Online meeting and training etiquette – what’s hot and what’s not

Online meeting and training etiquette – avoid embarrassing mistakes

Virtual meetings and training sessions have become an essential part of how businesses maintain contact with staff and clients to ensure productivity and continuity. As many people internationally are engaging in a restricted form of work, few organisations and individuals can still communicate using traditional methods.

Taking this practice of online connections forward, it is a cost-effective way to align multiple offices, keep remote employees engaged and stay in touch with clients and stakeholders.  I have also used this way of communicating to connect with family and friends – often resulting in more frequent chats than our previous face-to-face get-togethers.

While virtual meetings have likely been a part of your daily work routine for some time now, it’s still easy to fall victim to some major meeting faux pas. Virtual meeting etiquette is a whole new ball game.

I have consulted with several business associates and friends to suggest some guidelines that may be useful to you and your team to hold productive online meetings.

There is consensus that the following is not so hot:

  • Background noise
  • Unmuted microphones when not speaking
  • Too long meetings
  • No agenda
  • Family members visible in the background, your (un)made bed, messy closets, unwashed dishes etc
  • Being unprepared and fidgeting with notes
  • Unsuitable background and wrong lighting
  • Chewing or sipping a drink while unmuted
  • Using a cell phone while in a meeting
  • Late “arrivals” tuning in and then needing to catch up
  • Repeatedly asking “can you hear me?” when speaking

To keep your meetings an training sessions productive and professional, here are some hot virtual meeting etiquette guidelines:

  1. Send an official invite and confirm

Once you’ve chosen a time and date, you can send an official invite or link so that people have an easy way to reserve that specific time.  If you’ve scheduled a meeting well ahead of time, you can also just quickly confirm with the people you’re meeting with about a day ahead of time to ensure everyone is prepared.

  1. Dress appropriately

One of the magical things about working remotely is the freedom to wear anything to work. Don’t show up wearing sleepwear or sweatshirts when you want to be taken seriously.  Take a few minutes to put on a clean shirt and brush your hair. The best part of actually getting ready while working remotely is that you’ll put yourself in the right head space to be productive.  Also no eating nor chewing gum, please!

  1. Have an appropriate username and photo

When using a program like Skype or Zoom for meetings, ensure that both your username and photo are appropriate for professional meetings.  Any photo you use professionally, including LinkedIn, should be of you dressed appropriately, head and shoulder only, against a neutral background and you looking in the camera.  Selfies generally don’t work so well here.  Please ensure your name and surname is clear – initials don’t do the trick.

  1. Be aware of your surroundings

People won’t take you seriously when there is a pile of dirty clothes in the corner behind you. You need light opposite you, not behind you. Family members should not appear in your screen.  Sit within 2 metres of a neutral wall, a bookcase or a tasteful painting behind you.

Children screaming, crying or laughing, hadidas cajoling, dogs barking, the lawnmower or other machinery in operation or any backgound music is not conducive to creating a professional image.  Rather mute your microphone when this happens unexpectedly.  Cameras don’t need to be switched on all the time.  In bigger meetings only the meeting leader needs to be visible.  Lift the camera so it is at eye height as it is very unflattering to stream a video from your chin up.

  1. Make time for casual conversation – “watercooler” chats

A few minutes of friendly interaction before diving into a meeting can build the necessary rapport for a successful sit-down—and keep the team engaged when the conversation jumps to business talk.  Check in with the team or get one team member per meeting to give some feedback about what’s happening in their lives.  Having coffee simultaneously could be fun but be careful of sipping sounds – mute please!

  1. Use the chat box to send messages and ideas around

The chat box is an easy and effective way to get a message around quickly, use it to share new ideas and suggestions.  The chairperson can incorporate these ideas into the meeting or share important info.  Constant typing on the keyboard could be very distracting though – so use sparingly.  Also use the chat box to indicate you want a turn to speak.

  1. Record meetings in stead of frantically taking minutes/notes

Let GoToMeeting take notes for you! This application automatically transcribes meetings so you can focus on what’s being said – not what to write. After your meeting, you can easily search for keywords in the text of your meeting transcription and share the content with a link.

  1. Mute your microphone when you’re not talking

There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing that alien echo noise from conflicting microphones. Save everyone from the ear-splitting madness by joining the meeting while on mute!

  1. Signal when you want to contribute and speak up

When you enter a meeting, introduce yourself and say hi – but be careful not to interrupt someone mid-sentence. Use a hand signal to indicate you would like to speak. The chairperson should then indicate that you may proceed to speak. Project your voice and articulate words carefully.  Don’t repeatedly ask “can you hear me?”.  The team will let you know soon enough when you’re not audible.

  1. Stay seated and stay present

It may be tempting to check your inbox or engage in a side conversation during a dull moment in a meeting, but rather resist this temptation! When using your webcam, use attentive body language: sit up straight, don’t make big extraneous movements, and don’t let your eyes wander too much.  This is not a good time to catch up on social media.

  1. Online meetings need structure and a chairman

Rather than allowing everyone to speak freely, the team leader should call on someone when he/she wants to contribute. People should indicate with their hand when they want to speak or request a speaking opportunity using the chat box. Manage conversations and stick to the agenda.

Set a clear meeting agenda and send them to the team in advance.  This ensures that everyone is on the same page before the virtual meeting takes place and reduces unnecessary interruptions and questions..

  1. Ensure everyone has a job

Have you ever been to a meeting and had no idea why, exactly, you were invited?

Not having a clear purpose for each attendee is the quickest way to kill team engagement. Ensure that everyone on the team has a job; for example, have one team member write down any questions that come up during a brainstorm, have another take notes on key discussion points, and have another manage the slide progression during the presentation

Giving everyone a job allows them to take an active role in the meeting and makes them feel like part of the action, instead of forcing people to be passive listeners—which, we can all attest, is boring and tedious.

  1. Watch the clock

Keep the meeting short and sweet.  45 minutes maximum, if possible, starting after watercooler talk and introductions.  Stick to agreed time frames.  Give participants the opportunity to leave when the scheduled time is up.

  1. Online meeting follow-up

In order for a meeting to be effective, every person needs to walk out with a clear objective. The key things everyone needs to know are:

  • Deliverables and next steps
  • Who’s responsible for following up on each item or task
  • When those deliverables are due
  • When the next meeting or check-in will be

Are these hints helpful?  Let me know if you can think of more frustrations and fabulous ideas to make online meetings productive and useful at

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2 thoughts on “Online meeting and training etiquette – what’s hot and what’s not”

  1. Pingback: Managing performance in the new distance economy – the future is not what it used to be – Marjón Meyer

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