The days of business professionals spending much of their week going to a dozen or more meetings with 6-10 colleagues around a table is over. The coronavirus pandemic will change the way corporate meetings work in the future. This guide aims to summarize the challenges and some solutions to the next normal in corporate meetings. I will update this guide as new challenges and issues arise.
Challenges: Business meetings will change
When business professionals start to return to their offices, it will not be the same as when they left in mid-March 2020. There will be some big changes.
Work From Home is here to stay
One big change will be that corporations have realized that not every staff member needs to be in the office each day. Being forced to work from home during the lockdown busted the myth that working from home was not as productive and wouldn’t really work. We know it works for far more people than most organizations thought it would. This means that meetings will include both in-person and remote attendees almost every time.
Social distancing will limit room capacity
Where it was common to have 8-10 people sitting around a table in a small meeting room in the past, social distancing restrictions will dramatically limit the capacity of all rooms. A room that fit 10 before may only allow 4 people now. This means that even if a meeting attendee is in the building, the organization may not allow them to attend in person due to room capacity restrictions.
People will question whether being in the same room is really necessary
Even with smaller room capacities, people will be reluctant to be in close proximity to others for a while. This means that meetings may end up being entirely virtual or not even held at all. Fewer meetings doesn’t mean less communication. It will require business professionals to create presentations that work for those who choose to attend (in person or virtually) and those who choose not to attend. There will be an increase in the number of meeting participants who only review the slides after the meeting.
People may wear masks
Masks may become standard in many public places, including offices. Health authority guidelines may recommend or require masks and some people may feel safer wearing one regardless of any guidelines. This will make it much harder to gauge people’s reactions during a presentation because we won’t be able to see their facial expressions. It will require more frequent check-ins with the attendees to get their reactions. As presenters, wearing a mask will limit the facial expressions we can use to express emotion and physical gestures will take on more importance when delivering a presentation.
There will be multiple screens in every presentation
In the past, the presenter just had to worry about the screen at the front of the room and make sure their slides were easy to read on that screen. With many remote attendees, presenters will need to be also concerned with the readability of slide text on smaller laptop or tablet screens. When a remote attendee has the meeting software in only a portion of their screen, the effective screen size is even smaller.
Distractions of remote attendees
Meeting attendees in the room for the most part try to minimize their distractions or at least make an attempt to hide the other applications on their screen or the use of their phone. Remote meeting attendees will have far less concern about having other apps open, checking email, replying in Slack, or many other distractions that they know the presenter can’t see. Presenters will have a harder time keeping the attention of remote meeting attendees.
Chat during meetings
One feature of virtual meetings that people discovered during the work from home time was the chat feature of meeting platforms. Meeting attendees are more comfortable with giving and reading a stream of real-time comments while the presenter is speaking. This has two significant impacts. First, attendees are dividing their attention between the presenter and the chat. And second, the presenter will be missing important reactions if they don’t have a way to keep up with the chat stream.
Lack of high-end video equipment in meeting rooms
Having good video equipment in a meeting room was reserved for only the rooms used for important meetings or by top executives. Most meetings rooms have a screen or projector and maybe a speakerphone if they are lucky. Being able to include a video feed of the presenter is now expected because everyone did it while they were at home. But most meeting rooms have no video equipment at all and are not set up for this. Presenters and in-room attendees will have to use their laptop webcams to provide remote attendees with a video component of the meeting.
Fewer attendees at meetings, more will review later
Even in the first few weeks of virtual-only meetings, many are commenting on video meeting burnout. People will not be able to attend as many meetings and will choose to review the meeting material afterwards. Also, with more people having different schedules due to staggering working hours to accommodate social distancing and changing responsibilities at home, not everyone will attend all of the meetings they did before.
Hygiene of spaces and objects
It is unlikely people will be comfortable going into a meeting room right after another group has left the room without it being cleaned. Organizations may have to restrict times that each room can be used to allow for cleaning in between. The equipment in the room, like cables, remotes, or keyboards may also be a concern. For those attending the meeting in person, it is unlikely they will want to take handouts or other materials from the presenter.
Solutions: Presenters will have to adapt
Given the above changes, presenters will have to adapt to the new realities.
Presenting to in-room and remote attendees
Presenters will have to learn how to set up their computer and meeting platform so that they provide an effective presentation to both in-room and remote attendees. This will be more complex than the past approach of plugging in to the cable in the room and starting PowerPoint. It will require presenters to learn more about PowerPoint and meeting platforms.
Decide on meeting chat platform
Part of arranging a meeting will be to decide where the meeting chat will occur. Will the chat be in the meeting platform or on existing platform attendees use like Slack? If it is outside of the meeting platform, attendees will have multiple windows open on their screen and may be more likely to get distracted by other discussions on the platform. A record of the chat will be valuable for those who did not attend the meeting to review along with any slides the presenter prepared because in the chat, issues may be raised or questions answered that will be helpful to understanding the full meeting.
More focus on holding attention
Attendees will have more distractions than ever before. The presenter will have a tougher time capturing their attention. Presenters will have to spend more time focusing on the planning of their content so it is laser focused for this audience and does not contain topics the audience is not interested in (resource links: use the GPS approach to plan content; results from my latest audience survey).
