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Planning the Meeting

Page history last edited by kcarrero@depaul.edu 10 years, 1 month ago

Planning a Virtual Meeting

As with any meeting the importance of planning ahead of time can mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful meeting; this is even more so in the case of virtual meetings. According to Julia Young of facilitate.com virtual facilitators should expect to spend much more time on pre-meeting activities; facilitate.com suggests that an efficient meeting should involve 50% planning, 20% meeting and 30% follow-up (Young, 2010). Careful planning helps avoid many of the challenges characteristic of virtual meeting collaboration.


Meeting Purpose

Identifying the meeting purpose is an essential first step when planning a meeting because it will make the planning process much simpler. Different meeting objectives will necessitate different facilitation techniques and technological resources. Communication meetings, usually conducted to update or report on a specific subject, support a larger number of participants and require simpler technology (i.e. Live Meeting) because active participation by attendees is limited. Decision making and problem solving meetings, however, produce better and faster results with fewer participants and require more complex forms technology (i.e. Group Support Systems) because they involve higher degrees of collaboration.


Goals and Objectives

Once the general meeting purpose is identified, concise goals and objectives should be determined. Communicating these goals to meeting participants prior to the meeting will help participants stay focused on the meeting topic. Objectives tell meeting participants what deliverables are expected from them by the end of the meeting. Meeting goals and objectives are important because they provide direction for the meeting and serve as stepping stones for achieving the overall meeting purpose (make a decision, reach an agreement, generate ideas, etc.).

Interaction Associates suggests structuring meeting topics strategically to allow meeting participants to attend only the portion of the virtual meeting that is relevant to them and where they can make real contributions (“20 Simple Ways to Improve Virtual Meetings”. 2007). Strategic structuring of topics will also help the meeting organizer determine whether the time allotted for a meeting will be sufficient to cover the entire list of topics; if not topics should be divided among several meetings with distinct agendas.

Dividing meeting topics into several meetings will provide two clear benefits. One, it will reduce the required time for each of the meetings; effective virtual meetings tend to be no longer than 90 minutes. Second it will reduce the number of participants for each meeting, ideally to include only individuals who can be truly engaged throughout the duration of the meeting. Keeping participants engaged throughout a meeting is one of the critical success factors of a virtual meeting (Young, 2009).


Participant Roles

Assigning roles to meeting participants will also achieve meeting objectives and keep participants engaged. Duarte and Tennat Snyder describe four roles important for all virtual meetings: owner, participant, facilitator and technology. Other important roles include the gatekeeper and the scribe (Saxena, 2010). These roles are not mutually exclusive and many times do overlap; meeting owners for example can also serve as facilitators.

The meeting owner sets goals and deliverables for the meeting, determines who needs to be there, what technology to use and what type of preparation is required from meeting participants. The meeting facilitator manages the meeting process, for example by communicating the agenda, keeping the team focused and managing group dynamics during the meeting. Participants attend the meeting and are responsible for preparing for and being engaged during the meeting. The scribe, or recorder, keeps meeting notes and shares them with meeting participants. The gatekeeper “watches the gate of participation” and makes sure that everyone has equal opportunity to participate and express their views. Technology serves the meeting and allows collaboration that would normally be difficult to accomplish for individuals at distinct locations. In meetings where technology is complex a “technographer” may be necessary to focus solely on managing technology (Duarte and Tennant Snyder, 2006).

Meeting participants are assigned pre-meeting work according to the role that they will play during the meeting. Assigning pre-work that meeting participants must complete prior to the meeting is important for two reasons: it gets participants ready to take full advantage of the meeting and it helps to facilitate the session effectively by allowing the facilitator to know more about the participants and their interests (McCall and Young, 2010). Successful pre-work will get meeting participants more invested in the meeting thus helping them build interest and willingness to be engaged during the meeting.


Meeting Tools

Choosing the right meeting tools will depend on a variety of elements including team size, meeting purpose, available technology, and the level of collaboration necessary. The knowledge level of participants of distinct technologies and whether or not you have the time or willingness to dedicate to teaching new technologies should also be considered. In general an optimal strategy is to choose the simplest technology that meets the requirements of the meeting (“Virtual Meetings and Virtual Teams,” 2005); using technology that is more complex than that may cause added frustration and complexity to the meeting.



