But how do you know who is engaged in online meetings?
Many of us have been using remote meetings for some time, while others have had to quickly ramp up in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
As we discussed the other day, there are essential tools that help you facilitate remote meetings. But how do you make sure everyone is following and participating?
Here are 9 ideas for keeping folks engaged during online meetings:
Don’t wait until five minutes before a meeting to set up your technology. If you’ve never used a platform, do a trial run with a friend or coworker in advance so you’re familiar with how it all works. What do you do if someone is disconnected? How do you mute? How do you share your screen? How does chatting work?
Give everyone else who is going to be involved ample time to prepare for the technology as well. Email participants the login details and a URL link to the platform so they can install software if applicable and test it all out on their end.
On the day you have an online meeting, run through everything at least 15 minutes early to test that everything is working (your audio, video and camera settings). If you want to use screen sharing, make sure that you have whatever you want to share open and ready – and other tabs closed in case you share other things inadvertently.
Pro tip: Hosting a video teleconference instead of an audio call not only ensures people are paying attention and not multitasking with their phones on mute, but it builds your team. Being able to see each other makes an online meeting much more personal than listening to a phone call.
Involve your participants in advance
It’s human nature that we feel more like getting involved if we have a say in something. If you can, find a way to get people participating before the meeting. You might do something serious and work related (like asking for your team to submit topics for discussion) or you could do something fun (like asking people to submit the craziest news story they’ve read recently — like this story of an astrophysicist who got magnets stuck up his nose trying to invent a coronavirus device). In these uncertain times especially we could use a little laughter!
Login before anyone else
It’s your meeting, so be a good host and log in a few minutes early to welcome people as they join the call. This way if you need to introduce participants, you can. You’re also there to handle any issues immediately if people have trouble joining, or reach out to stragglers who may have forgotten the start time.
Break the ice
You’re not meeting in the hallway before a meeting, so make sure your agenda starts with an icebreaker. It could be a simple check-in with everyone to see how things are going, or perhaps something fun and interesting like zany news stories. If you have people joining in from different time zones, consider having them share a favorite photo of where they live. Make the most of this opportunity to build connections and reassure your team during uncertain times.
Years ago we established meeting rules where I worked: Meetings had to have agendas with action items (there’s no need to hold a meeting just to have a meeting!). We also had a timekeeper and someone to take minutes so the chair could focus on running the meeting.
For an online meeting, consider delegating the role of tech support to another team member so that, as the leader, you can focus on chairing the meeting. Let someone else help with connectivity issues.
Another thing that’s helpful, particularly if it’s a large group, is to have someone else assigned to handle live chat if you’ve got that enabled for participants. This person can answer questions if people miss parts of the conversation or make sure you don’t miss important questions or comments. It can be very distracting (and difficult) to effectively lead a meeting while keeping an eye on live chat.
Remember that, depending on connectivity, some people may experience a lag in the connection. Talk slowly and clearly so that everyone can follow along and pause after you share important information so that everyone has a chance to absorb what you say.
As you work your way through the agenda, take time to poll the participants and see what everyone thinks. When you hold an online meeting, it helps to stop and ask if anyone has questions or concerns more deliberately than you would if you were around a boardroom table.
Planning an agenda that breaks up discussion points with graphics or visuals will also help to keep everyone interested. As we discussed in our last blog, you can use tools like Poll Everywhere to make discussions interesting and give you immediate feedback from everyone.
Focus, focus, focus
Long, rambling, multi-item meetings were probably the bane of your existence even before we moved to online meetings. Now, more than ever, try to keep meetings focused on one key topic whenever possible. Now is not the time to simply take the old rambling agenda from your weekly meetings in the boardroom and use it for your weekly teleconference. Try instead to narrow the topics, keep the meeting shorter than usual and help people to focus on what’s important.
Virtual meeting, real humans
While you should try to keep virtual meetings shorter than in-person meetings, there will undoubtedly be times when an online meeting still has to take a little longer than you would like. If your meeting inches past an hour, and you know you’re not ready to wrap things up, have a break. People might be fine with five minutes, or they might want 10-15 minutes to use the restroom or grab a drink. Check in and take the break they need.
Keep the conversation going
After the meeting, send out the slides you’ve shared, reminders of who has agreed to which action items, key takeaways from the discussion and ask for folks to share their feedback with you.
This helps to keep the momentum of your meeting going. Feedback will help you know if your participants had any issues or concerns with the online meeting so you can make the experience better and more inclusive for everyone going forward.
What has worked well to engage team members during online meetings? What could you do differently or better? What will you try with your next online meeting?
Next up: Why celebrating wins with your remote team is important.