Can virtual meetings be as engaging as those that take place in person? The short answer to this is yes! But, they require intention.
Here are some best practices for making the most of your virtual meetings.
1) Create social time. We are social creatures, hardwired to connect with one another. In person meetings provide natural space for social time at the beginning and end of meetings that is lost in a virtual space. Use check-ins, questions, and/or round tables at the beginning of virtual meetings to get people talking. “I’d love to hear from everyone, what was one good thing (or customer interaction) that happened yesterday? Who wants to start?” This also provides a less awkward approach to taking a roll call. As the leader, check off each name from the attendee list as each person speaks. Invite those left to speak or verify they are not on the call.
2) Set norms or guidelines. Some examples we’ve commonly seen are no multi-tasking, all must contribute, silence is not consent. Seek verbal commitment or use a poling tool to solicit input. Let them know they are permitted to answer “I need to think about it” or “I agree with our approach and don’t have anything else to add”.
3) Agendas are not optional. Without a roadmap (agenda), distractions will win the attention of your participants/team. In a virtual environment it is even more critical to offer overt cues about what can be expected.
4) Ask specific questions. Nothing invites more crickets in a virtual meeting than “any comments or questions?” If you are struggling for something specific, start with “what did we get right and what did we miss?” If input is required to make a decision, the question should be more specific like “what are any hesitations with this option?” Asking each participant to contribute is also a best practice.
5) Get feedback. Ask participants to share their experience of the meeting, ways to improve, topics for the next meeting, etc. Reserve the last five minutes to talk about meeting effectiveness. If your participants know you are learning together and are committed to ensuring the time is valuable, then they will more actively participate each time you are together.