Virtual meeting etiquette

Bill Swallow / Opinion5 Comments

Let’s take a break from content strategy and talk a bit about virtual meeting etiquette. I’ve heard plenty of virtual meeting horror stories from friends and colleagues. There are tales of barking dogs, screaming children, loud ambient office noise, and yes, even the dreaded toilet flush (I have no words). But I haven’t heard of any cases quite like a recent one I experienced…

My virtual assistant—Siri—interrupted my meeting.

Me: Please don't interrupt me. Siri: OK, maybe not.

Thanks?

The majority of my meetings are virtual. Prior to a meeting, I turn off all notifications, set any messaging applications to Do Not Disturb, and silence my mobile phone.

Well into one recent meeting, Siri suddenly piped in, trying to be useful. LOUDLY.

My phone was on silent at the edge of my desk, but at some point someone must have said something that sounded like “Hey Siri”. I had completely forgotten about that feature (mainly because it never works when I try to use it).

Me: Will you please be quiet? Siri: I'm just trying to help.

You’re not helping.

I quickly fumbled for my phone, turned it off completely, and then proceeded to apologize to the other meeting attendees. While it certainly raised some chuckles, it was embarrassing and highly annoying. Fortunately the meeting continued with no further interruption.

No matter how much you prepare, something can always go wrong. Fortunately, the bizarre cases (I’m still not talking to you, Siri) are easily forgivable, though not always forgettable. The blatantly preventable interruptions and faux pas are neither forgivable nor forgettable.

Here are some guidelines for proper virtual meeting etiquette:

  • Arrive early, especially for web meetings. You may need to download a meeting client or update. Even if your virtual meeting is a conference call, everyone arriving early ensures that the meeting starts on time.
  • Turn off all audible notifications and silence all devices. We all use some combination of Skype, Slack, Messenger, email clients, phones, or other tools during our work day. Silencing them reduces interruptions and allows you to focus on the meeting at hand.
  • Act like it’s a face to face meeting. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a conference room with the attendees. If you must make noise, please mute yourself first.
  • Use video appropriately. While video can help keep all attendees on their best behavior, it can cause bandwidth issues. Also, remote attendees in other time zones may no longer be in the office, and might appreciate some degree of privacy while in the meeting.
  • Only invite those who absolutely must attend. Too often, virtual meetings include far more people than necessary. Any type of meeting takes time and attention away from other responsibilities. Be mindful of others’ schedules and only include those whose presence is critical.
  • Plan your presentations well. Make sure everyone who is expected to present is given ample notice prior to the meeting. Conduct a dry run using the virtual meeting software to ensure that the presentation will display properly and that everyone running the presentation knows how to use the interface.

And yes, disable your virtual assistants!

Do you have other etiquette suggestions for virtual meetings? Have you experienced poor etiquette in a virtual meeting? Please share your stories and advice in the comments!

About the Author

Bill Swallow

Twitter

Director of Operations. Techcomm, content strategy, and localization. Enjoys taekwondo, craft beer, and homebrewing.

5 Comments on “Virtual meeting etiquette”

  1. Don’t eat.

    If you’re working from home, take the dog for his/her walk just before the meeting, or — guaranteed — he/she will give you that I-have-to-go-out look within the first 10 minutes.

    Not that I personally have ever run afoul of either of these. 🙂

  2. Good point on making sure your dog/pets are taken care of beforehand if you’re at home for the meeting.

    As for eating, I’d say it’s a slightly lesser sin but if you must eat, mute yourself and don’t talk with a mouth full of food. If you’re giving a presentation, definitely do not eat (or chew gum). If it helps, imagine yourself at a podium in front of a crowd. Act accordingly.

    Thanks Larry!

  3. Keep close to the microphone so that everyone in the virtual meeting can hear what you say clearly and run the meeting effectively.

    1. Very good tip. And when wearing a headset, make sure that your mic’s gain isn’t too high, otherwise you will be exceptionally loud.
      Thanks!

  4. Take care of the meeting time of participants to channelize the energy in right way.

    For instance if meeting organizer schedules it in morning and if other participants find it in their evening hours, channelize the energy accordingly. If participants had a long day in office, bit of humor and shake up helps before or during the meeting.

    At the same time, if the meeting organizer is hosting it in late late evening hours and participants are in opposite hemisphere, one should really match them in energy and voice intonation.

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