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Checklist for Hosting Successful Web Meetings

Planning and Preparation

Planning for a successful Web meeting in many ways is similar to planning for a face-to-face meeting. Although you are free from having to deal with issues such as venue, travel, and catering, you must still consider the content, presentation, and technology.

Planning for a web meeting starts long before the specifics of content have even been considered. Putting in the right technology infrastructure and choosing the most appropriate providers lays the groundwork for a successful meeting, ensuring that no technological glitches occur while the meeting is underway.

Care should be taken in setting up the hardware and software needed for the web meeting. Computers and broadband connections should work without a hitch, so these should be checked and tested thoroughly before the meeting. Adequate bandwidth should be assured, especially if there is going to be a multimedia or video delivery of content. In some webinars, the speaker may communicate over a telephone line, while the information is presented on the computer screen. Speakerphones may be convenient, but check for quality first. They can either be too sensitive picking up loads of background noise, crackle, or muffle the speakers voice. Software which incorporates VoIP technology are now available, enabling a complete web experience.

Take time to anticipate what features you are likely to need, before you need them, and keep these in mind when you are purchasing your in-house system, or contracting for a provider of hosted services.

For example, will there be a need for two-way communications? There are several options here, including a phone bridge, VoIP, or text chat. Will participants be collaborating on a project? Then you will need collaborative tools as well, which may include remote control tools, shared whiteboard, or private wiki. You may also consider a recording feature, which allows participants to review the meeting at a later date if they are unable to attend.

Once the room is ready and the equipment is in place, invitations should be sent out to all the participants. This should be done well in advance, as people could be in diverse locations around the country and the world. Adjustments should be made as needed for the time to be convenient for all the participants. Invitations should contain the meeting agenda, date, time and any specific instructions pertaining to the web meeting. In addition to the early invitation, send a reminder a week ahead of time and on the morning of the event, to ensure that participants are still available and ready to participate.

Before the Meeting
About 30 minutes prior to the meeting, post a splash screen on the login area, which informs visitors that the meeting is about to start. This screen could include the audio information, agenda, names and details of the primary speaker and participants, time, and other relevant details. This introductory screen, besides providing participants with connection information, also helps those who are new to the process get an initial idea of the interface and interactive components of an online meeting.

Take this opportunity to inform participants of any technological features, and explain any features with which they may be unfamiliar. You can also use this interface to reinforce policies relating to the meeting; for example, protocols for asking questions. Also highlight some common courtesies at this time, such as avoiding extraneous outside noise, and not putting the call on hold so as to avoid “hold music” filtering into the conference.

The main presenter or organizer should know the number of participants and ensure that all those who are invited confirm their attendance when they log on. Most web conferencing software packages and hosted services allow for a “check-in” feature to record the identity and contact information of all attendees. Since it is not a meeting where people are physically present, there could be a tendency to take this aspect a little less seriously than a conventional meeting. But it is important to know how many and who are attending the web meeting, as this could impact on the proceedings and objectives of the entire exercise.

All the planning in the world won’t make any difference if you have not carefully planned for engaging content. You may know very well what you want to cover during the meeting, but how do you present it? A carefully scripted presentation, written ahead of time, will avoid embarrassing lags and stammers while you try to remember what your note card refers to. If your presentation is very detailed, you may even consider engaging the services of a professional writer to create the presentation for you. Beyond the text itself, other content such as graphical elements will also make a big difference. Intersperse your audio presentation with graphical elements to illustrate key points, such as bulleted lists or dynamic PowerPoint presentations. If you are describing a process, a good technique is to actually have actors in your presentation acting it out as a demonstration.

If it is a webinar, the main speaker should get a feel for the equipment to be used, be trained in all the features available and ensure that all the various components are working perfectly. Those participants who are not familiar with the modalities of a web meeting should be sent a note with details on the workings of the online meeting. Keeping it simple and easy to understand helps the participants to be actively involved, without getting confused about the proceedings.

Again, the initiator should distribute a list of tips on etiquette and behavior to the participants before the web meeting, to help new employees and others to understand the protocol of a virtual meeting. This preliminary preparation will help to prevent glitches during the web meeting and also help all participants to be a part of the ongoing proceedings.

The Meeting
You’ve done your preparation, confirmed with attendees, and circulated your agenda. Now is your time to shine! Here are the components to achieving success during your web meeting.

Meeting Agenda
Web meetings must have a planned agenda and care must be taken to ensure that it is followed carefully. Since it is conducted online , it is easy to lose focus and the active involvement of the participants in the proceedings. As with a physical meeting, make sure participants stay on track, and avoid allowing tangential issues to dominate the meeting and to ensure that the agenda is followed. Staying on agenda may require the leader must also play a “traffic cop” role to a degree.

The first item on the agenda before the actual proceedings begin, should be a round of introductions as soon as all participants are logged on and ready. The fact that participants may be scattered around the globe makes this even more important. It is important for everyone to get to know each other and also feel part of the proceedings. Since no one can be physically seen, body language and other personal cues are missing, so knowing names is one way of bonding together and feeling the presence of others, coming together for a common objective.

Courtesy and a certain code of civilized behavior are perhaps even more important at an online meeting than in conventional ones. Following the norms of etiquette makes the entire experience a more pleasant one for the participants and hence more productive. Online meeting etiquette requires that participants identify themselves before speaking every time. Other common rules of online meeting etiquette include avoiding background noise, and not putting your call on hold during the conference. Also, in-person meetings are often catered, but food and drink should be avoided at a web meeting, as eating and drinking sounds can be amplified over the phone and may be distracting.

