I sent this note to one of my coaching clients. Because of Covid, nearly all her interaction with her team was via Zoom meetings, so she asked me for some advice about making them as effective as possible.
Based on our discussion last week, I wanted to put together this overview to improve your Zoom meetings. I am sure you already know and do a great majority of these things, but it is nice to have a reminder and possibly pick up a few new tricks. Here is everything that came to mind.
1. Have an agenda.
Sit down at least three or four minutes before the meeting, take out a piece of paper, and prepare for the meeting, just like a regular meeting. Have an agenda, a specific goal for the meeting, and a list of information you need to share and information you need to collect. Even if you are not running the Zoom meeting, you should still be exceptionally well prepared.
2. Before you connect, clear your desk and your mind.
Turn off other monitors if you have them, turn off your phone, and get a clean part of your desk where you can sit and take notes without any distractions. Focus entirely on the meeting. Do not try to multitask.
3. Come prepared.
Have any information you might need for the meeting already at hand: calendar, reports, data, memos, org chart. You don’t want to search for this stuff during the meeting. Also, make sure you have carefully read any notes or information pertinent to the meeting.
4. Ensure that you look good on the Zoom call.
Avoid being backlit. Get good lighting for your face. Use a high-quality camera and microphone. If you are going without a green screen, make sure that the atmosphere behind you is clean and not distracting. Furthermore, when using a green screen, make sure that the background you choose is not distracting. When talking, look directly into the camera. This way, it will seem like you are making eye contact with others on the call. If people can’t clearly see you and hear you, it will dramatically impair the success of the meeting.
5. Make sure that there are clear ground rules and expectations for the meeting.
How long will the Zoom meeting run? What is the general purpose of the meeting? Who is on the call and why? What is the specific desired outcome of the meeting? This should only take a few seconds to cover, but it is important to set the tone and verify why this meeting is necessary. If you are in charge of the meeting, I would highly recommend sending this information out at least a day before the meeting so that everyone knows the ground rules and comes to the meeting well prepared.
6. During the meeting, use these tools to keep the conversation focused and on track:
- Everybody participates: Check in with specific people from time to time to make sure they are engaged or to elicit their unique expertise or opinion. John, what do you think about that? Wendy, do you have anything to add? Bob, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. Sue, we have not heard from you in a while; what do you think about this idea?
- Perception-checking questions: Does that sound good? What problems do you see? Is anyone uncomfortable at all with this? Does anyone have a concern? Is that 100% clear? Does this seem reasonable? What do we need to talk about more while having everyone on the phone? Is there any question we forgot to ask or anything we have left out?
- Control questions: This helps “control” how much information a person delivers—either a very focused or a comprehensive answer. What is the number one issue with … Please give me what you feel are the top three reasons … What are all the issues around … Could you share with us everything you feel we need to know about … What do you see as the top two or three most important … In as much detail as possible could you help me understand your thinking around …
- Cushions: What you put on the front of a difficult or pointed question to ease into it and show the other person that you are asking this tough question because you are trying to help them. So that I can better support your team, could you explain to me … To make sure you have what you need, will you please share with me … Because I know this is important to you, will you take some time to go through …
- Condition Statement: This is something you put on the front of a difficult or pointed question to explain why you are asking it: I was looking over the report and noticed XXX, which made me wonder … I was talking to Fred over in IT, and he brought up an excellent point; he felt … I was reading the Wall Street Journal this morning and saw an article on XXX, which prompted me to think about … how do you see it?
Here is a list of types of questions that will help you keep the conversation focused, productive, and on track:
- Go/No Go: Do we even need to discuss this? Do we even have the authority to make this decision? Are we the right people to be discussing it? Do we have all of the right people on the call? Is now the best time to be discussing this? Is this the correct thing for us to focus on right now? Would this be better handled through a face-to-face/ email?
- Clarifying: What specifically do you mean? In other words, what it seems like you are saying is … From everything I have heard, it feels like the main issues are … I am not sure I understand exactly what you are getting at; could you take a minute to clarify … According to the numbers you have given, it looks like … is that correct? Could you be more specific? Can you give us a bit more detail?
- Assumptions: How do we know this is true? How can we be sure these numbers are right? What assumptions are we basing that on? How did they measure that? What was the methodology for collecting that information? Who supplied this information? What else is this like? How is this different? What might go wrong? What is unique about this?
- Causation: What caused this to happen? Who was responsible for this happening? What do you think was the root cause? Who made this decision? What triggered this to happen? Who or what do you feel were the main drivers of this? What led us to this position?
- Impact: What do you think will happen? How will this impact … What will the outcome likely be? How might this hurt us? What alternatives do you see? Are there benefits? What do you think is the probability of this happening is?
- Actions: What do we need to do first? What should the next steps be? Where do we go next? How do you want to handle this? Who will be responsible? How will we know what success looks like? What is the plan for implementation? Who has accountability?
7. Since you are asking great questions, the following step is to be excellent at listening to the answers.
For me, the only way to do this is to remove all distractions. I also repeat what the person is saying over and over again in my head to keep the mental chatter at bay and help me lock the information into my brain. I constantly summarize and paraphrase their comments in my head to keep focused on what they are saying, what important points they are making, and the main ideas they are expressing.
8. Along with superb listening is superior note-taking.
The key here is to create a system for yourself to quickly and easily get down all of the most critical information—sort of your unique shorthand, with symbols and words that make sense to you. I cannot possibly stress strongly enough how valuable taking good notes can be; it has been a career saver for me more than one time. Be sure to date all notes, list people on the Zoom meeting, and indicate the critical information.
9. Action steps.
Never end a meeting without clearly determining what will happen next and who is accountable for it. The next step might be another meeting, an email, the launch or termination of a project. An excellent way to do this is to use your notes to give a quick summary of the main things covered. Check in to see if everyone agrees. Additionally, list the action steps and action owners. Then ask for verification.
10. One last opportunity.
I typically end Zoom meetings with one last opportunity for anyone to offer an opinion or concern. My standard line is: Before we leave, are there any questions, concerns, issues, pushback, feedback, anything else to offer?
11. Review important information.
Immediately after the meeting, take just a minute or two to go back over your notes. Add in information where necessary and file the notes.
12. Follow up.
I often follow up the Zoom meeting with a quick summary to all the participants reiterating the key points and action steps/action owners.
13. Meeting concerns.
When a meeting does not seem to go well, I will immediately contact a few key people to discuss any concerns they might have.
Well, this is about all I can think of right now; if I come up with more, I’ll send it along. As I said initially, you likely already knew much of this; however, the simple question is: Do you do these things on every important Zoom call?
If you want to get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you. Please visit my site at https://johnspence.com/contact/ and let me know how I can help.