Top tips for hosting a virtual board meeting

Online meeting

David Sole OBE and Dr Helen Rippon share their tips for hosting and attending virtual board meetings 

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9th April 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Boards have a critical role to play in steering organisations in the right direction more than ever. The virus has halted our high streets, exams and most-loved festivals – but cancer hasn’t stopped. That’s why Worldwide Cancer Research will continue to back the brightest minds across the globe by funding their crucial research. We hope these tips benefit your organisations as much as they have ours.

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Distribute, read and raise queries on papers early.  The more that can be done in advance, the easier the discussion will be. Encourage all board members to read papers in advance and , at the same time, you can indicate how you would like the discussion to go i.e. 2-3 minute introduction of the paper; what is the ‘ask’ (i.e. decision, discussion, for information) and then open for comments and input. It helps manage expectations.

Open early

It’s only common sense, but the more people on a call, the greater the likelihood of technical problems. Send joining instructions early, get everyone to sign in 15 minutes before the start and give everyone an opportunity, before you kick off, to figure out what all the buttons do.

Trim the time – and keep an eye on it

Keep things moving and keep an eye on the content of the discussion while ensuring that everyone is contributing where they can. If you can’t wrap up the meeting in a couple of hours, build in some longer breaks for people to get up, walk around and refresh. Nobody wants to spend hours on a video call, stuck at the dining room table on an ergonomically unsuitable chair!

David Sole

David Sole

Strengthen the structure

Structuring the meeting tighter than usual is key for video conferences. If you’re presenting a paper then have notes at hand that help you tell the story, land your key points, and remind you where to pause for questions. Practice out loud in advance if you’ve got a meaty paper - one of the great things about working from home is you can do so without alarming your colleagues.

Be clear about the ‘rules of engagement’ for the meeting

At the start of the meeting, be clear about how you intend to run the meeting. Muting microphones is helpful to be able to see who is ready to speak (as they ‘unmute’ them) letting you bring them into the discussion. If you can see everyone, you can ask them to raise a hand before speaking to ensure people don’t talk over another instead. 

Dr Helen Rippon

Dr Helen Rippon

Encourage those with ‘subject matter expertise’ to express views

If you have people with specific expertise on particular papers and they haven’t spoken, make sure you invite them to comment – even if it’s a ‘no comment’.  That way, everyone feels included.

Grit your teeth and accept that you’re going to be missing a bunch of non-verbal feedback

You’re talking about the management accounts and normally you’d glance at the CFO for reassurance you’ve not accidentally wandered off-piste.  But here you can’t make eye contact with anybody.  It might feel strange to be missing the little cues around the room that tell you you’re making sense, but you must barrel ahead and hope someone will gently interrupt if not. 

Finally, the ‘tone’ of the meeting should be broadly the same as if you were in the room together. Don’t be shy about making quirky points which might get a laugh – it’s important you don’t lose the fun.

As well as the safety of the Team Worldwide family and running of the charity, our priority is to keep providing the funding to support bold new cancer research. That will not change. To help us start cancer cures across the world please visit our website.

David Sole OBE, is chair of the board of trustees, and Dr Helen Rippon, chief executive, of Worldwide Cancer Research