10 ‘Commandments’ for effective online meetings

Step 1: Define the purpose
Like any meeting it is critical to define the purpose of the meeting in advance . We meet to create something together: be it ideas, knowledge decisions or – even online – relations. To achieve the purpose, meetings needs facilitation and preparation.

Step 2: Invite the relevant people
To ensure the meeting will be focused spend some time on selecting the relevant group of people to be invited. This can be those whose ideas you want to hear, those who are key to decision making, or those who needs to be informed. To be selective doesn’t mean to be unpolite!

Step 3: Clarify the agenda
If relevant, involve the invited participants in preparing the agenda in advance. Ownership is always important to ensure motivation and active participation.

Limit the meeting to 90 minutes – unless you plan a solid break. 90 minutes is normally the maximum we can concentrate in front of a computer at a time. Be aware that if you include a break it can take longer time to resume the meeting and get back on track with a discussion than what we are used to from a physical meeting.

Step 4: Clarify the expectations, set the ground rules
This is perhaps the most important part of the preparation for an online meeting. Online meetings is still a ‘new disciple’ for many, so it might be useful to communicate in advance what you expect of the participants and how they can contribute to make the meeting a positive, productive and inclusive experience for everyone.

You can share your expectations and the ground rules together with the meeting agenda in advance. You can also repeat them when the meeting starts:

Expectations – a few examples:

  • Make sure – if possible, – that the connection is stable and that you are ready for the set time.
  • Keep the camera turned on during the entire sessions so that other participants can see your face and some of your body language.
  • Avoid back-light – this makes it difficult for other participants to see you.
  • Raise your hand or use the chat function if you want to say something.
  • Mute your mike when you are not talking.
  • Turn of your phone and close your mail program to avoid distractions.
  • Silence means agreement.
  • Don’t repeat yourself or others.
  • Attack the problem, not the person.
  • Stay on topic.

Step 5: Share the responsibility
Facilitating an on-line meeting and making sure that everyone has a chance to contribute is a demanding task – maybe even more demanding than during a physical meeting. And it can be difficult – if not impossible – to do, if you have to take the minutes and deal with the technology, such as dividing participants into smaller ‘break-out groups’ or facilitating a brainstorm on an online ‘whiteboard’ at the same time.

Therefore: share the responsibilities with one or two colleagues so you make sure you can manage both the facilitation and the technology at the same time. If it is a participative meeting with +10 participants it is recommended to have someone to take care of the technology also.

Facilitate the meeting

Now we are ready to start the meeting:

Step 6: Start with style
Most of us hate when meetings delay because of technical or other problems. It feels like waste of time and energy. Therefore: Start on time. (The chance you can do this increases if you ask participants to check their internet connection ahead of the meeting and link up 5-10 minutes before the start of the meeting)

If participants don’t know each other in advance, start with a round of presentations. If you for instance use zoom and the meetings have participants, you can also use ‘break-out rooms’ where smaller groups of participants talk together and get to learn each other more.

Repeat the purpose of the meeting and how the discussion will feed into a plan, an evaluation, a conference etc.

Step 7: Be creative
We meet to create something together: be it ideas, knowledge decisions or – even online – relations. To achieve this ‘something’ it is important that you as a facilitator keep participants engaged in the discussions throughout the meeting. To do so:

  • Avoid long monologues. Adults can listen concentrated at a maximum of 18 minutes at a time. And this is when we listen to a live conversation and speech.
  • Allow time for participants to ‘digest’ and be active. Ask for feedback, comments and questions to what they have heard. Or divide them into smaller breakout groups for group work and discussion in smaller forums.
  • Ask groups to provide their feedback or ideas in a joint google document through break-out rooms
  • Facilitate an online vote.

Breakout rooms

⇾ Break-out rooms is a good way to create small rooms for brainstorms and generation of ideas
⇾ Establish the break-out rooms before the meeting
⇾ Provide clear instructions in writing so that participants know what to do
⇾ Be strict with the allocated time for group discussion
⇾ After the session: facilitate a joint discussion and presentation of the groups’ work

Online voting

⇾ Make a Quick-poll to stimulate participation
⇾ Ask a question relevant to the agenda or discussion
 Make the poll (you can use Skype, mentimeter or anther platform)
⇾ Ask participants to vote: (e.g.: which idea, solution or option should we act on first)
 Ask for the reasons behind the answer

Step 8: Make decisions

Depending on the character of the on-line meeting participants might necessarily not have to ‘agree’ for the meeting to reach a decision. Decisions can be motivation driven, democratic and/or consensus driven.

If the meeting needs to make decisions, clarify in advance which of the decision types – for instance consensus – you opt for and why.

Step 9: Make a ‘happy ending’

A meeting without a conclusion is like watching a dramatic movie that is cut off just before the final battle between the good and the evil. Make sure to end the meeting on time to avoid that some-one leave the meeting before you have summarized the outcome of the meeting:

  • What were the main points of discussion or ideas that the meeting generated?
  • What were the main decisions?
  • What will happen next and who will do what, when and how?

Use the chat platform or similar to write down in bullet points in real time, what you would have put on the whiteboard by the end of a physical meeting.


Step 10: Follow-up

Meetings and their results are ‘useless if not used’.

Make sure you share minutes as soon as possible after the meeting has ended.

Follow-up with those participants who have committed themselves to act on some of the decisions and plans made during the meeting.

Secure that all participants are up-dated on progress.