Ground Rules for Web Conference Participants
Meetings are sufficiently challenging when the participants are all in the same room. But in society today, virtual teams are commonplace. That means that almost any meeting that you have today will probably have at least one person attending from a remote location.
You might be terrific at running an in-person meeting. The good news is that most of what you know about running a meeting remains relevant. In a future post, I will cover some of the tips that a meeting host needs to know and follow to ensure the success of a meeting. Having said that, successfully conducting online meetings with remote participants also requires a few new skills.
One of those new skills is to establish a few simple ground rules relating to how the participants in the meeting will work together. Rather than assuming you implicitly know what to expect from everyone in the meeting, provide ground rules before the meeting starts to make an explicit agreement for how everyone will conduct themselves during the meeting.
What are ground rules?
Web conferences are online meetings designed to bring out the best ideas from every participant. Ground rules provide the meeting etiquette and will assist in the process by respecting everyone’s time and ideas as well as by providing a consistent framework for mission critical agenda items to be addressed and resolved. Ground rules also provide the structure that promotes the values of the company.
How can we effectively use ground rules?
The best path to success for your meeting is usually by providing the list of ground rules to your group before starting the meeting. Don’t surprise people at the start of the meeting by issuing demands that may be impossible to meet without notice.
Here are a few simple suggestions for ground rules that will help ensure the success of any meeting or conference.
- Be on time. We promise to start and end the meeting according to the times on the agenda. If you arrive late, please don’t interrupt the call. Remain silent and catch up as best as you can.
- Be Prepared. Come to the meeting with a positive attitude. Please review the meeting agenda and any attached documents before the start of the meeting. Be prepared to discuss the issues and offer solutions.
- Everyone Must Participate. Be candid. Speak your mind. Everyone in the meeting is expected to share ideas, ask questions, and contribute to the discussions. You must share your perspective and speak honestly.
- Silence Means Agreement. An important corollary of Ground Rule 3. If you remain silent, it means you agree. You cannot remain quiet only to later tell everyone that you disagreed all along.
- Use a landline. Cell phones are tricky. They can work. But you also can have a bad connection. If at all possible, dial in from a landline.
- Do not use a speakerphone. They really interfere with the quality of the call. If you are a group participating in the conference, it might make sense. But if it is just you, please don’t use a speakerphone.
- Do not multi-task. Stay mentally present. It is easy to get distracted on a conference call. But our objective is important and we need your full attention in order to meet the goals of the meeting. You were invited to this meeting because we believed you had something unique to contribute. If you feel your time can be better spent elsewhere, please let me know as soon as possible.
- Mute yourself. Background noise disrupts the meeting for everyone and might prevent us from hearing the information that we need. Choose a quiet location – away from pets, children, etc. Turn off the TV and any music. There is a mute button on your phone for a reason. The mute button is your friend. Use the mute button when you are not speaking.
- No Waiting. Please disable your “Call Waiting” feature. The clicking noise you hear on your phone when another call comes in can also be heard by all of the other participants and will be distracting.
- Do not put this conference call on “Hold”. If your hold feature plays background music [and many do] and you leave the conference to answer another line or talk to someone else, the hold music will play and will disrupt our meeting. If you have to take another call, please hang up and re-join our meeting after you complete your other call.
- Identify yourself. Before you start to speak, please state your name so we know who is talking. Everyone might not recognize your voice.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Please try not to talk over another speaker. If there are multiple participants, people tend to talk at the same time – making conversations extremely difficult to understand. Try to speak one at a time so that we can follow your point in its entirety.
- Stick to the agenda. Please try to stay focused. This conference has a specific purpose. Let’s stick to it.
- No one-on-one side conversations. All discussion is meant for everyone.
- Ask for clarification. If there is something that you don’t understand, please ask for clarification. If you don’t understand the issue or solution, then there are probably others that also don’t understand.
- Attack the problem, not the person. There will be differences of opinion. You will not agree with everything that is discussed. But please be open to hearing other people’s perspectives. If you don’t agree, respectfully challenge the idea – not the person. Blame and judgement gets us further from the solution, not closer. Honest and constructive discussions are needed to obtain the best results.
What do you do when your meeting rules are violated?
It all depends on the nature of the rule as well as the frequency and intention behind the violation. You probably should challenge the participants on the ground rules early and often. If you do not set a tone of adherence to the ground rules early in the meeting, it will probably become difficult to enforce them later.
Single slip-ups can usually be given a pass. Repeated violations may require that the ground rule be re-stated. If a particular conference participant is disruptive beyond acceptable limits, it may be necessary to call a break in the meeting and then talk privately with the violator. If this step is necessary, an understanding can hopefully be arrived at. If not, options include meeting postponement or adjournment, removal of the violator, or simply tolerating the violation in an effort to finish the meeting.