Tips for Leading a Good Virtual Meeting

Shawnee Love   •   August 25, 2020

We’ve all by now participated in some good and bad meetings and I blogged awhile back on how to host a good in person meeting.

But online meetings have some obvious differences which facilitators need to recognize and adjust to if they want the meeting to be productive.  What follows are my tips on how to ensure your online meetings are one’s people want to attend.

  1. Begin the meeting by giving participants an opportunity to “check in”. This can a guided introduction if the participants don’t know each other or can be an update on personal and professional lives since the last time they met, and takes the place of the meet and greet opportunities people miss by not being in person.
  2. Have a plan to ensure all voices can be heard. Consider how people:
    1. Will be introduced and/or invited to speak
    2. Can vote
    3. Ask questions or comment

Because it is hard to make sense of what’s happening when multiple people are talking, as a facilitator, I want to manage the flow of communication without being too controlling.  Most video conference services offer a “chat” feature where people can ask questions and provide feedback confidentially or simply request to speak next which I continually monitor. I also often track the number of times participants speak to ensure one person isn’t hogging airtime at the expense of other quieter or less assertive participants.  I also like doing reverse voting such that people only speak up if they disagree or want to abstain from a vote but that only works if you aren’t doing a confidential vote. And I love running real time polls to get feedback as a way to keep things interesting for participants while gathering a lot of information quickly.

  1. Call on people to give them the opportunity to speak. When we ask “Are there any questions or comments?” in a room full of people, we can see people putting up their hands and participants can gauge who is about to speak or waiting to speak by body language around the room. However, in virtual meetings even with video, it can be difficult to see everyone let alone accurately judge intent to speak. As such, having a chair or facilitator call on participants gives each person the opportunity to speak and may draw ideas and opinions from people who don’t want to contribute to the feedback/noise/confusion that can occur when everyone tries to talk during a virtual meeting. If you opt for this, please ensure you advise participants up front that you will be directly calling on each person during the meeting and give permission for the person to decline if he or she has nothing to add.
  2. If sharing a lot of information, pause regularly (at least every 5-7 minutes) to ensure participants are following you. In my experience, people in virtual meetings are less inclined to interrupt a speaker if they don’t understand than when in person, so you risk losing people if you aren’t regularly soliciting feedback. You can solicit feedback by asking individuals directly or by reminding them to send questions or comments privately and directly to you and then holding space (at least 30 seconds to a minute) for that to occur.
  3. Build in some fun. Meetings are often painful wastes of time, and with virtual meetings that pain can be exaggerated (which is why people will often be doing something else while in an online meeting). If you want the undivided attention of the participants, the thing you have the most control over is the fun so use a variety of tools (breakout rooms, polls, chats), show a video, share pictures, ask people to come with a unique story, picture, item, pet, etc. to share so that the meeting is enjoyable as well as productive.
  4. Continue to abide by the tips in our blog on hosting good meetings by having and following an agenda, starting and ending on time, and having the right people in the virtual room, etc.

I am assuming, that your virtual meeting tools and technologies are understood by the presenter and participants as well but if that isn’t the case, be sure to start there so everyone can have the best experience possible.

If you have more ideas for great virtual meetings, please comment.