Design Across State Lines: How To Run A Productive Client Meeting Remotely

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December 9, 2020 a peek inside post jumbotron work

Not to brag, but we work with a lot of clients. And for some crazy reason, not all of those clients have chosen to live and work in our spectacular evergreen wonderland of Seattle.

So invariably, we spend a lot of time gathered around our conference table together, meeting with clients who we only know by voice and Skype avatar.

It can be a challenge to connect with people who you can’t meet with face to face (more so than you might expect!) but today, more and more meetings are happening this way. So how can you keep a meeting on track and productive without being in the same room as everyone else?

We’ve got practical solutions, as well as best practices on the subtle social stuff you need to work harder to set up, to help you make your next remote meeting amazingly productive and make your far-away clients love you just as much as if you were right there with them.

Practical tips for setting up an effective remote meeting

So much of what makes a good meeting happens before the meeting ever begins. Take care of these steps to make sure that once you’re actually on the call, you have very little to worry about in order to make things go smoothly.

— Get a reliable conferencing tool and VOiP system.

There is nothing — and I mean nothing — more frustrating than being in the heart of a conversation and having the other person’s voice cut out.

And not only is it frustrating, it can make you look unprofessional too. Everybody knows that technical glitches happen, but it still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the person who was speaking who got cut off, or who couldn’t hear any of the important decisions being made in the room.

So invest in a good system, try out lots of conferencing tools, and do tons of tests before you ever get a client on the line.

At Urban Influence, we use Fuze for remote conferencing since it allows us to do audio, video, and screen-sharing so we can show our work and walk clients through their new websites in real time, but there are so many options out there for video and audio calls with remote clients and team members.

— Reduce the number of participants unless you need a big group discussion.

This is great meeting etiquette, remote or not, but it’s especially helpful when people are calling in.

Limiting participants cuts down on communication chaos, since multiple voices on a digital call can get choppy and confusing about who’s talking and what’s been said. Plus, it’s nice to save people’s time and not make them sit in on something that doesn’t require their presence. It shows you understand and value their time, and will only use it wisely (which makes them like you — and that’s a good thing!).

Before you set the meeting, think about what needs to get accomplished (more on that in the next step) and then think about who *really* needs to be there in order to get those goals accomplished.

While it’s nice to get everyone’s input, that can often be done by sending out meeting notes and slides after the fact — not everyone needs to be there on the call in order for them to be part of the process.

Think through the stakeholders for each meeting and decision, and invite only those people.

— Set an agenda and stick to it.

This rule also goes for most in-person meetings too, but is especially key on remote meetings where you can’t just lock people in the room with you until you’re done talking.

With a remote meeting, people are extra aware of the other things they could be doing with this time, so you need to let them know how you’ll be making the most of their 30-60 minutes.

Your meeting should have clear goals: what information do we need or need to share, what decisions have to be made, who are the key people who need to make those decisions?

Every meeting should have clear goals, so that it can have clear outcomes.

Once you’re in the meeting, the agenda also allows you to keep the conversation on track, so you can wrap up in a timely manner.

Having an agenda helps gives you a concrete guide to steer the conversation back on course, if someone gets too chatty.

It’s also a great tool for getting reticent clients to speak up about their opinions. Some people are uncomfortable giving feedback on the spot, but if you send an agenda, they will know ahead of that they’ll be expected to help make this-or-that decision and they’ll be primed to participate.

– Communicate expectations before and at the start of the meeting.

Once you have an agenda in place, you can help people prepare to be on top of their game and fully informed the moment they log onto the call by letting them know what you’ll need them to contribute and how they can get up to speed before the call.

We use Podio to collaborate and share progress with our clients, as it also allows them to see what we’re working on and add their own work to the project as we go along.

Storing all of your work in one accessible place (you can also use something ultra-simple, like a Google doc) allows people to preview and get up to speed on meeting topics so you can use your time for moving the conversation forward, not catching people up.

Once you’re on the call, remind people what the goals of the meeting are and where they can pull up any necessary documents or information. Again, this saves time listening to people click around looking for an answer while everyone is waiting on the call.

How to make sure your meeting time runs smoothly and productively

All the prep work you’ve done is a huge part of making sure your meeting goes well. Once in the meeting, here are some simple tips for keeping everyone focused and productive.

– Control the background noise.

When you’re not in person, lots of other things suddenly become important. One of the biggest ones: sound.

If you’re on an audio or video call, background noise can be a huge distraction that can even prevent the meeting from running smoothly if people are struggling to hear or be heard.

Make sure you are in a quiet conference room that won’t get tons of background noise from the rest of your office or the street outside. If there’s a lot of background noise with another party on the call, don’t be shy about letting them know (sounds that don’t seem that loud in person can be crazy loud on a microphone, so they might just not know) and see if they can quiet the noise or move spaces.

And if you have people on the call who don’t need to speak (an assistant taking notes, or a team member who needs to hear the feedback but isn’t going to be speaking on the topic at hand), have them mute themselves to prevent unnecessary additional noise. It adds up, so the fewer opportunities, the better.

– Ask lots of questions and drive the conversation.

Audio can get garbled. Sentences can trail off and fade away. People can be secretly checking email or walking away from the call to grab a glass of water, without you ever knowing.

There are a million ways a digital conversation can get interrupted that you never have to face if you’re meeting in person. Plus, the nuances of eye contact and gesturing disappear, so you’ve got to depend on the strength of your verbal communication and .

You have to be persistent about keeping the conversation going. If someone doesn’t answer a question, ask it again. If you didn’t catch their answer, ask them to repeat it. If you still don’t get what someone’s saying, you have to ask again.

– Find different ways of asking the same thing.

This is key for getting client feedback, since so much of our communication tends to be nonverbal, you miss lots of cues over the phone. That means you have to teach clients to verbalize their opinions and make them comfortable saying them out loud.

The more you contribute and encourage them to contribute, the more natural it will feel for them to speak up and help you guide the design closer to what you need.

– Get everyone involved.

When you’re in the room, you can see if people look disappointed or excited or checked out. Online, that’s not possible (even if you’re talking with video on, if it’s not crystal clear, it’s harder to tell).

So if you’re not hearing from certain people, call them out by name. Don’t be afraid to let a silence hang on the call — ask people for their opinions and then give them space to reply.

Have a great meeting!

Remote meetings are just one part of the brave new world we’re all operating in at work, but it’s worth doing them like a pro since they are likely here to stay. Hopefully by getting comfortable and skilled in this area, you can wow even more clients and customers with a smooth, seamless process that lets your great work shine through.

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