My monthly tip for virtual leaders: Make online meetings engaging

What highly effective virtual leaders do to enhance engagement in their meetings?

  • How often have you worked remotely in the past or have you been either leading or participating virtual team?
  • How often have been online meetings where you were bored stiff?
  • How many times did you feel that the discussion in a online meeting focused only around two or three persons?

Over the years I had many discussions with leaders of virtual organisations about exactly this challenge. When companies are forced to have employees working from home, due to the current epidemic, it is more relevant than ever to investigate ways of making online/virtual meetings engaging. I thought it might be a good time to share the wisdom of the highly successful virtual leaders condensing it down to my top three tips to raise or keep the engagement high when conducting virtual meetings.

Engaging online meetings

The most successful aspects

I have summarised the most successful aspects in the following key points:

  1. Enhance the interest of the participants in the preparation and opening phase of the virtual meeting
  2. Facilitate the meeting with high interactivity and involvement of everyone
  3. Pull those people actively in who are low in contribution

Let me put a bit more flesh to the bones so that these points become clearer and easier to apply.

1. What do I mean with enhancing the interest?

When putting the agenda together for a virtual meeting consider whether the items you want to put on the agenda are suitable for an online meeting.

Think about how the different items on the agenda are affecting participants. As a short checklist use the following three questions before you decide to put it on the agenda 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 ask yourself whether the item is suitable at all for the agenda of this meeting.

To enhance the interest of all people involved even further it is a good idea to invite all participants to co-create the agenda upfront requesting specific titles, purpose of the item and the expected outcomes, importance to others, as well as the time it will take.

A Don’t: never put any items on the agenda which are for information only or present them in your live meeting.

2. How can you facilitate a meeting with high interactivity and involvement?

Share the responsibility for facilitating your virtual meeting, especially in regular meetings, amongst the participants.

Assign key roles to different people. With key roles I mean:

  • the note taker
  • the decision driver
  • the timekeeper
  • the devil’s advocate

They should be spread out amongst the people who take part in your meeting. This creates more involvement in the dynamics of the meeting. And to make it all more lively distribute them on a rolling roaster.

A Don’t: never assume that you as the leader have to be in charge of the meeting/discussion!

3. How do you pull 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 amongst participants. The easiest way is to keep tab on who contributed how often, then call on a regular basis with open questions on those who have the lowest contribution level.

Some collaboration platforms keep also monitor the participant’s activity at their computer. Check what your collaboration platform offers to support you in keeping track when people drift away from the meeting.

A Don’t: never use your keeping tabs as a judgement on participants! This should only be about you ensuring active engagement.

I hope you find these three tips useful and can apply them immediately to your virtual interactions.

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