Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes When Holding Online Meetings

Ok, it has been what, six months with the pandemic forcing you and your team to work from home! No doubt, you’re holding tons of virtual meetings, but the question is, are you doing it right. Through MYPTHRM’s client survey and research, we pinpointed a few common flub-ups you will want to avoid.

COVID-19 has kicked the working from home movement (WFH) into high gear, making it the new normal. Our survey tells along with experts such as online meeting guru Howard Tiersky, WFH will continue long after the crisis has passed. But before we can optimize this new way of working, Howard Tiersky says we’re all going to have to get proficient at one of the biggest work-from-home fundamentals: the virtual meeting.

For most of us, we have already learned that remote meetings are inherently different form in-person meetings. If you are not use to running them, you are going to make tons of mistakes, which can have significant ramifications on how you will be perceived, and how well people perform once they log off and get back to work.

But the good news is that according to Harvard Business Review, online meetings can be extremely powerful, and even more effective than in-person meetings when done right. But first, you need to be aware of what not to do.

In his book, Tiersky, and coauthor Heidi Wisbach (Impactful Online Meetings: How to Run Polished Virtual Working Sessions That Are Engaging and Effective) offers a wealth of tips for making online meetings as impactful as possible. He also refers readers to his website,, so they can be notified of book updates and also access other helpful supplemental resources.

Here are five mistakes virtual meeting newbies commonly make:

MISTAKE #1: Neglecting one (or more) of the “big five” success keys of online meetings. If you are seeking to bring people together to share information, come up with solutions, make decisions, coordinate activities, and/or socialize, you will be successful if you:

  1. Have a clear purpose
  2. Get participants in the right mindset
  3. Get them fully engaged behaviorally
  4. Incorporate high-quality content aligned with the purpose
  5. Make it easy to participate

“If you do all of these correctly, you will have high-impact online meetings,” says Tiersky. “If you don’t, there’s going to be a lot of awkwardness and inefficiency. Worse, bad meetings can lead to bad workplace performance, which is the last thing any of us need right now.”

MISTAKE #2: Holding voice calls instead of videoconferences. When everyone has their cameras on, you can expect a 200 percent-plus improvement in the effectiveness of online meetings. This keeps people engaged because they know that what they’re doing is visible to everyone else. They’re far less likely to multi-task, which is one of the greatest obstacles to audience engagement.

MISTAKE #3: Failing to be strategic about sequencing. The first item on your meeting agenda should be a restatement of the purpose of the meeting. After that, strategize on the sequence of your activities. For example:

  • If there are any “elephant in the room” topics, deal with those early or they will be a distraction.
  • If you have some sort of fun or exciting announcement, you may want to hold it for the end, letting the participants know that it is coming but keeping the outcome a surprise to create suspense.

If an agenda item may be intense or create some heated discussion, put it in the middle—get people warmed up and feeling productive first, then hit them with the challenging topic.

MISTAKE #4: Not giving people an active role. It’s possible for one person to present content, facilitate questions, ensure the meeting stays on time, and take notes, but why? Seek to distribute the roles of facilitator (responsible for running the agenda), presenter (responsible for sharing specific units of content), timekeeper (watches the clock and alerts facilitators and presenters how to adjust their speed and content), and the notetaker (documents the meeting) among the participants.

“When you give participants something to do, you prevent them from being passive listeners or webinar watchers,” notes Tiersky. “When people have an active role, they are far, far more attentive and engaged.”

MISTAKE #5: Failing to take advantage of breakouts. In most meetings of more than eight people, usually, most of the talking is done by just five to seven participants. This is one reason why during live workshops Tiersky often breaks larger groups into breakout teams, so they can come up with ideas, work on prioritization, action planning—whatever the work is—in smaller groups and then come back to the larger group and report on the work they did. (Several of the major online meeting platforms including Zoom and Google Hangouts now offer breakouts.)

“We give each team clear instructions for the work they are to do, in writing, and then usually give them a small amount of time to do it, like 20 to 40 minutes,” he says. “A compressed time frame forces the group to organize quickly, get to work, and focus on progress, not process or perfection. I’ve been amazed over the years that sometimes when clear instructions, a small team, and a tight time frame are combined like that, you get work done in a half-hour that might have taken days, weeks, or months if done ‘the usual way.'”

These are just a few of the mistakes people regularly make. There are plenty more. The good news is most of these are easy enough to correct once you realize you’re making them.

“When done correctly, online meetings are an incredibly powerful method of enabling collaborative work,” assures Tiersky. “It’s worth investing a bit of time and effort in learning how to maximize them. Frankly, they have the potential to move the needle for your business, and right now, this is more important than it’s ever been.”

Let MYPTHRM help you reshape your online meetings to improve performance and employee engagement. To learn more contact us at 516 522-0078 or email us at [email protected]

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My Part-Time HR Manager provides advisory services to our clients and newsletter subscribers. None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal or financial advice, nor is My Part-Time HR Manager engaged to provide such advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult your legal or financial advisor if you want assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

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