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Run a Tight Ship: 8 Tips for Running Effective Meetings Online

Thessaloniki Port by John Maravelakis via Unsplash

We start the Springboard coaching program with a one-hour webconference call. It is a critical meeting that introduces our entrepreneurs to their coaching team, the coaches to each other, and provides everyone with a shared foundation for the coaching that will take place over the eight weeks that follow.

A lot of online meetings are run poorly. They look a lot like this, and they are a colossal waste of everyone's time:

We don't run our meetings like that. We have a clear agenda, keep the conversation on course, and always end on time. It takes a leader to run online meetings well, and that leader needs to run a tight ship.

Here are a few best practices for running more effective online meetings:

1. If possible, restrict the call to less than 10 people

People want to feel like they contribute. As the size of the call increases, you will spend longer on intros and less time on the meat of the discussion. I've found people are much less motivated to speak, and more likely to get distracted (by other calls, emails, devices in front of them) if they feel their voice will not make a meaningful contribution to the discussion. For our coaching calls, 5-7 people on the line is the sweet spot. If we anticipate more than 10 people on a conference call, we will split it into two calls.

2. Use a calendar invite and send a reminder the morning of the session with the access information

You want to start the meeting as close to the scheduled time to maxmize the time you will have together. Resend the access information in the morning and again to those that are not on 5 minutes early (which will very likely be everyone) and start calling out to them using the webconference tool if you can (we use Speek). Decide in advance when you will start ("5 minutes after the hour no matter what", "when we have 4 participants", etc.) and stick to it.

3. Start with brief introductions

If your meeting is an internal meeting, you can skip intros but the reason for this is to give everyone a sense of the unique perspective they are bringing to the discussion and how it fits relative to the others on the call. On our coaching calls, we have a diverse team typically including an entrepreneur, an angel investor, a VC, a lawyer, a financial expert, and someone from the industry. When each coach knows the perspective that no one else on the call has, they can filter their insights based on that lens.

4. Start with the format and goals of the meeting

Meetings come in all shapes and sizes, and you want to set the groundrules up front. Talk about timing, what needs to be covered, and the "purpose of the meeting." Tell them you will interrupt them if they go off course (it will make it easier for you when you need to). Set and manage expectations.

5. Do not be afraid to mute people

If you hear background noise, everyone can hear it. More times than not, no one will say anything. Your job as leader is to nip it in the bud, because if you were distracted from the conversation to notice it, it means you have other people on the call who are not fully engaged.

6. Do not be afraid to interrupt monologues to steer the conversation back on course

You want to give everyone on the call an opportunity to contribute. Learn to interrupt people gracefully. "Sorry to interrupt but I want to make sure we leave time for XYZ. Let's have you take this conversation offline so we can move back to ABC." Your job as call leader is to make sure the conversation gets back on course if it runs astray (and it will).

7. End the call with next steps, as a group and individually

Make sure there is a clear follow-up plan, and that the people who are responsible know they are responsible. In our calls, each of our coaches will list the areas where they can best support the company in reaching their next milestone and evolving their investor pitch. We remind everyone that we recorded the call and took notes during it, and will distribute those along with contact information so that the entrepreneur can follow up with each coach directly.

8. End the call on time

The hardest thing is to interrupt an interesting conversation on the verge of an insight. But being respectful of everyone's time is paramount. People tend to book their schedule continuously, which means they probably have another call or meeting right after this one. End on time. Always.