disagreements before the meeting,” he states. “Doing so increases the quality of discussion and buy-in of the group.”
And for the final point, well… we’ll get to that in a bit.
Schedule a Time That Works with Everyone
Thanks to hybrid work, there’s never been so much flexibility in the average workplace.
Knowledge workers have more say in when and where they work than ever before, meaning the average work day, duration, and location could differ from one person to the next. And, with the rise of remote work, it’s not uncommon to have multiple team members working in different time zones.
Taking all those factors into play (not to mention what’s on everyone’s schedule) when booking a meeting can be difficult.
With Nook Calendar’s People Bar, you can get more visibility into what’s currently on your team’s calendar when booking a meeting.
Click on your connections to see which time slots are mutually available across everyone’s calendar. Then, select a time and fill out your event as you normally would, and send out your invites.
When in doubt, try and avoid booking a meeting too early in the morning, at the end of the workday, or during lunch hours when people’s productivity is likely lower. Doing so will ensure everyone is focused when they meet, regardless of the time of day.
Invite Guests (But Not Too Many)
Surprisingly, there is an ideal meeting size, and it’s probably smaller than you might think.
Researchers in the U.K. recently found that online meetings with two to nine participants were deemed more positive and a better use of time than meetings with ten or more attendees, with the ideal size being somewhere between two to four guests.
So, when booking a meeting, think hard about who you’re inviting: not everyone will be necessary, and the more guests you add, the higher the likelihood of interruptions, off-topic discussions, or attendees simply zoning out.
That won’t always be possible—think of something like a Global All Hands, when everyone needs to attend in real time to hear important information.
But for meetings with more clearly defined goals, only invite guests who are directly involved or can add to the conversation.
Don’t Be Afraid to Keep Things Short
Many calendar apps, like Google Calendar, default to hour-long meeting lengths—click on the grid, and that’s the first option that comes up.
But, according to Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to fill the time allotted, chances are that if you book a meeting for an hour you’ll probably discuss things that aren’t necessarily aligned with the purpose of the meeting during that time.
Donna McGeorge, author of The 25 Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact, says the ideal meeting length is—you guessed it—25 minutes.
The suggestion is inspired by Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro method, which says to break up work into 25-minute chunks to boost your focus.
Of course, not every meeting can fit into a 25-minute time block, which is why we break it up into 15-minute, 30-minute, 45-minute, and one-hour increments that you can further customize when you create an event in Nook Calendar.
Phase Two: During the Meeting
Congratulations! You’ve created an agenda, chosen a time, and sent out the meeting invites. Team members have accepted your invitation, and now it’s time to go over a few tips and ground rules before hosting the dang thing.
Don’t Forget to Arrive Early
This goes for both team members and team leaders, but especially people hosting a meeting.
Set the tone for the meeting by joining the meeting early to make sure everything is working correctly (nothing looks worse than showing up late because you had to do a last-minute Zoom update), troubleshoot any technical hiccups, and greet attendees as they join.
Thankfully, Nook Calendar will send you push notifications on desktop or mobile apps to let you know when a meeting is a few minutes away.
…And Don’t Forget to Record the Meeting
Have any guests that can’t make it? Want to keep a copy for posterity? Don’t forget to hit the record button in Zoom.
If you’re a forgetful person, maybe have a meeting checklist nearby to remind you to record the meeting or start recording before everyone joins—that way, guests who can’t attend remotely or attendees who want to revisit what was discussed can circle back later on.
As a courtesy, don’t forget to tell attendees you’re recording the meeting or ask for their consent before recording.
Depending on the type of Zoom account you have, your guests may automatically receive a notification when joining the video conferencing call that looks like this:
Click here to learn more and how to customize the recording consent disclaimer.
Assign Roles and Responsibilities
It takes a lot to run a virtual meeting, and the role each attendee plays—whether tangible or intangible—can have a major impact on the overall experience.
At a fundamental level, it’s a good idea to assign roles—such as a leader, notetaker, and timekeeper—to help keep the meeting on track and record moments, thoughts, and action items for future reference.
But to make the most out of any meeting, Lancefield—again, writing in the Harvard Business Review—says leaders should consider adopting one of these five roles during a meeting to “uncover new information, invalidate long-held assumptions, and test scenarios that may initially seem improbable”:
- Catalyst: Initiates a discussion and stimulates fresh thinking through analogies, stories, or precedents
- Custodian: Asks how a decision will play out in the organization, and what it would take for it to land well
- Challenger: Questions the logic, coherence, and validity of an argument with data, experience, and/or intuition
- Convener: Encourages full participation by inviting others to join the discussion, forming connections, and bridging the gap between points and the people involved
- Decision-Maker: Frames the topic clearly, invites discussion of the issues and options, and makes a decision in the meeting (avoiding taking it “offline” whenever possible)
Of course, taking on these roles doesn’t have to rest solely on the meeting host or organizer’s shoulders, nor do they need to be divvied and decided upon like characters in a Dungeons & Dragons game.