Punctuality becomes even more important as people logged into a conference may be waiting in different time zones. Start the meeting when it was scheduled. There should be a no-tolerance policy, as far as latecomers are concerned. A roll call should be taken at the outset of the web meeting to know who is present.

This is an elementary aspect of any meeting, but more so in a web meeting where the participants are not physically present. The success of the web meeting would depend on the active involvement and interest of all the players, and listening with attention and respect is an indispensable component. This means no unwarranted interruptions, monopolization of the discussion or any kind of irrelevant chatter.

Eye Contact
If webcams are used, maintaining eye contact when speaking is important. This is a crucial factor in any kind of effective communication. Participants would feel a sense of belonging and it would generate greater interest in the proceedings.

At a web meeting, since no one is physically present, there are no visual cues to help the participants, and this sometimes causes participants to interrupt someone who is speaking. The primary speaker or facilitator should ensure that there are no interruptions and should also gently and politely steer the conversation back on the original track, if there are digressions.

All documents presented online at a web meeting should be clear, concise and legible. They should be checked well in advance, to ensure that there are no errors like grammatical or spelling mistakes, and that they can be seen clearly when viewed online . If there is proper viewing of necessary documents and any other items presented online, it helps participants to understand and assimilate the proceedings better, thereby enabling them to contribute in a meaningful manner.

Ending the Meeting
End the meeting promptly and on schedule. When the agenda is completed, the facilitator should formally end the meeting. After the meeting has concluded, the follow-through is important and should not be overlooked. After the meeting is over, an e-mail should be sent to all participants with minutes of the meeting to highlight any action that needs to be taken. Participants should be offered a meeting summary with all content in a zipped format; this should contain the proceedings, the presentation or content shown, indexed recordings, and chat logs. This is especially important for sales meetings, as prospects may wish to ask additional questions on the product or service. A quiz, evaluations, thank-you notes and a survey or poll keeps everyone in the loop and ensures continued interest. A review of the meeting can also be solicited from participants, where all can express their frank opinions and also any innovative ideas for the next meeting.

The Technology
There are a few elements which, if added to a web meeting, can make it a more vibrant, interesting, interactive and productive one. These include the incorporation of slide shows, streaming video, whiteboards and other interactive features.

Slide Shows
During the meeting, the main presenter can use a PowerPoint presentation or Keynote slides to give a visual demo to the audience. Mark-up tools and a remote mouse pointer can be utilized to involve the participants, while the main speaker elucidates on the content of the presentation. This aids understanding and interest in the agenda of the meeting.

Streaming Video
During the meeting, the main presenter can use a PowerPoint presentation or Keynote slides to give a visual demo to the audience. Mark-up tools and a remote mouse pointer can be utilized to involve the participants, while the main speaker elucidates on the content of the presentation. This aids understanding and interest in the agenda of the meeting.

Virtual Tour
A tour of the company website also involves all the people at the meeting and gives them an overview of what it is about and objectives. This is especially useful for new employees and potential customers as they are taken on a virtual trip with the data, cookies and other components of the site available to them, at the click of a mouse.

Desktop Sharing
Web conferencing software permits remote desktop sharing, where the participants can view anything that the main facilitator is showing on the screen. This feature enables a close link between the presenter and the people in the web meeting, as they follow the discussion with the display on their monitors.

This is another feature which fosters active participation in the web meeting. All those at the online meeting see the whiteboard on the screen, when the speaker wishes to show anything important. The speaker uses the whiteboard to highlight or mark items of the slide presentation and does this through the requisite annotations.

Text Chat
Text chat enables all the people attending the web meeting to feel part of the proceedings. There could be a live question and answer session after the meeting is over, where all are free to ask the presenter or each other about any aspect of the web meeting. They can also express their comments and views at an appropriate time.

There are various pitfalls in any kind of virtual interaction and the web meeting is no exception. Most of these pitfalls can be avoided with a little common sense and preparation.

Staying focused is definitely a problem, as no one is physically present. Checking mail, answering calls, rustling papers and the like should be totally avoided, as this really vitiates the tone and ambience of a web meeting. It is vital to stay focused and concentrate on the issues at hand and also respect the other participants by being attentive and responsive.

Excessive noise levels can be eliminated or reduced substantially, if the main facilitator is in a quiet room and using good equipment. Background noise and other distractions, and glitches in equipment can kill the momentum of a web meeting.

Lack of experience and familiarity with the equipment of an online meeting can also wreck it. If there are participants who do not have experience and therefore are not aware of proper behavior and protocol, this can also become a serious impediment to the success of the meeting. So it is imperative that all concerned familiarize themselves with the technology before the actual meeting.

Your web meeting can be a success, provided it is well planned, the technology is chosen carefully, and the meeting follows standard protocols.

Successful web meetings can lead to more sales, informed customers, educated investors, engaged co-workers, boost efficiency and increase productivity. Web meetings are also a very effective medium for training and collaboration. It is a superb tool for frequent contact and communications, which in turn translates into satisfied customers and happy employees.

In short, a web meeting is an online utility no organization or new business should do without, if it wishes to be in step with the latest technology and take full advantage of it to ensure productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

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