How to ensure virtual meetings* are engaging

When it comes to ensuring a virtual meeting is engaging, a surprising number of the basic principles for ensuring that ANY meeting is engaging still hold true. There are critical things a meeting organiser needs to consider, but there are also a few important things attendees should do too.

A virtual meeting shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to multi-task or to tune out while others do the heavy lifting. Organisers should carefully craft the flow of the meeting so attendees can’t help but be drawn in.

You definitely can’t just hope for the best – there are things to do pre, during and post your virtual meeting to reduce the snooze factor. Read on!

*It’s important to note that when we say meetings, we are thinking of a few people gathering to work through a specific topic or agenda. Later, we’ll share our suggestions for creating engaging presentations and delivering engaging virtual events.


Before your meeting…

ORGANISERS

  • Have the RIGHT TECH AND TOOLS in place for connection, collaboration and feedback – ideally that work together seamlessly. Test these to make sure they work.
    • Use video…but have backups, audio or low bandwidth options. Don’t forget to prepare and “how-tos” or tech support.
    • Frame and light yourself well, and make sure you can be heard easily.
  • MEETING HYGIENE. All the usual basics still apply:
    • Block time. Stick to it.
    • Have an agenda, if it runs for more than 45mins schedule a break/stretch opportunity.
    • Know your audience – balance presentation with participation, duration and detail – ask them what they need from the meeting to ensure all objectives (not just yours) are met.
    • Pre-reads are great – meetings are for informed discussion, decisions, training – know the purpose, know your role, do your pre-work.
    • Create a safe space, provide a “room” with shared screens and collaboration tools.
    • Invite the right people, limiting yourself to 2-10 faces…this is a meeting, not a conference presentation – ensure you comfortably fit in the (virtual) room.
    • Give people things to do – facilitator, timekeeper, tech support and scribe.

ATTENDEES

  • TEST THE TECH AND TOOLS provided in the meeting invite.
    • Most meetings should be “cameras on” for presenter and audience alike.
    • Frame and light yourself well, make sure you can be heard easily.
    • Respond to statements, jokes and material like you would in any meeting – talking into a digital void can be challenging for presenters.
  • REDUCE DISTRACTIONS
    • Focusing attention on your screen can be tiring; even more so if you need to fight distractions in your home. Set guidelines for pets, kids and other WFH colleagues – and set your own rules for screen-based distractions (turn off email alerts, chat windows, distracting backgrounds, set aside second and even third screens).
    • If someone does make an unexpected cameo, go with it! It’s humanising and a nice change to the expected meeting agenda. 
  • HYGIENE (beyond ensuring your wear pants!)
    • Pre-reads are great – meetings are for informed discussion, decisions and training. Know the purpose, know your role, do your homework.
    • Volunteer to take on tasks such as facilitator, timekeeper, co-presenter, tech support and scribe when asked.

During your meeting…

ORGANISERS

  • A STRONG START
    • Break the ice. Introduce everyone. Make time for small talk. People often miss the incidental chat that happens when we’re all in one place; the prelude while people are joining a virtual meeting is perfect for this.
    • When you are ready to start, harness attention. Set the tone, create connection and (hopefully) chemistry. No one will be more engaged than you are, so bring some energy and enthusiasm to the table.
    • Run through the agenda and any guidelines regarding mute, forums for questions, and the tools you’ll be using. 
    • Throughout, don’t be afraid to repeat key points, recap and speak slowly enough to allow for the odd technical hiccup.
  • ENSURE EVERYONE IS PRESENT
    • Do a breathing exercise at the beginning to calm and centre everyone.
    • Alternatively, to make sure everyone’s ready for your content, have people write down the thing they are thinking about or need to do next on a piece of paper…and then either scrunch it up or put it well out of arms reach. 
  • POWERFUL QUESTIONS
    • Ask people to contribute (by name – at the beginning of your question). Ensure your questions are designed to prompt engagement, such as:
      • “Emily, what interests you the most about that suggestion?”
      • “Sam, if you could change anything what would it be? Why?”
      • “Alex, I notice you’ve been quiet so far, what’s one thing that could increase your satisfaction with this project?”
    • You can also use targeted questions to re-engage people whose attention may be wandering or who have been on mute for most of the meeting.
  • CHANGE THINGS UP
    • Provide variety through your voice, switching presenters, using various tools and possibly even a music break from time to time
    • Getting lots of information served in the same format can be draining. 65% of people are reportedly visual learners…so if you are sharing a presentation, make sure it is optimised for screen (fewer words, engaging imagery, large font, right ratio) and use tools that prompt creativity as well as collect data.
    • Mural is ideal for collaboration and using a light-hearted poll to re-focus the group following a break can be fun, while helping everyone get familiar with the tech in a low-risk way.
  • ENDING WELL
    • If appropriate, ask everyone to reflect – “how did we all do?”
    • Then recap what will happen when everyone exits the “room” – next steps, actions or a reminder about a follow-up session.
    • Ensure you have time to conclude calmly rather than jamming in lots of new content in the last few minutes. 

ATTENDEES

  • A STRONG START
    • Be on time. Back to back virtual meetings can be tough, so take control of your schedule. Equally, try to allow a few minutes to log in and engage in some chat with other meeting attendees before you get down to business.
  • FOCUS
    • Video meetings require more focus than in-person meetings – reading cues like facial expressions and tone is harder via a screen, plus there is the pressure to look engaged at all times.
    • Try using paper and pen for notes – this improves retention and shifts focus from the screen for a productive purpose.
    • We also don’t usually look at ourselves for extended periods and this can be both draining and off-putting – experiment with your settings to remove the feedback camera.
  • CONTRIBUTE
    • If you’re not clear, odds are others are lost too.
    • Clarify early if you are not sure what you should be doing, how to use the tech or if you missed an important statement.
    • Follow the question protocols – raising a virtual hand, adding to the chat or using a natural transition/break in the conversation to verbalise a question.

After your meeting…

ORGANISERS

  • SEND A FOLLOW UP
    • Thank everyone for time well spent, document next steps, highlight your key take-outs (ideally designed to show you were tuned in to attendees’ contributions) and share any further reading or links.

ATTENDEES

  • MOVE
    • At the end of an extended period in a virtual meeting shift your mental and physical space – finalise notes, reflect, do ten star jumps, pat the dog, walk away from your screen for five minutes – then get ready to refocus and do it all again!