Businessman adjusting tieAs a regular user of online meeting software, you already know its many benefits. Probably one of the most well noted benefits is the decrease of travel costs. However some users may be concerned that they lose their professionalism when they participate in online meetings. After all, how can one keep their audience engaged when they are sitting in different offices or even countries? Do you really have to get dressed if you’re working from or attending the meeting from home? The goal of an online meeting is to foster a better sense of inclusion and to answer questions. The meeting may be used to present information about a new product or it may be used during a time sensitive project. Unfortunately, hosts and participants can often take actions that make the experience less than enjoyable.

Fortunately, successful web meetings only require you to make a few minor adjustments to your technique. Here are our 5 tips on how you can be more professional during your next online meeting.

Tip #1 – Address and Include Every Participant

This tip can be implemented when you first begin the planning process for your online meeting. Ask yourself if this person has something that needs to be shared during the meeting. Is there a valuable piece of insight that they will offer? If you cannot address and include a participant, then they are not a necessary participant and perhaps you need to re-consider exactly who you will invite to the meeting.

Addressing and including every participant during your online meeting is important. First, it makes your participant feel included. Furthermore, it is polite and gives everyone in the meeting a chance to introduce themselves. It gives your participant a chance to ask questions or present their information. It makes the project or presentation more cohesive. You will learn a lot from your colleagues and clients if you simply address them and give them time to speak.

Tip #2 – Remember Your Surroundings and Don’t Ignore Your Location

Many online presentations and meetings utilize screen sharing but they won’t necessarily use a web cam function to show the participants and the host. Don’t let that make you lazy. Even if no one can see you, you should be in a spot that you can sit up straight. Posture affects the tone of your voice. The sound of your voice directly relates to how professional others perceive you. It’s harder to breathe if you’re slouching and it will directly affect how your voice sounds because your lungs cannot fully expand. That means you will have less air to push through your vocal cords to speak. So, make sure that you don’t host your next online conference while slouching in your desk chair, or lounging in bed!

Your surroundings and location are important for another reason. The noise from your location and the surrounding activities can detract from the professionalism of the online meeting. Turn your cell phone on to silent, or better yet, turn it off for the duration of the meeting. If you’re using screen sharing and presenting your screen to others, do not have social media open on your computer. You should log out of your instant messenger, too. The noises from your cell phone, social media notifications, and instant messenger notifications can distract you and your participants.

In a traditional face-to-face meeting, you would move to the meeting room for a quieter atmosphere. So why would you participate in an online meeting in the middle of a crowded, noisy office? Host or participate in the online meeting in an area that is free from distractions. The chosen space should be quiet and calm. The ideal setting is for you to be the only person in the room.

Quiet Meeting Room

Tip #3 – Invite the Right People and Stay on Topic

We’ve already touched on this a little, but it is so important that it needs to be its own tip. It is crucial that you invite the right people to your online meeting. Online meetings can be organized in a matter of minutes and people from anywhere in the world can join at the click of a button. This is extremely convenient and cost-effective but because online meetings are so easy we tend to fall into a trap and invite everyone.

We know that your online meeting is important to you. However, you need to keep in mind that participants may have conflicting schedules or more pressing projects. Your meeting may not be their number one priority.

Inviting the right people saves time and it increases participation by those attending. Not everyone in an organization needs to attend your online meeting. People balance various projects. Including unnecessary people only hurts your meeting. People with nothing to contribute will not pay attention (if they even bother to attend) because they will use that time to work on other projects – we recently posted alarming data on the different activities people engage in during online conferences. Inviting only the right people increases the participation in your meeting. Everyone will receive the opportunity to participate.

We all know that it’s socially acceptable to ask polite questions about the life and family of our colleagues. However, it’s important to stay on topic during an online meeting. Participants have other duties to attend during the day. It’s important that you stay on topic so that you can finish your meeting on time. You can accomplish this by creating an agenda before the meeting. Use your agenda as your plan and send a copy to your participants in advance. Sending the agenda to participants will let them know what to expect and they can contact you if they do not feel that they have anything to offer to the meeting. It’s better to not attend than to waste their time – or yours for that matter. Respecting the time of your participants will improve your professional appearance.

Tip #4 – Ask for Opinions

You are not only there to give a presentation. This is an online meeting. Ask for the opinions and feedback of your participants. This tip makes it easier to start discussions and discover questions. The difference between asking for opinions in an online meeting is that you may not notice if someone “raises their hand” to speak. That’s why it is so important that you actually ask for opinions. You don’t want anyone to feel unheard or left out of the process. Ask everyone, individually, if they have anything they would like to have or if they have any questions. Finally, invite those in attendance to contact you directly after the meeting if they have anything they would like to discuss or add.

Feedback Form

Tip #5 – Keep a Record of the Meeting

Similar to a traditional meeting, people can leave an online meeting and quickly forget what went on. This can be seen even more so in an online meeting because within two seconds of ending a meeting, your participant is involved in a different program and most likely working on a different project. It’s great to have such productive colleagues, but it’s important that the points of the meeting aren’t totally lost. You can use a program that will record your meeting or you can ask someone to take notes. You can also keep notes for yourself (but that is admittedly easier said than done when you are the host). The minutes of the meeting should then be distributed to each participant for future use.

On Air Recording

These five tips can help you be more professional when you host your online meeting. As you can see, the tips really don’t vary all that much from what someone hosting a face-to-face meeting would be told. Include everyone, eliminate distractions, invite only those who need to attend, stay on topic, ask for feedback, and keep good notes – it’s simply a matter of keeping these 5 tips in mind and not organizing a meeting online without some forethought.

Discussion: What advice would you give for how to host professional online meetings?