A meeting agenda will the means by which a meeting organizer will communicate to meeting participants all of the items previously discussed. An effective agenda should cover meeting purpose, goals and objectives, and should identify meeting participants and their roles. An agenda should also include a list of things that meeting participants are expected to complete in preparation for the meeting. Additionally it should touch on meeting logistics such as time, location and meeting resources, as well as the process that will guide the meeting (Straus, 85).

Mapping out the meeting process with great detail is the most powerful way to avoid many common meeting problems and barriers to collaboration (Straus, 91). Meeting process refers to the activities that will be carried out during each portion of the meeting as well as who will participate, the technology that will be used and how long you expect to spend on each of the topics on the agenda. Duarte and Tennant Snyder suggests that technology and processes should be evaluated on whether they contribute to any of the four factors associated with successful virtual meetings: recall, input opportunity, reduced social pressure and motivation. Those who do not contribute to any of these factors should be reconsidered. Using an agenda that aligns process, technology and goals fosters organization and collaboration because participants can see a clear purpose for the meeting, will identify portions of the meeting where they are most interested in participating and perceive how technology is aiding the meeting outcome (Duarte and Tennant Snyder, 2006).

Duarte and Tennant Snyder also suggests these tips for structuring an agenda that encourages participation from team members:

  • Structure the agenda so that individuals can enter and exit the meeting according to their needs.
  • Organize it so that everyone is allowed the opportunity to contribute.
  • Structure the agenda so that individuals can work in sub teams.
  • Create a sense of familiarity and belonging by building some informality or fun into the agenda.

Other Meeting Resources

 At the time the agenda is distributed also distribute documents that should be reviewed before the meeting. Best practices indicate that a meeting agenda and related attachments should be sent at least two days before the meeting (Nemiro et al, 2008). Meeting attachments should include information on when and how to join the virtual meeting, as well as how to troubleshoot common issues associated with the technology being used. Also include system requirements for the software and downloads need to be completed in order to utilize the software. Also distribute a fallback plan that tells meeting participants the procedure to follow should technology fail.

Send documents and links that participants will need to access during the meeting or review before the meeting. Give participants enough time to look over the documents you send, especially if the documents are lengthy. Ground rules that establish some sort of code of conduct for the meeting should also be sent to meeting participants. Ground rules help the meeting be more effective by creating an environment that is respectful to people’s time and their opinions and that is favorable to collaboration. Common ground rules for making the virtual meeting process more simple include (Schindler, 2008):

  • State your name when you speak
  • Turn off cell phones and PDAs
  • Stay out of your email
  • Be aware of background noise
  • Log on 15 minutes before the start of the meeting
  • Avoid multi-tasking

It is recommended that team norms or ground rules be generated and agreed upon by the entire team. Doing so will create a sense of ownership and make it more likely for team member to adhere to these rules (Nemiro et al, 2008).


Setting meeting objectives and a detailed agenda, developing roles for those who will attend, setting work to be completed prior to the meeting as well as standards for the meeting process all form part of the meeting plan. Developing this meeting plan is part of the pre-meeting stage of virtual meetings and is a crucial task for planning a successful meeting (Nemiro et al, 2008).


Post-meeting Planning

Part of the planning process for virtual meetings includes making plans for actions that need to be taken when the meeting has concluded. Following the meeting, the meeting owner or facilitator needs to review and document decisions and action plans. They should also determine whether a subsequent meeting is needed and begin planning for the this meeting. The meeting owner and/or facilitator also needs to ensure that these meeting notes are typed and sent to participants; who will be responsible for this task should be determined when roles are assigned. Meeting notes should document the decisions and action plans agreed upon at the meeting as well as the individuals responsible for achieving these actions and a date for when these should be completed (Nemiro et al, 2008).


When planning the meeting set criteria for how the effectiveness of the meeting will be determined. These criteria can include assessing whether meeting goals were met, whether the technology added value, if time was managed correctly, and whether the level of interaction and collaboration was satisfactory (Young,2009). Interaction Associates suggests conducting a round robin after the meeting to seek feedback from participants; allow meeting participants to make suggestions and give their opinion on how the meeting was conducted and whether they felt the process was effective (“20 Simple Ways to Improve Virtual Meetings”. 2007). Completing these post-meeting actions will make facilitating future meetings easier and more effective.

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