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Virtual Team Meetings: 6 Tips to Make Them Engaging

Zoom Fatigue Has Set In. Virtual Team Meetings Are Putting Us To Sleep!

6 tips for hosting engaging virtual team meetings

For many people, work lives take place on a screen and virtual meetings are on a gallery view grid. We’ve likely all been in virtual team meetings where one person is talking the whole time and continuously sharing their screen. Be honest, where was your attention? Were you fully engaged? 

Passivity, disengagement, and exhaustion are our virtual reality at work as we remain in the same chair, eyes looking at the same screen, with our mute buttons on. When people talk about Zoom burnout, I think what they mean is bad Zoom meetings are exhausting. And they are! 

But your virtual team meetings don’t have to be this way! You can foster a higher level of engagement and connection virtually, but first we need to understand our engrained relationships to our screens and how to change it in order to create engaging online team meetings.

We Are Used To Being Entertained By Our Screens  … But

Long before COVID-19 changed the way we work, we already had deeply ingrained relationships and patterns of behaviour with our screens. This Forbes article asserts that our “deep training” with our screens is an engrained “passive relationship”. 

Netflix, youTube, Facebook and more are there to entertain us and they do not require our participation, just our consumption. If we’re bored, we move on to something else that will capture our attention.

It would be difficult to expect anything different other than passive participation if we don’t create an environment that changes the screen relationship. In many cases, we are required to be at a company Zoom meeting, but we are not required to participate. 

It is no wonder you might feel like you need a nap or easily distracted by tasks online while only half listening to the meeting. We are programmed to be entertained by our screens. 

How Do We Change The Relationship We Have With Our Screens? 

If you want the people in your meeting to be as engaged as when they’re binge watching the Queen’s Gambit, we need to change how people interact with their screens. We need to move people from being screen consumers and passive participants to being an active participant with their screen and the people in the meeting.

We need to invite more participation, more variety, more voices, more fun, more movement, and more responsibility into the conversation to keep people engaged virtually. 

Often the size of the meeting will dictate what is and is not possible. The larger the meeting, the harder it is to create a sense of participation with the group…but it is not impossible with a little creativity.

Try These Virtual Team Meetings Tips

Here are six tips to planning engaging virtual team meetings or conferences that can help you go from passive to active participation.

1. Invite Expectations Ahead Of Time

Be invitational about what attendees should come prepared for, but don’t make it mandatory. 

  • Will they be asked to answer questions, or contribute in breakouts? 
  • Should they try as best as possible to find a quiet space with the ability to close the door?
  • Will they want to bring anything with them to take notes? Is there an opening question that you want to give them time to think about? 
  • What kind of screen should they log on from? Is a phone or tablet adequate? Or is a laptop or desktop best?  

Give them an indication about how you’d like to invite their participation. 

2. Audio On

In the spirit of invitation, ask ahead of the meeting for people to try to keep their audio on. As long as a child isn’t screaming, a dog isn’t barking, or background noise isn’t being picked up by their mic, ask people to leave mics on. 

This requires virtual team members to pay attention to how their environment may be interjecting into the meeting, but it also allows for audio cues for all people to hear a laugh, a sigh, murmurs of agreement or disagreement, allows for quick questions, or any other two-way communication to happen more naturally. (sidenote: it also picks up if someone is typing away on an email.)

3. Video Screens On

I’m sure we’ve all been a part of meetings where most people had their video screens off. It can be so hard to know how any communication is landing if we can’t see or hear the people we’re talking with. 

If bandwidth allows for it, invite participants to stay on screen as much as possible. Virtual backgrounds can cover over a multitude of not ideal spaces that some are working from.

4. Create As Many Opportunities For Speaking and Interacting As Possible 

Depending on the size of your virtual team meetings and the meeting platform you use, there are many different ways you could invite connection and participation, but the main point is that you want to change the mode of communication often and invite participation from as many people as possible as often as possible. 

If you look at your agenda and most of it involves very few people speaking with a slide deck with few or no places for people to participate, you probably are not planning an engaging meeting – no matter how interesting the content. 

Break up your important content with many different styles and ways for people to interact and engage. Don’t just use the tools because they are available but think about what will help your audience and group to gain a sense of ownership, voice, and/or contribution to the meeting. 

Here are eight different ways that participants can interact: 

  • Polls/Trivia – 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. 
  • Breakout Rooms – A personal favourite, especially in a large meeting is to have breakout rooms where everyone has a place to voice their thoughts and ideas and connect with a smaller group of colleagues to answer a question or brainstorm ideas.
  • Annotate – Stamps and text answers can be a way to interact although it can be a challenge to get the annotate artists to stop. There are ways to turn that option off if you have trouble getting participants to stop.
  • 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 responses is to give people a few seconds to type their answer in but wait for your cue to hit enter. If the whole group submits at the same time, it becomes a waterfall of responses and prevents group think. Chats can be captured by the host.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Questions/Comments – Pause presentation to ask a question or ask for comments.
  • Screen share off and on – change it up. Go back and forth sharing a screen and being able to see more people. 

5. Make it Fun!

Just because there is important business content to present or discuss does not mean you need to take the fun out of it. Movement is still important even in a virtual setting. 

Ask people to turn their video off and give them 30 seconds to do as many sit ups or push ups as possible or at least get out of their chair and do a big stretch. 

Ask a ‘just for fun’ trivia question, ask people to find an item that they can show on screen that tells us a bit about who they are. 

Connection, participation, and being seen and known is as important as the content if you want to engage people.

6. Soft “Unofficial” Start

I’m sure we’ve all experienced an online meeting where you log in 2 minutes before the official start time, and its 6 or 7 minutes later before the actual meeting starts as you wait for everyone to get there. 

The time before the meeting starts is sometimes awkward online. In person, there would be lots of smaller conversations and connection happening but that is less natural to do in a virtual setting. 

Start 5 minutes before the meeting having some great music playing, and have a question or activity for people to engage with and connect with you and each other during that waiting time. 

It not only allows some grace for those that arrive a few minutes late but gives an important opportunity for connection before the meeting begins. 

Engagement in a virtual meetings requires us to change our relationships with our screens from consumers to participants. 

If we are going to ask for participation, being deliberate and intentional about mixing up ways to participate will take the meeting from passive to active. 

We’re Here to Help!

As always, we’re here to help! Sometimes you know the content you need to share in your meeting, and you want to let the engagement experts take care of the rest. We have some great virtual team building options now, with more on the way. 

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 the 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!

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