Virtual Team Engagement is a Problem
What advice can you give us on how to improve virtual meetings? This is a key question we get during our preview events and when planning virtual team building programs for the groups we work with. Let’s start with the problem.
We have all experienced virtual team meetings that are quite passive and therefore disengaging. There are some good reasons and screen habits completely beyond how we run our virtual meetings that contribute to virtual disengagement and the dreaded Zoom fatigue.
Our established screen passivity habits mean that as the ones leading or facilitating virtual meetings, being aware of these habits and doing as much as possible to interact and engage our virtual meeting participants and disrupt this pattern of screen passivity is part of our job as leaders when we lead virtual meetings. Depending on the size of your virtual team meetings and the platform you use, there are many ways you could invite connection and participation, starting with our 6 Tips to Leading More Engaging Virtual Meetings.
14 Ways on How to Improve Virtual Meetings
One of the six tips on how to improve virtual meetings from that post is ‘creating as many opportunities for speaking and interacting as possible’.
The following is an expansion of that point with more ideas (14 awesome ways) to create as much interaction as possible in your virtual meetings to move from passive to engaging interaction and participation.
1. Set the tone with your invitation or teaser
Right from the very first moment that you are sending the Zoom link to your meeting participants or asking them to put the date and time into their calendar, invite full participation!
State your goal for the meeting as wanting each person to be able to have a sense of ownership, voice, and/or contribute, not just as an observer. If possible, send out a short teaser video giving them a taste of how that might happen.
We recently worked with a client who asked us for a few details and pictures of what would happen in the upcoming virtual team building program that they had booked with us. They then used the information and pictures we shared with them to create a 30 sec teaser presentation that invited each person to the purpose, how their participation mattered, and to the fun!
Connecting people to the WHY, to the purpose of the meeting helps people to see that there is a good reason to participate. We were so inspired, that we are now working on creating our own teaser videos for each program.
2. The power of icebreakers!
Another way to improve virtual meetings are icebreakers! When done well, icebreakers literally do break the ice and loosen people up. They help to set the tone of engagement. As well, a good virtual icebreaker will interrupt any distractions and bring people into their fully awake and alert ‘beta brains’
One way to facilitate ownership and engagement is to assign a different person to facilitate an icebreaker of their choice at various points in a meeting or at the beginning. Check out these Zoom Icebreaker tips to get some ideas.
We definitely suggest practicing and making sure the presenter is familiar with the virtual tools they need to use, be able to answer common questions, and be very clear in their directives so participants have an easy time understanding how they can participate.
3. Have a co-facilitator
If you have a small meeting, its not necessary, but if you are leading or facilitating a meeting of 20 or more, have a co-facilitator. The co-facilitator can not only be another voice but can also act as a producer of sorts.
The co-facilitator can monitor the chat, let people in from the waiting room, set up and send people into breakout rooms, put up polls and generally allow the main voice to pay attention to what is most important – engaging the participants!
4. Mix up your media modes of communication
If your entire meeting is a one-way presentation of slides and talking at or to the meeting participants, you’ll have a short window of opportunity that people will be able to stay engaged, no matter how important the information. Think of your meeting in five to ten minute increments.
Every five or ten minutes, change the mode of communication in order to keep people engaged. Different tools invite more or different ways for participants to engage. Being deliberate and purposeful about mixing it up will interrupt our natural tendency to fall into alpha or sleep mode.
The following (numbers 5-14) are some tools you can use to mix up your media modes and additional ways on how to improve virtual team meetings.
Not all virtual team meetings platforms have a polling option, but you could create something on TriviaMaker and other trivia websites to share ways for participants to vote or even for a fun break.
It could be used as a way to vote on important agenda items and it can be used as a light hearted break. Questions such as if the weather reflected your energy coming into this meeting, what would it be?
Having poll options such as sunny, stormy, or cloudy with a chance of meatballs is a lighthearted question, but also a way to gauge the energy of the group. Trivia can be specific to the topic of the meeting, or a break from content to re-engage participation if lagging.
