A major part of my daily work now consists of participating at video conferences. Tough most of you have participated in a few, I would still try to summarize the most important points from my perspective. If some parts of this text seem familiar, I borrowed heavily from @Isotopp.
It is much easier to join a presence meeting unprepared and to recover gracefully. Online meetings are not so forgiving. Being badly prepared (either as moderator or participant) is a lot more obvious in a video conference. It is close to impossible to save a chaotic online session.
Every online meeting of more than two people should have a clear agenda and it should be known to all participants beforehand. Either it is part of the calendar invitation or at least the URL pointing to it is included. If the person inviting is not the moderator of the meeting, the role also should be designated with the invitation.
The purpose of the agenda is:
- To define the scope and goal of the meeting. What is the desired outcome?
- To deliver the necessary information about the topics discussed.
- To assign roles within the meeting (e.g. "I invited John to give us the forecast for January")
In an ideal world, the agenda is a living, collaborative document that can be edited during the call and be converted into a protocol.
A lot of conferencing tools come with a chat channel (e.g. Teams, Discord). If the tool does not come with a chat, provide one through a link within the agenda.
Use the chat channel aggressively to prepare the meeting. Point out key issues beforehand (e.g. "I want to understand how that tool is to save us money?"). You may find out that you already have a consensus on some topics and may drop them from the agenda. On the other hand, you may also identify contentious points that may require to arrange a separate meeting to decide.
That chat channel can also be used to collect questions (which are answered at a opportune moment) or to indicate the intent to comment ("*raises hand*" or "*wink*"). In a larger environment it can be used to keep a speaker list for everyone to see. So not every breather is used by someone else to make his/her point.
When you are delivering a message beyond Yes/No, turn on your camera. When speaking, you are always delivering cues by your mimics. People understand you much better when they see your movements.
Finally: the best online meeting is the one that will not take place. If you manage to use the steps above to make the conf call superfluous, you save everyone a lot of time.