Simply adopting these mindsets from time to time during a meeting can help push it along and in the right direction.
And, when in doubt, just play Devil’s Advocate (but do it the right way).
Actively Facilitate the Conversation
When running a team meeting, you should think of yourself as a maestro—expertly conducting your ensemble and coaxing great performances out of them, rather than hogging the spotlight and doing everything on your own.
Although, be prepared to manage certain personalities.
According to the New York Times in their guide on “How to Run an Effective Meeting,” there are commonly three types of dynamics in meetings:
- People who showboat and dominate the conversation, while others hang back
- People who volunteer ideas, while others only offer criticism
- People who are reluctant to offer opinions that go beyond their area of expertise or their rank within an organization
These scenarios can cause self-censorship during meetings, which “leads to a lost opportunity to get the best ideas and make the smartest decisions.”
The first type can be especially detrimental to a group meeting.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes:
“We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types—even though grade-point averages and SAT intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate. We also see talkers as leaders. The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as a meeting goes on.”
To keep meeting participants engaged and the conversation moving, consider calling on other individual team members to comment (just be aware that some introverts may prefer to share their feedback after the meeting), so you have an array of opinions, ideas, input, and feedback, and not just from the loudest people in the room.
And, when in doubt…
Don’t Be Afraid to Mute Attendees
Okay, so this probably isn’t the best course of action if someone speaks for too long during a meeting—in that case, it’s better to gently interrupt and direct the speaker back to the main topic of focus.
But, as most of us have probably experienced over the past two years, it’s pretty common to have someone forget to hit the mute button when sitting through a Zoom call.
As the meeting host, it’s easy to go into the settings and select Mute participants upon entry in the Schedule Meeting section of Zoom’s account settings. And if someone forgets to mute their mic and something—be it a crying baby, conversation in the background, or siren outside—is distracting, you can manually select Manage Participants in the app and click the mic icon next to the person you want to mute.
“Attendees who are muted can of course unmute themselves, but there are other ways to keep a large meeting from descending into chaos,” Ben Keough writes in Wirecutter.
Meeting attendees can hold the spacebar to temporarily unmute themselves when they want to talk or hit the Raise Hand to alert the meeting host or moderator that they’d like to say something.
Be Aware of How You Come Across
Too often, it’s easy to lose focus during a meeting and check your Slack notifications, respond to emails, and stare blankly outside the window. Or, worse yet, come across as annoyed, tired, or disengaged.
“Your mood matters,” says Rogelberg, writing for the MIT Sloan Management Review. “Research even suggests it may produce a contagion effect on attendees in which their mood mirrors yours.”
Be mindful of your body language and overall vibe when in a meeting. Verbal and non-verbal cues can be easily missed or misinterpreted during Zoom calls. So sit up straight, nod, and keep the yawns at bay when communicating during a remote meeting to show you’re paying attention.
Phase Three: After the Meeting
Now that you’ve planned the meeting and hosted it over Zoom, it’s time to tackle a few final items and housekeeping to ensure everyone’s on the same page and what you discussed gets put into action.
Share Any Meeting Notes and Recordings
Once your Zoom call gets wrapped up, you’ll want to share any notes that may have been taken and a high-level overview of what was discussed. A few bullet points in an email, over Slack, or as an update to the original event description in your team’s calendar app of choice should suffice.
And, if you happened to record the meeting, you’ll want to make sure it’s shared with all attendees and anyone who might have missed the call and wants to listen back later.
Put Ideas Into Action
Depending on the type of meeting, it can be hard for some team members to ascertain what thoughts were merely ideas and which ones need to be acted upon.
In your meeting recap, you may want to delegate which items that you discussed are tasks that need to be accomplished and who are handling each one.
Again, you can do this over email, as an update in the meeting event notes, or through a project management tool to keep employees in the loop and held accountable for any action items.
Review What Worked, What Didn’t, and If You Need to Have a Meeting Next Time
Meeting audits are underutilized, despite the massive increases in weekly and recurring meetings we’ve all had in recent years, and a necessity for any manager looking to curb meeting inflation.
Every few months, review your recent meetings and ask attendees (and yourself) if it was worth your time and if there is any room for improvement.
If you’re still unsure, you can take a page from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield’s playbook and delete all your recurring meetings and see which ones you actually need.
“People can go to work every day for a year and not really get anything done because they’re just doing the things that they felt they were supposed to be doing,” he previously told the New York Times. “We just went through this process of canceling almost every recurring meeting that we had, to see which ones we really needed. We probably do need some of the ones we canceled, and they’ll come back—but we’ll wait until we actually need them again.”
Final Thoughts on How to Run an Effective Meeting Over Zoom
Running an effective meeting takes work. With so many variables, you’re sure to have good meetings and bad meetings on occassion.
But hopefully, this step-by-step guide provides you with a battle-tested process you can apply to your next remote meeting.
If you’d like to learn more, visit the Nook Calendar blog for more how-tos and industry insights.