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5 Steps to Improving Remote Project Kick-Off Meetings

by: John Coburn
5 Steps to Improving Remote Project Kick-Off Meetings

Kick-off meetings lay the foundation for a project’s success. A successful kick-off creates a sense of alignment and instills confidence in the project, the project manager, and their team. Done correctly, a good kick-off meeting leaves everyone feeling enthusiastic about the project. Done poorly, and you’ll leave people questioning the decisions that led to taking on the project in the first place.

Sounds challenging enough, right?

Well, kick up the difficulty level a notch by adding a remote element to your kick-off meeting. You’ll lose evidence of most body language, tones may be misinterpreted, and you’ll be limited in the tools you can use to get your message across.

There’s no doubt that a remote kick-off meeting can be more challenging than their in-person counterparts, but don’t let a little adversity discourage you. Remote meetings are becoming the norm, especially in today’s uncertain climate. To get a leg up, leverage the right technology, and follow these five steps for improving your remote project kick-off meetings. 

Step #1. Do Your Homework and Invite the Right People

When you go remote with your kick-off meetings, you may find it more difficult to build rapport and find a comfortable meeting flow. It’s as if there’s a dance happening. Maybe there are sound delays, or people start talking over each other. Then you get the inevitably awkward exchange of, “You go. No, you go…”

The best way to avoid this scenario is to limit the number of people in the meeting. As you remove people, the sound quality increases, connectivity issues decrease, and interruptions tend to fall away. Plus, limiting attendees reduces feelings of anxiety or nervousness that come with talking to a larger group. If there are lots of people on your kick-off call, people will feel less pressure to engage in conversation. When there are fewer people, you’ll get more engagement and a more attentive audience.

Limiting people comes down to doing your homework ahead of time so you can determine not only the topics of discussion for the meeting, but also what essential personnel should be there (and who shouldn’t be there). On your side, ensure you bring along team members who they’ll work with day-to-day and any project leads that may be weighing in on the project’s intricacies. Any more than that, and you’ll overwhelm the client with too many names and faces to remember.

That said, don’t remove people from the meeting just for the sake of removing people. Do your due diligence ahead of time and find out which key stakeholders need to attend. The last thing you want to do is show up underrepresented, which could be conceived as a lack of commitment to the project. 

Lastly, appoint a remote meeting facilitator – someone who can take the lead and ensure the meeting runs smoothly. An added benefit is they can keep the meeting on schedule and guarantee everyone has ample opportunities to participate in the discussion. 

Step #2. Share the Agenda Ahead of Time

Without the help of a whiteboard, handouts, or any other visual displays you’d have while face-to-face, you’ll need to maximize every minute of the remote meeting. Sharing the agenda ahead of time helps you in three ways:

  1. It forces your team to get on the same page about the project’s scope, deliverables, task assignments, and timeline.
  2. It gives the client or other stakeholders time to review documentation and process information so they can come prepared with questions or feedback.
  3. Rather than wasting precious meeting time broadcasting project details, you can instead have a thoughtful conversation about the project.

Sharing the agenda forces all parties to make important project decisions ahead of the meeting so that valuable time, money, and facetime aren’t wasted on internal debates. Leverage cloud tools like Taskworld to share documents, sheets, and slides, or provide access to a project management software that supports remote teams like Taskworld. That way, meeting attendees always have access to communication logs and up-to-date meeting documents.

Step #3. Show Your Face and  Make Introductions

video-conferencing-good-impression

Most project managers can’t stand burning daylight hours talking about life outside of work. However, the kick-off meeting is one place you don’t want to miss a chance to make a connection. It’s even more important in a remote setting, since you can’t shake hands and have real face-to-face time.

It may seem like a trivial detail, but make time for small talk. While you’re at it, leverage video conferencing software like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype to build stronger rapport from the start by creating more of an “in-person” vibe where you can put names to faces and read visual cues.

Once you’ve set the stage, consider going around the room to do some short introductions. Beyond just stating their name, it’s a good practice to have everyone share their role with the company and what role they’ll be taking within the specific project. Bonus points if you can come up with some icebreaker exercises that can loosen up the remote meeting. 

One entertaining game that can be used for this purpose is Two Truths and a Lie, in which everyone introduces themselves, in addition to sharing two interesting truthful statements and one lie. An example could be, “Hi, I’m Jane, I’ll be the marketing lead for the project. I speak three languages, I once met Tom Hanks at the airport, and I drove a tractor on my family farm growing up.” Then people can guess which one is the lie and which is the truth to quickly learn more about each other.

Step #4. Define Project Success with Everyone on the Line

How often do you leave a meeting thinking, “What exactly was the purpose of that meeting?” We’ve all been there. Remote meetings are especially tricky because people can multitask or tune out entirely, since they don’t have to make consistent eye contact.

But since this tendency risks participants missing important details, how can you ensure your kick-off meeting runs differently?

To start, give people something to do or look at. Nothing’s easier to tune out than people who are merely talking. Slides are helpful if you have some eye-catching visuals, but not if they’re chock full of text you’re reading word-for-word. Consider sharing your screen to give people the feeling of looking over your shoulder. People will naturally follow along as you take meeting notes or assign tasks in your project management software. 

As you work, keep bringing people back to the overall purpose of the meeting, which is defining the project’s success and getting everyone on the same page. Kick-off the working portion of the meeting with the project’s end in mind. Define your version of success and allow people to give feedback. Layout the project’s timeline, complete with specific milestones and details on who will provide individual deliverables. Define how and when the project’s stakeholders will communicate and take a moment to identify potential risks and bottlenecks that could derail the project. 

Few clients know exactly what they want. They may have some ideas or a general understanding, but if you asked for specifics, they’d likely have no clue. The project kick-off is your chance to drive your version of success and get approval from all key stakeholders. Make it easy to say yes. Do it with flair and enthusiasm, and they’ll trust you’ve got everything under control.

Step #5. End on a High Note

come-together-as-a-team-remotely

You’ve successfully navigated your remote project’s kick-off meeting. Everyone’s on the same page and feeling a little more comfortable with each other. Now, it’s your job to keep that momentum alive. To paraphrase, people won’t remember every detail of that meeting, but they will remember how you made them feel.

The end of the meeting is your best opportunity to make a lasting impression. Tell them how excited you and your team are about the upcoming project and show gratitude for all their time and helpful feedback. Let them know they’ll have plenty of opportunities to “check-in” or ask questions throughout the project and ensure they know the best ways to reach you. 

In addition, schedule the next meeting and let them know you’ll send out meeting “minutes,” so that everyone has a record of what was achieved. Fill the meeting minutes email full of videos, gifs, funny pics from the meetings, or an interesting story. Make these elements a staple of your project’s communications, so people actually look forward to your communications. If possible, share a recording of the meeting for future reference.. 

What You Can Do Now

  • Do your homework before your next kick-off call. You’re in the driver’s seat, but you can only deliver success if you come well prepared. Anticipate participants’ needs, questions, and possible objections. Create a presentation around your findings and share your agenda before the call.
  • Narrow your attendee list. Think over each critical function of the project and who needs to be present to address any questions or concerns. Leave any non-essential personnel off the call.

Inject your personality. Whether you’re planning ahead for your next remote kick-off meeting or simply want to make your existing client communications more memorable, look for fun ways to add a more personal (but still work-appropriate) style to your messaging.

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