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Hosting online meetings complicates things, but it’s not impossible. Numerous online platforms and conference call lines provide options for hosting discussions and making decisions without having an in-person meeting.

But wondering how to hold an online meeting successfully can put pressure on a board chair. So, here’s a few tips.

Don’t forget meeting basics

An online meeting is still a meeting. Make sure you check off the basics before adapting for an online meeting platform.

  • Let people know it’s happening – when and where (meeting link, for example)
  • Set and distribute an agenda
  • Assign a meeting chair (usually the board chair)
  • Assign a person to take minutes (usually the secretary treasurer or similar role)

Set expectations

First, assume things will go wrong. A call might drop, or the internet might be unreliable. Some participants might be new to the platform and won’t know how to unmute their mic. Lots can happen — so prepare for it.

One way to do this is outline how the platform works and some of the rules for meeting procedures beforehand.

Besides the platform basics, such as how to join the meeting, use various features, and handle issues like low bandwidth and poor audio, clarify how to handle procedural things. Making motions, asking questions, requesting the floor, and voting are a bit different online. So, provide a guide.

Have one person lead the meeting

We recommend meetings – online or not – be led by a board chair. Assigning someone to lead participants through a pre-set agenda, set the pace of the meeting and acknowledge comments, questions, and speakers in turn, rather than everyone chiming in at once, makes meetings run more smoothly and with less stress for everyone.

For a chair running an online meeting, start the meeting with everyone in mute. Providing the chair the power to acknowledge speakers at appropriate times minimizes confusion and disruption.

Adapt current meeting procedures to platform features

Online meetings are a bit different from in-person ones. Tolerable disruptions in in-person meetings can become intolerable online. For example, the simple act of “seconding” a motion is easy to sort in-person but online can become a noisy mess.

So, know and take advantage of the meeting features of the platform you choose and adapt your current procedures to them. WebEx and Zoom, for example, have a ‘raise hand’ feature that makes making motions and asking questions seamless. Zoom offers a ‘poll’ feature that helps facilitate votes.

Most platforms have a ‘chat’ function. Chat allows participants to type questions and comments. Relying on the chat feature, rather than everyone trying to speak at once, is a great way to manage questions with minimal interruptions. This feature and the recording options can also support the person assigned to take minutes.

Prepare for poor internet connections

Not everyone has great internet. Rural and remote communities often have limitations on available bandwidth and how much data they can use.

Be mindful of the fact some people may need to join an online meeting by phone or a reduced capacity. A couple things that can help:

  • Participants having bandwidth issues can disable their video connections, which helps reduce the amount of bandwidth being used on their end.
  • Stating things that phone participants can’t see is a good way to ensure everyone knows what’s happening even if they can’t see your screen.
  • Distribute the agenda by email ahead of time and read out next items as you go through it.

Practice Makes Perfect

The best advice for running meetings (online or otherwise): don’t wing it. Do your homework and develop a plan. If you’re organizing an online members’ meeting, consider doing a trial run to get a feel for the system and work out any kinks.

Online meetings are probably going to be the norm for a while. Invest in a platform that works for you and follow these tips to knock it out of the park.