When done right, virtual video meetings—specifically Google Hangouts—can bring distant teams together, make sure everyone is on the same page, and allow everyone to be involved without the dim conference room atmosphere (who doesn’t love chilling out on the couch for a meeting?).
But when done wrong? Google Hangouts can be a huge waste of time, not to mention extremely distracting and awkward (15-second pauses are never fun).
Want to have an efficient and successful Google Hangout that doesn’t drive everyone crazy? Here are a couple of key things to keep in mind.
1. Plan Just Like You Would for Any Other Meeting
In general, just because you don’t have to physically be in the office for a meeting doesn’t mean you can slack off on preparations. After all, you still want your meeting to run as quickly (and painfully) as possible.
Meaning: Make a game plan. If you’re running the Hangout, send a short agenda out to everyone beforehand so that they know what to expect and what to prepare. If you’re not running the meeting, suggest to the person doing so that he or she send a short email out with the main talking points. I once sat in a virtual meeting where the person running it forgot to tell another staffer to find a specific (and vital) document beforehand, so that person spent 20 minutes during the meeting searching his inbox for it. Cue the rest of us awkwardly sitting at our computers not knowing what to do.
But you can easily avoid this wasted time by making sure every knows what they should be “bringing” with them ahead of time and is ready to participate as soon as they sign on.
A little pro tip: Utilize Google Hangout’s chat feature on the right-hand side of the screen to quickly write down an agenda that everyone can reference. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it can act as a cue to keep everyone on track and focused.
2. Discuss the Format Beforehand
Google Hangouts can be way more awkward than in-person meetings. When you and a bunch of people are physically sitting in a room, it’s easy to pick up on body cues to figure out who’s going to speak next or what the general feel of the meeting is. But when you’re sitting at a computer screen unable to see anything except a person’s face? It’s quite a bit harder.
Again, a lot of the awkwardness can be reduced if everyone knows the format of the meeting beforehand. Is one person going to be talking a lot more than everyone else? Ask other members of the meeting to come into the Hangout with their microphones muted. Is the session a roundtable brainstorm? Let people know in what order they’ll be asked to present so that you don’t have to deal with everyone talking over each other or those long, uncomfortable “So—who wants to go next?” pauses. (Those are the worst.)
3. Utilize the Google Hangout Apps
Many people aren’t aware that a couple of icons can be a lifesaver in a meeting, especially if you’re trying to make it go as quickly as possible.
See that little microphone icon? That’s a mute button. Use it if your surroundings are noisy or if you’re typing something while others are talking. It’s a great courtesy to the other people in your Hangout.
Additionally, if you’re in a meeting where you’re all trying to look at a document or webpage at the same time, use Google Hangout’s screen capture option. I’ve been in too many Google Hangouts where a ton of people are all trying to look at the same webpage on their own computers (and thus, not actually paying attention to the Hangout), and in those situations, this is a godsend.
Google also has a ton of other apps specifically for Hangout, so make sure you take a look and see what could work best for your team. From a virtual whiteboard your co-workers can draw on for a brainstorm session to a weird little app that gives everyone mustaches and funny hats, you can find anything you need to make your Hangout more productive and fun.
Overall, Google Hangout meetings can be just as effective (if not more so) than in-person meetings; they just take a bit of practice and planning beforehand. But if you can get everyone on the same page going in, it’ll be smooth, non-awkward sailing.