With COVID-19 driving social distancing and causing teleworking and virtual work to take the stage, many leaders new to the arena of virtual meetings are at a loss as to how to make them effective, productive, engaging and “real”. Even leaders who have used virtual meetings in the past are experiencing unprecedented levels of frequency.

For at least the short-term future, this increased pace will remain. As a team of 100% virtual leaders doing business and training globally through technology tools, we thought it might be valuable to share our collective learning gathered over thousands of hours of virtual meetings.

Here are our top 5 keys for leaders on how to engage your teams and colleagues virtually through online meetings. Virtual meetings CAN be productive, effective and even fun. Here is how.

First, Key #1Define the Purpose.

Be clear on why you are holding the meeting. Make sure you should call the meeting to begin with. Ask yourself: What is the benefit that can only be gained by meeting together and talking live? If you can’t find a compelling reason, don’t hold the meeting. If you do hold it, be clear with everyone as to the purpose. Is it to gather input, solve a problem, brainstorm? State the intent so people know how to engage in the meeting and what you want from them.

Key #2 – Make agreements.

If you decide to hold the meeting, start it off right with some best practice ground rules. Use good virtual meeting etiquette and share some ground rules around how you will be together as a group. Our People Acuity meetings all start with reviewing these three ground rules:

  • No Judgment Zone (this is a place of curiosity and learning together, not judgment of self and others)
  • Bring Your Puzzle Piece (meaning everyone contribute)
  • Confident Vulnerability (you don’t have to pretend to be perfect or have all the answers).

As a result, people feel safe contributing and are more engaged. Meetings fly by rather than drag on.

Key #3 – Invite multi-tasking.

Yes, you read that right. People are going to multi-task during the meeting so invite them to do it IN the meeting. This is about giving permission to multi-task in ways that serve the purpose of the meeting. Invite them to use the chat box liberally to respond to each other and to the topics being discussed. Invite them to add their questions, thoughts, encouragements and ideas. This allows people to connect with each other, and for ideas and thoughts to develop as the meeting progresses. It is engaging for participants and works best if followed by Key #4.

Key #4 – Pay attention to the chat box.

Designate someone to pay particular attention to the chat box and bring to your attention anything that might need to be addressed in the meeting – questions, suggestions, etc. Pause and scan the chat box yourself, and read comments out loud for those who may have missed them. People like to hear their own words even if they didn’t want to say them out loud, which allows you to ask for elaboration on comments as needed. Just make sure you aren’t challenging people when you ask for clarification or more information. Remember Key #2: Agreements! You’ve got to be curious, not combative otherwise you’ll shut down people’s motivation to comment, and you will kill engagement.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t scan the chat box when someone is commenting live. Look at the screen and LISTEN to that person. If you’re leading the meeting, briefly summarize what you heard after someone speaks, as this will convey your value of each person and encourage more interaction.

Key #5 – Use the technology.

Use the technology to make interacting in the meeting smooth and easy. An online meeting is different to an in-person meeting, and it can be difficult to organically notice when someone else wants to contribute. Online, you can set some technology signals to alert the meeting leader that someone would like to contribute. Here are some ways we do it:  

  • If everyone has their video up, have people simply unmute when they want to speak. Or, invite them to wave and wait to be called on.
  • If videos are off and someone wants to make a comment, have them turn their video on to send a signal that they are prepared to share.
  • Some platforms have a “raise hand” icon, which can also be effective if you are watching for it.

Whatever you choose, share the plan at the beginning of the meeting when you set ground rules so that everyone knows how to signal when they want to contribute verbally.

Virtual meetings are only effective when people are engaged and there are agreements about how to be together. As the leader, let go of 100% control and 100% responsibility. Let the group contribute to the meeting and co-lead it with you. With intentional practice around these keys, you and they will make virtual meetings engaging, productive and fun. We promise.

This article has been written by Lisa C Gregory – Chief Product Officer of People Acuity, The Interdependent Leadership Company, and co-author of Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living.  It has been written in collaboration with People Acuity co-thought leaders, DeAnna Murphy and Steve Jeffs.  Lisa leads virtual meetings and training sessions weekly – reaching people on five continents. She holds nearly 100 certifications and is an expert in instructional design, facilitation, and engineering client solutions. Learn more about Interdependent Leadership, People Acuity and its cutting edge virtual or live programs at www.peopleacuity.com.