5 Tips to Make Your Virtual Meetings More Engaging

 In Business Artistry

It’s true that ample evidence points to the fact that virtual meetings can no more replace the full experience of an in-person experience than Apple graphics or The Discovery Channel can replace the full-on experience of spending time in nature. Virtual meetings do have their own unique challenges, the greatest of which is that digital devices encourage distraction.

When you meet in person, you can more easily command attention by gathering people in the same physical space, directing focus to a whiteboard or some other prop, or asking people to silence their phones – and being present to make sure they do. When you meet remotely however, you can’t rely on your presence and physical cues to coerce attention and people feel less social pressure to give theirs. Instead, you have to encourage participation. 

Yet, you can enhance the experience of virtual meetings.

I have been virtually meeting with clients and teams using video conference apps since 2012, and I have not found remote conferencing to be a hindrance to deep work and collaboration. On the contrary, with the right approach I have found virtual meetings to be profoundly engaging. I have conducted international client VIP days and steered multi-hour team strategy sessions on Zoom. I have led multiple online branding academy and author courses, virtual MasterClasses and webinars, for hundreds – even thousands! – of people at a time. Modern technology collapses time and space to allow us to connect and create instantaneously, even allowing me to build a remote team of creative minds here at Tracking Wonder that spans the United States. 

Last week, I shared a few tips to make your online meetings more productive and impactful. This week, I share five tips to keep your remote team engaged and inspired. And don’t forget to download Tracking Wonder’s Virtual Meeting Checklist if you haven’t already. Share it with your team.

1. Find a platform that works for you. Zoom has become so pervasive in this pandemic era that the video conferencing platform is now used as a verb. But, remember: there are other options out there, both paid and free, that might be better suited to your needs. Do your research to figure out what tools you need to make your meetings as effective as possible, then experiment with a few platforms before deciding which one is right for you. If you’re using this tool for team video conferences, be sure to get feedback from your colleagues as well. Not everyone will be equally tech-savvy, so base your choice on tools that the least computer literate among you will feel comfortable with.

2. Set the stage. We design our work environments and our clients’ workspaces for optimal creativity and productivity. Try to do the same when working from home, especially for video conference calls. Be deliberate in designing your background to encourage focus and discourage distraction. Try to find an area in your home with neutral colors and good lighting. Be aware of how the light may change while you’re in a meeting so you aren’t suddenly dealing with mid-afternoon glare because the sun is streaming through your window. Anticipate any distracting background noises and remind your partner that today is not the day to mow the lawn, or ask your children to keep the TV volume down. Finally, make sure your entire head and shoulders are visible and, of course, turn off any digital devices that aren’t essential to the meeting.

3. Gather your props. One downside of virtual meetings is that often you don’t have a central focal point. Your eyes dart between faces and try to focus on whoever is speaking, or a poster on your colleague’s wall piques your interest and you lose track of the conversation. I find it helps to gather “props” and create a collaborative space where everyone’s attention and ideas can converge. 

For example, I have a whiteboard wall in my office and plenty of Slicky Notes at the ready so I can physically represent and connect our ideas, priorities, needs, and next steps. You can also use virtual whiteboards or sticky notes with apps like Excalidraw or Lino. Some video conference apps even have built-in whiteboards. 

4. Establish the problem. A common mistake people make when running a meeting is that they don’t start out by establishing the “problem” that the team is gathered to solve. This can lead to confusion amongst participants as to why their presence is required, what role they’re meant to play, and what the desired end result is. According to a Doodle survey, 59% of executives reported attending meetings they felt they didn’t have to be present for and 60% of employees felt they attended meetings where they didn’t accomplish anything. 

Try to clarify the problem within the first five minutes of the meeting – allowing some time for small talk and check-ins – by sharing provocative statistics or a compelling anecdote. Help participants realize their role in solving the problem by appealing to their strengths and keep them continually engaged by asking questions that will inspire them to action. In other words, create opportunities for attendees to take meaningful responsibility and to lead with their ideas.

5. Create a virtual water cooler. Perhaps the trickiest aspect of leading a productive, engaging virtual meeting is keeping the momentum going after you all hang up. As I mentioned last week, try to assign a notetaker for every meeting who will follow up with the minutes and action items for each attendee. Then, to ensure that your colleagues and creative peers follow through on their action items and seek support when needed, I suggest that you create a virtual “water cooler” or a running message board where people can post their updates and queries. Oftentimes, people will wait for scheduled meetings or shoot off an email rather than reach out for support or advice in the moment. With a message board, you can keep the conversation going and encourage collaboration long after the meeting ends. Most importantly, with tools like Asana and Basecamp, or even Slack, your team can communicate and connect in real-time making the sense of camaraderie that much stronger.

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  • Rob S.

    I like the concept of a “virtual water cooler,” as it serves as a way for coworkers to speak outside of day-to-day tasks. Not only does it create a sense of camaraderie but it goes a long way in helping everyone become more productive. I definitely approve.

  • Jeffrey Davis

    Rob: Thanks for contributing here. Jason Fried’s platform Basecamp includes a “Campfire” for this express purpose. Be well.

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