Face-to-face meetings are gradually giving way to video conference and teleconference meetings in nearly every business realm, including board meetings. There’s no question that saving time and money has contributed to the popularity of holding board meetings in virtual space. A Gigaom Research report stated that 87% of remote users see videoconferencing as a benefit that helps them feel more connected to the meeting process and their team.
Professionalism is no less important in the video conference meeting space than it is in the corporate board room. It is important to be mindful that meeting members can see and hear everything that others in the meeting are doing and saying. The way that every participant speaks and acts is a reflection of the person’s role, reputation, and the reputation of the board as a whole. Inappropriate comments or behavior, whether it is intended for others to view or not, can have lasting business implications, as well.
Preparation is Key
The board chair and secretary need to make many of the same pre-meeting preparations as they would for a standard board meeting. This includes:
- Prepare the agenda
- Assemble the minutes
- Gather the reports
- Identify the decisions the board needs to make
- Distribute the agenda
If participants will be attending the meeting in another time zone, the secretary should review that participants in all time zones are not being asked to attend during times that are not overly late or early. The board secretary will also need to make sure that all participants have the login address and any passwords or passcodes. For meetings that require public notice, video conference login information should be provided directly on the notice. The secretary should send a reminder to all participants to test their computer software to make sure that it is compatible with the meeting software program, at least one day prior to the meeting. This prevents the potential for problems that will prevent participants from being able to attend the meeting due to technical difficulties.
The secretary should also contact any members that will be making presentations to make sure that they are prepared and inform them of any time limitations for their presentations.
The board chair and secretary will need to decide which of them is responsible for testing the meeting login at least 15 minutes before the meeting starts. As participants arrive, the chair should test the videoconferencing equipment to be sure that it is clearly picking up the sound of all speakers.
Normal Meeting Protocol Applies
For the most part, the meeting should follow a normal board meeting agenda. Technical problems can exacerbate existing meeting protocol problems, so it’s important for the board chair to keep the meeting moving professionally.
Always start the meeting on time. As with any board meeting, when the meeting waits for key individuals to arrive, it sets the precedent that the board meeting always starts late. As a result, members begin arriving later and later and the meetings will be unnecessarily delayed on a regular basis.
When the meeting starts, the board chair should introduce him or herself and any other people running the meeting. When it is appropriate, the chair should allow time for participants to introduce themselves as well. The board chair or facilitator should then make an announcement of the ground rules. This may include:
- Asking them to turn off cell phones
- Providing instructions for muting or unmuting the line
- Providing instructions for using virtual tools such as hand-raising, chat, mute, or stepped away
- Chatting with the meeting organizers, one meeting participant, or the entire group.
- Giving permission to speak
Using Video Conference Virtual Meeting Tools Effectively
It helps that virtual meeting software has nearly perfected the virtual tools for conducting meetings using video and phone. Today’s video conference meetings are less about the video quality and cyber glitches of yesterday and more about the ability of the meeting chair or facilitator to use virtual meeting tools effectively.
It can be difficult to chair the meeting while managing the technical aspects of a video conference, so it helps to have two people to run the video conference. One person should be responsible for chairing or facilitating the meeting. The other person should take responsibility for managing the technical aspects of the meeting including managing virtual hand-raising, chats, and giving permissions to mute or unmute sound, and alerting the chair to questions or comments.
Tips for Running a Video Conference Smoothly
Because the speakers and presenters are not always aware of others that are attending in cyberspace, it’s easy to make unintentional mistakes. Participants have less opportunity to see facial expressions and body language on their screens than they can in person. All participants should be aware that any utterances and body movements may be seen by others in virtual space. Here are a few tips to keep things running smoothly:
- Always test audio equipment and the virtual meeting space at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting
- Check the lighting for clear image and problems with shadows
- Ask participants to mute the line, rather than put it on hold to avoid hold music from being played during the meeting
- Keep the meeting moving by interspersing it with long and short agenda items
- Keep the meeting interesting
- Don’t check email or multi-task during the meeting
- Don’t dress too casual-keep a professional appearance
- Be aware that others can hear and see what you say and do, including unintentional utterances
Video conference meetings will likely become the new normal for future generations. We are all creatures of habit and existing board members may have difficulty adjusting to holding meetings via video conference, especially when it requires learning new technical skills. Be patient with such members and help them master electronic formats that they are not familiar with. Learn from mistakes and be willing to accept feedback from meeting participants. Most importantly, conduct a professional meeting and be flexible enough to deal with any unforeseen technical problems, just as you would if the power suddenly went out at a board meeting where all members were present.