Watch Ken Haman introduce his tips for virtual client meetings.

We’re six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and have accepted that social distancing is here to stay and that we won’t be having face-to-face meetings any time soon. At first, shifting to virtual meetings was a challenging novelty that required climbing a steep learning curve. Soon we figured out how to use the technology and next thing we knew, we were video conferencing several times a day. Now, between work and connecting with friends and family, it feels like we are video chatting all day.

Unfortunately, one painful reality of the new normal is sinking in—we’re developing virtual meeting fatigue. One advisor told me, “I’m on virtual meetings all week, sometimes with clients but often on internal calls. And, I must say, most of these meetings really stink!”

As uncomfortable as this observation was, it didn’t come as a big surprise. Virtual meetings are hard to keep relevant and conduct effectively. I’ve been on many that lasted an hour but could have taken 15 minutes or could have been handled by an email or phone call.

In order to keep your virtual meetings relevant, and stop them from stinking, ask yourself these six questions when you prepare for your next videoconference:

1. Does this issue require a virtual meeting, or could it be handled by a phone call or email?

Virtual meetings are great for presenting complex ideas or bringing together a group of people. The medium works well for weaving together a narrative and high-quality visuals that educate, inspire or reassure a client. It can be an efficient way to bring several clients or your team together for a discussion or problem-solving session.

Unfortunately, virtual meetings are tiring because they require more effort from participants. The visual and auditory qualities are less distinct, and much of the nonverbal content is lost. Before you invite people to a meeting ask yourself if the reason for the meeting is worth the participants’ time and effort, or could the discussion be handled over the phone or by email.

Ensure that the issue is relevant and truly important to everyone you invite. Otherwise, don’t have the meeting.

2. Who is attending the meeting, and what do they care about?

An important way to ensure the meeting’s relevancy is to consider what matters to the people you’re inviting. Does everyone in the family or on the team need to attend? Do you know what information each person needs and how to keep everyone engaged? Consider if your slides are designed for participants who appreciate or require more detailed reporting, or if they’re better-suited for “big-picture” listeners.

In other words, know your audience and conduct the meeting accordingly.

3. What are the known needs, and what are the unknown?

Stimulate engagement by addressing what the participants know they need and then add insights into what they need but don’t know they need. This is especially important if you’re selling something to the listeners. Revealing that you recognize something about the participants that they aren’t aware of elevates you to a uniquely valuable resource.

No one thinks a meeting stinks when they learn something new about themselves.

4. What’s in it for them if they listen to me?

Get attendees engaged from the start and keep them interested by introducing the agenda and explaining the benefits of participating. Giving the participants a vision of what will happen during the meeting and the advantages of listening, will galvanize a deeper level of attention because the topics become more personal.

Every participant should be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me” as early as possible.

5. What might get in the way of them responding?

When you’re face-to-face with your audience you can read nonverbal signals. But in virtual meetings you’re cut off from immediate feedback from your audience. As a result, consider what resistance might crop up and build in time to stop talking and check in with the group to get input and discover any disagreements.

Nothing makes a meeting stink more than listening to a speaker drone on with irrelevant information or off-point messages.

6. What should happen as a result of the meeting, and how do I close for a next step?

Before you start any meeting know what you’re trying to accomplish. You cannot assume that your audience understands what you want them to do unless you tell them clearly and specifically. Prepare by defining your desired outcome for the meeting; knowing how, specifically, you will close the meeting; and determining what, exactly, you want the attendees to do.

Never assume your audience will know what you want from them. Ensure the meeting accomplishes its objective.

These six questions are useful prior to any meeting but are essential to ensure that your virtual meetings don’t stink. And, as meeting fatigue gets worse and people become skeptical about accepting invitations, these steps will help you stand out as a relevant and trustworthy advisor.

For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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