Presenters will have to use the animation feature to build content on their slides instead of a static slide staying on the screen for many minutes. People’s attention spans have shortened and presenters need to have changes on the screen to keep attention.
Font size will be more important
Remote attendees will have a much smaller screen than the large flat panel screens in meeting rooms. When the meeting platform window is not full screen on their device, the slides will be even smaller. Presenters will need to adjust the font size they use so that remote attendees can read the text. I suggest no smaller than 18 to 20 point text will be readable for many remote attendees. Presenters will have to reduce the walls of text they use on slides, use more slides (which works well with keeping attention), and move extraneous details to supplementary documents that the attendees can refer to later.
Checking in more often with attendees
Presenters will have to build in more time to check in with the meeting attendees for comments and reactions. Masks will prevent a lot of facial expressions from being communicated and the meeting chat will contain real-time reactions from attendees. Presenters will need to build in pauses in the content to check the chat and allow attendees to share reactions. The time for checking in will reduce the time for content, making the planning of content even more important.
Presenters have to learn about video
Video of the presenter will be an expectation and attendees will expect a minimum quality of the video stream. Presenters will have to learn how to get good quality video from their built-in webcam or have an external webcam that gives better quality (the Logitech C920s model is the one I use). Presenters will also have to learn about lighting and may need to adjust where they stand in a room based on where the lights are so that the attendees can see them. Presenters will have to learn where they can move within the room and still be on camera, which may restrict some presenters who like to roam around the room.
Presenters will also have to learn how to operate meeting room video systems as organizations install these devices in more meeting rooms due to the demand for video from remote attendees. Until these room video systems are common, presenters may need to figure out how to use their phone as a room camera attendee in the meeting using a tripod and holder to position the phone for the best video stream.
Deck that doubles as report
If more people who would have attended the meeting will now only review the slides afterwards, presenters need to create a PowerPoint file that serves two purposes: visuals for those who attended and visuals with added details for those who didn’t attend. This is where hidden slides in PowerPoint will be leveraged by presenters who include the additional details as hidden slides in a single file instead of the extra work of creating two files. Some education of people who review the file after the meeting will be necessary at the start, but people will soon adapt to this approach. Features such as animations and transitions are less important if many or most people will be reviewing the slides in edit mode afterwards since those features won’t be shown in edit mode.
Video summaries may be an alternative
Video has become so much more popular during the virtual only meetings and savvy presenters may want to consider a short video summary to go along with the slide file to make sure the key messages are not missed. Creating a quality video will require a new set of skills in lighting, planning, and editing. Presenters may have to learn these skills in order to make sure their messages get understood and acted on.
Possibly longer lead times for decisions
With fewer people attending meetings, more people with input or decision-making roles will review the slide file and meeting chat afterwards. This means that decisions may not be made in the room like in the past. This may delay decisions and presenters will have to incorporate this into planning for next steps and project timelines.
Handouts will go digital only
Any materials the presenter wants the attendees to have will have to be done in digital form. Not only will people in different locations be attending, but even those in the room will be reluctant to take a document from someone else. Presenters will have to create PDF documents that are easy for the meeting participants to use and plan to distribute these in advance. Attendees will need to become more familiar with taking notes on a PDF document instead of writing notes on paper.
Mask choice will matter
If you are required to wear a mask or choose to do so, choosing a mask when presenting will be like choosing clothing for the presentation. You don’t want what you are wearing to distract the audience and similarly you don’t want a mask that has logos or bold graphics to distract from what you are saying. Masks that have clear areas so people can see your mouth may be helpful in sharing some facial expressions (while these are not common now, they may become more so in the future).
Attendees need to change their expectations
Meeting attendees will have to change the way they attend meetings as well. With so many remote attendees, even those in the room will be expected to share their video to create an atmosphere of a connected group. Remote attendees will have to learn to pay attention to the presentation and resist the temptation of the other apps on their screen or else they will miss important content that could impact decision making. If people can’t attend the meeting, they will have to get into the habit of reviewing the slide file in a timely manner and giving input as if they had attended the meeting.
I have spent over twenty years involved in training business professionals to create and deliver effective presentations in their meetings. The changes due to the health risks of gathering in groups is by far the biggest revolution I have seen in this area. I spent the first six weeks of the isolation period observing the corporate meeting landscape and have seen a huge shift to virtual meetings while we work from home. But now as we see the start of restrictions being lifted, I think we need to consider what the future will look like, because it sure won’t be what we had at the start of 2020. I hope the challenges and solutions I’ve listed above start you thinking about how you and your colleagues will navigate the next phase. If you need help exploring how to implement some of the solutions to the challenges, contact me (email Dave@ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com). I’ve been refining my existing advice and have been testing technical implementations for a few weeks now in anticipation of the next normal of business meetings. You can learn more about my virtual live training here.
I recorded a series of four short videos to highlight some the challenges and solutions presenters will need to consider for future meetings.
(last updated: May 1, 2020)
Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.