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Meeting Together Alone

I don’t know about you, but lately here at Stats4SD we have been having a lot of virtual meetings in these past months.

Image 1: Zoom – our ‘go-to’ online meeting tool

As early adopters of Zoom, which has been our ‘go-to’ online meeting tool since we started as a company in 2016, we have been through a process of consolidating a lot of our experiences to try and develop some guidelines to help make these meetings run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

The resource we created can be found here:, which was created from a mixture of sharing our own experiences and reviewing various online resources.

For now, here are my five key lessons for having a successful online meeting.


1. Set clear goals

Especially in the age of CV-19, it seems we are all being somewhat overwhelmed with requests for meetings. It’s an important step in planning an online meeting to consider whether you even need a meeting in the first place. What is your objective? Could your goal be met by sharing a document? Or by writing an email? Perhaps through some one-on-one calls rather than a larger meeting?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes; then perhaps you can save yourself, and others, a lot of time and hassle! If the answer is no; plan carefully the content and attendees of your meeting around that objective. Make it clear to everyone attending what that objective is in advance – the clearer the expectations that are set in advance, the more productive the meeting is likely to be.


2. Teamwork makes the work meeting work

One of the key limitations of a virtual meeting is the lack of social cues which can be picked up on in a physical meeting. It can also be quite overwhelming to try to deal with crowd management, and technology issues whilst simultaneously trying to lead a meeting. Adding in a facilitator to an online meeting is a way to try to deal with this. And there are a lot of ways this can be useful.

 The facilitator can deal with time management, and prompt speakers to hurry up if they are over-running. They can also make sure everyone has muted their microphones and try to deal with troubleshooting tech issues if they come up. Most platforms for online meeting have private chat features, which can allow a facilitator to communicate directly with presenters, so this can all be done in the background without disrupting the main flow of the meeting. In large groups, a facilitator is also extremely helpful to manage any flow of questions, to try and ensure that these discussions can be as fair on the attendees as possible, without people talking over each other or jumping in out of turn. It’s also worth considering having a number of facilitators depending on the size of the meeting and whether there will be any groups tasks that will take place.


Image 2: Using slides to accompany an online meeting

3. Pay attention

In larger groups, it’s easy for minds and eyes to wander during an online meeting. This is particularly the case if the conversation is straying from a topic in which you yourself feel less able to contribute towards. Therefore, trying to ensure that everyone in the meeting is engaged is very important. One strategy for dealing with this to ensure that everyone has some direct reason for being there: either what they can contribute to the meeting, or what they lack and can therefore gain from the meeting. There could also be a specific goal for participating or a role or responsibility (e.g. note taking; facilitation; time keeping), all of which will help to make sure that all participants are paying attention.

 And as a participant, it’s also important to engage fully in the meeting, and not let yourself be distracted. Even if you have not been assigned any responsibility, try to make sure your focus is on the meeting, and not elsewhere, and set yourself objectives (e.g. challenging yourself to make sure you ask a question).


4. Adapt and prepare

Not all meetings should fit the same format. In general, there are three things that should dictate exactly how the meeting should be structured: the objectives; the audience and the number of people attending. If you do not understand these three things well, it will be difficult to organise an effective meeting. In larger groups the amount of interaction will need to be more limited, or more closely managed than in a smaller group. Do people need to prepare discussion points/slides in advance of the meeting to be able to use the time efficiently? Will everyone have all of the pre-requisite information and knowledge to participate, or is some background reading going to be useful?


5. Don’t be too clever

It can be extremely tempting to try and liven up online meetings with some new technology. If this works well, it can help make the meetings more engaging, interesting and memorable. But if it does not work, you end up with something confusing and time wasting. Always test out any exciting new innovations in advance of trying to do something exciting. Consider what may go wrong and come up with back-up plans to deal with this in case of potential problems.


As we proceed through the age of CV-19, and online meetings become the continued norm, it will be interesting to see how they evolve. Given the international nature of our work, being forced into more remote meetings at this time could potentially lead to real long-term benefits – both in the effectiveness of the support we provide and through reduced environmental impact from less international travel for regular in-person meetings.

Will we be having more meetings, or less? What format will they best strive in? And will there be any new vocabulary that becomes coined through continued usage?

As mentioned at the start of the blog, you can read more detail around the topic of online meetings on our Resources site here. I’d also be interested in learning about your journey in using online meeting these last months and whether you have any of your own tips to share. Please make the most of the comments box below and share your thoughts!

Sam Dumble
Author: Sam Dumble

Sam has been part of SSD since its inception in 2016. Given the importance and frequent misinterpretation of statistics, he is keen to ensure that results are presented in a clear and understandable manner, particularly through the use of graphics and maps. He does most of his analysis using the software packages R and QGIS. He is also an experienced user of various other packages such as SAS, SPSS, Minitab, Genstat, Stata and CSPro.

1 comments for "Meeting Together Alone":

Jul 08 2020
Interesting reading for covid times. Online meetings are the main tool nowadays for working. Softwares like zoom, teams, skype, googlemeet... are mandatory! I have shared the entry with my team so hopefully we will substitute some meetings with emails/calls

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