Virtual meetings and presentations are not going away; even when we return to the office it's likely we'll continue to do much of our work and client transactions this way in the future. I’ve put together a list of steps to help you make your virtual meetings more productive and polished from beginning to end.
1. Set Up Your Virtual Meeting
First, get the invitation right so it’s helpful for participants:
- Customize the meeting invitation title. For example, when setting up a Microsoft Teams or Zoom meeting invitation, it usually defaults to something like "Meet with CMKG." Customize the title based on what you’re going to be talking about.
- Customize the details to capture your overall meeting objectives and even the agenda for the meeting. Use this space to request any pre-work the attendees should complete to be ready for the meeting.
- Send a reminder the day before with specific asks so that people come prepared.
This helps set the stage and tone for the meetings, and helps attendees better prepare for and know what to expect during the meeting.
2. Know Who's Attending
If you’re leading the meeting, ensure the day before that everyone accepted the invite. Then ask yourself, do you know everyone who’s going to attend? If you’re playing an active role, research them a bit — understand who the IT person is, or the logistics person, or whoever it is. Even if it's people within your own organization, make sure you understand who they are, and if you need to send anyone reminders for specific pre-work.
3. Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings
Honestly, this is one that, for me, is a big problem in today’s world. There are so many times when people come in late and haven't even taken a breath between meetings. Bouncing from meeting to meeting and getting your brain to switch tracks from one topic to another is a challenge. Most of us haven’t finished processing the information from the previous meeting before heading into the next. It’s also difficult to do proper follow-up and prepare reminders when you're coming out of a meeting with no time to spare.
4. Create a Purpose That's Meaningful for the Audience
Ensure you have a purpose for your meeting. What are the main points you want your audience to take away from the presentation? What do you want them to know or understand? Especially if you're managing a team, what do you want them to walk away with at the end of this meeting? We go into so many unproductive meetings where nobody really knows why they're attending or what the “ask” is.
If it’s a client meeting or presentation – particularly if you’re selling them something (an idea, a product, a service) – you should focus the purpose of the meeting on your audience and not on you and your brands. Here’s an example:
“I've got an idea that's going to help you to increase sales and profit in your category. I've done some analysis and have interesting information to show you on how to satisfy an unmatched shopper need through some new innovations that we have available.” This way, it’s not all about you; you show your audience why they should be interested and how they'll benefit.
5. Create an Engaging Presentation
For an engaging presentation, create relevant and compelling stories for your audience. They should be short and include only relevant and impactful slides to help tell your story. Storyboards are a great starting point to help organize your presentation before you create it in PowerPoint. You should tie in your presentation with consideration for your audience’s priorities, needs, conditions, limitations, and opportunities to ensure that it is something that will resonate with them.
6. Use Basic Animation for Better Storytelling
Animation in PowerPoint helps control your story and makes it easier to follow. If you just have a static presentation, the audience can feel overwhelmed with information or lose track of which point you’re discussing. If you have each of your points animated to show up one by one, you can focus the audience’s attention on one detail at a time, making it easier for them to follow your story.
7. Have Your Narration Notes Handy
If you’re doing the presenting, keep a script or your narration notes close by. In PowerPoint there is a specific presenter mode that allows you to see your script alongside your presentation, ensuring you don’t lose your place or forget any key points. This is a great way for you to stay on track, remember those little key nuggets of information you want to convey, and remind you to do certain things at specific times within your presentation. I have 3 monitors that I use for virtual meetings (with one showing the “notes” section by using “Presenter View”).
So, now you've got this great presentation ready to go. You've gone through and you've learned how to do visualization, you've storyboarded, and you feel great about the presentation. It's showtime! Here are some tips:
- Turn on your camera – and encourage everyone else to as well. It really does make a difference and helps us to better connect with others in the meeting.
- Don’t jump right in and start presenting. Do quick introductions, show interest in everyone, and share a few pleasantries first. I like to do this WITHOUT my presentation being shared so the focus is on everyone attending instead of on what's still to come.
- Suggest guidelines for the meetings, set the purpose of the call, and state what you're trying to accomplish.
- Check in with your audience regularly to keep engagement up. Get them to do things, e.g. “let’s have a show of hands”, “let’s discuss this for a minute”, “type your thoughts in the chatbox”.
- Spend less time talking and more time listening; this means getting feedback and promoting engagement. For example, see if everybody thinks you have a good idea or, when you're showing numbers, ask if there is anything else that surprises them when they see these numbers? Use people’s first names to ask for their expertise.
Really, it's about showing a passion for your audience's business. Let them know you understand things from their perspective, offer to help find solutions, give suggestions, and add value. Show interest in their company, their team, or their role. An increased understanding and passion for each other's work can really help to drive collaboration and added value in our presentations.
9. Follow Up!
The last piece is a meeting follow up. You want to build an ongoing rapport with whoever your audience was; if you're the one that did the presentation, make sure that you send out a follow-up email with the next steps, who owns what, key dates, suggestions, etc.
Virtual meetings and presentation skills have never been more critical than they are today. Adopting the tips above can help you alleviate some of the biggest challenges in the virtual space, which will lead to more productive meetings, increased engagement, and development of better relationships in the virtual space.