Select the Right Tool
The first step is to pick the right tool for the virtual meeting. There are many different options, like Skype, GoToMeeting, Hangouts, Zoom, etc.
We have tested all these tools, and we recommend Zoom. It is the easiest for everyone to get connected.
You need a paid subscription for Zoom for meetings longer than 40 minutes. The cost is €14 per month (March 2020). However, only one person needs to pay (the person sending out the invitations). Zoom is free for everyone else.
Read more in our separate guide on How to Use Zoom for Virtual Meetings.
If you must use a free tool, try Hangouts. It works on all platforms. But our research shows it can take a little more effort to get connected. Especially if you don’t already have a Google account (e.g. a Gmail address or a company G Suite account).
Board Pack & Invitations
Send out the board packs a few days before (best practice is 7 days), as for a normal board meeting. It can be difficult to distribute new documents during the meeting, so it is important all documentation goes out in advance.
Include a link to our Trustee Guide for Virtual Meetings, to help everyone get ready for virtual meetings.
And if you use Zoom, include a link to our guide How to Use Zoom for Virtual Meetings.
Open with Small Talk
Face-to-face meetings always start with some small talk. People tell stories about their journey to the meeting, things that happened to them recently, or just chat about the weather.
This is an important part of the meeting. As a chair, make sure the team spends 5-10 minutes at the start of the meeting on small talk. It makes everyone feel welcome and sets a friendly tone.
Research shows that if people talk during the first few minutes of a virtual meeting they participate more in the rest of the meeting.
Sharing Slides & Documents
When someone is presenting (e.g. the CEO report, or a sub-committee report), there are two options for managing the document. You can 1) share the document through the meeting tool; or 2) let everyone read the document on their own.
At a face-to-face meeting people often follow the presentation in printed hard-copies or on their own laptop.
However, during a virtual meeting people already have the meeting tool running on their laptop, and it may be confusing to open a separate program to read the document.
Therefore, it may be helpful if the presenter shares the document through the meeting tool, so everyone see the same thing at the same time.
The approach your team chooses depends on a number of different factors: 1) how used the board members are to using computers/laptops; 2) if they use the meeting tool on a laptop or a mobile device; 3) if people print their board pack
Talk to the participants and try a few different scenarios. You will quickly find a solution that works for your team.
Manage People & Sounds
One common challenge for a virtual meeting is that someone has background noise that is sent out to everyone else. The person is often unaware about the noise, so they might need a friendly nudge to mute their microphone.
In most meeting tools you can see which participants that have their microphones on, and who is contributing sounds.
Finish with a Quick Review
Before you end the meeting, ask people for quick feedback on things that worked well with the virtual meeting, and things that can be improved.
A virtual meeting has different challenges to a face-to-face meeting. Most of these challenges are easily solved if they are addressed early. A quick chat about these challenges at the end of each meeting will help you quickly iron out the kinks.
After only a few meetings you and your team will find that virtual meetings can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings.