How often have you led or participated in virtual meetings where the engagement of the other participants seemed to be low and discussion limited only to two or three persons? In a recent discussion with a virtual team leader we discussed exactly this challenge. It was not the first time that I had this kind of conversation and therefore I thought it is time to share my top three tips to raise or keep the engagement high when conducting virtual meetings. They have worked for me repeatedly when conducting online meetings.
In short the three tips are the following:
- Enhance the interest for the participants in the preparation and opening phase of the virtual meeting
- Facilitate the meeting with high interactivity and involvement of all participants
- Actively pull those people in who are low in contribution
Let me elaborate a bit more on these three points.
1. Enhancing the interest
When putting the agenda together for a virtual meeting consider whether the items you want to put on it are suitable for an online meeting. Is the item for information only, I recommend to put it on an online collaboration platform rather than into a live meeting.
Also, think about how the different items on the agenda will affect participants. As a short checklist you may want to answer the following three questions before you decide to include an item and how to describe it:
- Why is this relevant for each of the participants?
- Why does it require the participants input?
- What’s in it for the participants?
You should have a compelling answer for at least one of these questions, otherwise you should consider sharing it in a different way.
To enhance the interest of those participating even further it is a good idea to invite all to co-create the agenda upfront requesting specific titles, purpose of the item and expected outcomes, as well as the time it takes.
2. Facilitating a meeting with high interactivity and involvement
Share the responsibilities for facilitating your virtual meeting, especially in regular meetings, amongst participants. Assign key roles to different people. In this context, key roles could be note taker, decision driver, timekeeper, and devil’s advocate or others depending on the requirements of your content. This creates more involvement in the dynamics of the meeting. And to make it all even more lively, distribute the roles on a rolling roaster.
If you use a PowerPoint presentation in your meeting for a particular item or items, I strongly recommend to use it in non-presenter mode. This may initially sound strange. When talking through the slides, though, you can immediately modify aspects, add discussion points, and capture additions while going through each slide. This helps to keep participants interest on the screen rather than wandering off. In a similar way, I also recommend to create an action list and collect summary points or key inputs live on screen in a separate document when you are not presenting items but having discussions.
Very recently I heard an interesting idea where one team leader uses Microsoft’s One Note as a shared document (on WebEx in screen sharing mode) in which he collects the contributions but can also pass it on to others (in WebEx passing the ball) to add points and actions. As a shared One Note document everything will be synchronised immediately on the team’s collaboration platform.
3. Pulling people in who are less active in your virtual meeting
By nature some people are quieter than others and a virtual meeting context may enhance their natural preference. However, you can easily steer this behaviour by being more attentive to the level of contribution by participants. The easiest way is that you keep tab on who contributed how often in discussions and you then call on a regular basis with open questions on those who have the lowest contribution level.
Some collaboration platforms also keep track of the participants’ activity at their computer. Adobe Connect has an engagement level indicator, WebEx in some licenses shows an exclamation mark next to a participant’s name when they do something else, Vitero shows a large PC-symbol in front of peoples’ avatar. Check what your collaboration platform offers to support you in keeping track when people drift away from the meeting.
I hope you find these three tips useful and can apply them immediately in your virtual interaction. If you want to have an in-depth discussion with me please feel free to get in touch with me or join us in our informal VLD-Café discussion on this subject in October 2016.