The digital transformation of work has led many people to a home office far from co-workers and project managers, giving rise to an unprecedented era of Zoom meetings. Now that we’ve transitioned away from troubleshooting the “you’re still on mute” problems, virtual meetings are back as an inevitable tactic to try and get things done.

Looking around at our Zoom backgrounds and home desks, content marketers are starting to wonder if virtual meetings are still useful tools, or are all of those “this meeting should have been an email” coffee mugs right?

It turns out they’re still reliable if you plan correctly.

“You can actually get things done, but as Julius Caesar found out, meetings can get out of control because other people bring their own agendas to the meeting like Brutus did,” says Mercedes Cardona, a New York-based editorial consultant and founder of Commerce and Reads. “There’s a time and a place for meetings, and we just have to know how to make the most of them.”

In her session at Managing Editor Live 2020, she explained three things you can do so that your next meeting avoids its own Brutus situation.

Have a Specific Purpose for Every Virtual Meeting

More than one-third of workers will go to a meeting that isn’t useful to them just because they don’t want to decline the invite. For creators, that’s often because you feel the need to raise your hand and remind people what you’re doing.

“So, my first piece of advice is: don’t do it for the face time. It’s very tempting, especially if you are a single editorial person in an organization,” Mercedes says, “and you want people to know what it is that you’re doing, that you are bringing that value-add.”

Instead, content marketers can demonstrate their value to a client, project, or company leadership with regular updates. Short virtual meetings focusing specifically on content updates demonstrate value by achieving a goal and addressing the project checklist. If clients ask for many meetings, consider showing them how much they cost and the time taken away from finishing a project.

Create a Useful Agenda

Meetings guarantee you get someone’s attention for a brief time, so the chief goal is to use it for something meaningful. It’s even more critical now that much of our work has moved to emails and, for most, you can’t walk down to someone’s desk to talk with them. Virtual meetings demand a little more focus to provide value, and Mercedes says a clear agenda delivers this immediately.

“You can correct for a lot of these sort of airy fairy-ness of virtual meetings if you have a little discipline. First of all, ask yourself, why are we having this meeting? What are we trying to achieve?”

Set a clear goal and remove anything that isn’t relevant or actionable. Then, workshop it.

Minimize the Guest List

The agenda should help you narrow down the list of attendees. Share it with people on the project to see who is needed, who has something to add, and who isn’t involved.

“Give people the chance to opt out,” Mercedes says. “You will be very beloved if you simply say to people, ‘It’s okay. If you got nothing, just email me when you do have something. I’ll let you know what happens at the meeting.’ That alone would improve morale.”

The attendee list should also depend on the meeting’s activities. Big announcements need a whole team, but precise tasks often work better in smaller groups. Specific to content creators, she had a great piece of advice: “A good rule of thumb is never brainstorm with more people than you’d have around a dinner table.”

Finish with Next Steps

When virtual meetings have a purpose, clear agenda, and the right people, they can accomplish a lot. By the end, your goal should be to achieve something specific or create a list of next steps. It ensures that people leave the meeting knowing what they have to do next and helps you get them excited to take those actions.

“The moral of the story is, don’t use meetings to supervise or punish people,” says Mercedes. After you’ve set what needs to happen next, “try ending in up note. Tell a joke, put some music on, pump them up for the next stage, because the worst thing you can do is send them out the door feeling either overwhelmed or that they just wasted their time.”

Her final warning: Don’t be Julius Caesar. He ran a lousy meeting and didn’t see it coming. Et tu, Brute?

Watch Mercedes’ full session here.