6. Breakout Rooms
This is a personal favourite, especially in a large meetings. It is challenging to invite participation in a large meeting and it is easy to hide in a zoom crowd.
Creating breakout discussions or activities is a way where everyone has a place to voice their thoughts and ideas and talk and participate with a smaller group of colleagues.
Every person feels seen in a breakout as opposed to possibly being on the 5th screen of a large meeting where it doesn’t really matter if my video and audio are off.
This is a Zoom feature, so if you’re using other platforms, you’ll need to investigate what the options are. Stamps and text answers can be a way to ask for interaction in a large group.
Information can be gathered at the same time from the whole group and everyone can see each other’s responses. For example, you could ask the group to annotate text one word to describe the culture of the organization or the team.
This can be a blank slide with the question on your slide deck. By directing the group on how to use their annotate, participants can enter their thoughts right onto the slide presentation.
A screenshot of the responses can be taken as a way to capture the words. Annotate can be used as a measuring tool and a way for all participants to engage.
This is one tool that we suggest that the presenter is very familiar with themselves and is clearly able to walk people through how to use it. In our experience, it is a tool that at least some in your group will likely not know how to use.
In some groups, it can be a challenge to get the annotate artists to stop once they know how to draw and stamp on your presentations. But there are ways to turn that option off if you need to use it. 😊
8. Chat/ Waterfall Chat
A chat can be a great way to input questions in a large meeting and the presenter can ask a question and ask for responses in the chat.
One way to get individualized and non ‘group think’ responses is to give people a few seconds to type their answer in but tell them to wait for your cue to hit enter. If the whole group submits at the same time, it becomes a waterfall of responses and prevents people from just saying ditto or changing their answer to fit in with other people’s answers. Chats can be captured by the host as a way to capture information.
9. Brainstorming tools such as Whiteboards or IdeaBoardz
Create a question board, share the link or screen, and get sticky note or annotation text contribution ideas from everyone.
This is a great way to open a meeting, leave a question up over the break, and is a way people can contribute ideas, vote or like other people’s ideas, and participate. IdeaBoardz is like using a sticky note voting or idea brainstorm that everyone can see just as if you were in a room together.
10. Check Ins
Pause to get a thumbs up, down or neutral on how the meeting is going. You can do this by poll as well. If you see a fair number of neutral thumbs or thumbs down, ask for ideas on how to make it better right in the moment.
11. Show a video
Change up the voice by illustrating a point by showing a quick video. If the video clip is relevant and short, the change in pace and voice is enough to interrupt someone who is having a difficult time staying focused.
Pause presentation to ask a question or ask for comments. Don’t put people on the spot without warning by asking someone in particular if they have a comment or question, but perhaps frontload by telling the group that for the next five minutes there will some information sharing and then you will be looking for individuals to ask questions or comment on what was presented.
It gives people a chance to think about what they might say and invites them to stay with the presentation by thinking about what they might say.
13. Screenshare off and on
People will lose focus if you have a straight hour of sharing a presentation screen. You need to change it up! Turn off screen share if you ask a question and take breaks from presenting along with a slide deck.
Allowing people the chance to see more of their colleagues when in gallery view without a shared screen is a nice change from always presenting.
14. Kick it old school with paper note taking or workbooks
Encourage people to take notes with an actual pen and paper. If it is a learning session, provide a paper copy of key points and leave room for insights, comments, questions or next steps.
We could all take notes on our computers but having more things open on our screens is a temptation for distraction. Writing notes with a pen and paper is a tactile way for the brain to stay engaged and focused.
We all want the meetings we lead and participate in to be as engaging as possible. We retain more information as well as enjoy meetings more when we are engaged.
Even breaking up your content with a great virtual team building program is a way to create anticipation and fun and vary the delivery.
Do you have any ideas on how to improve virtual meetings? We’re all ears!
We’re Here to Help!
If learning, leadership development and soft skills building is on the agenda, we can work with you to create a custom virtual training workshop. And if you want a motivational or inspirational keynote, we have a couple of great options. We hope that you find this post useful in planning your virtual meetings and invite you to connect with us. We’re happy to have a conversation and send a free proposal. Happy planning!