With many companies continuing partial or fully remote operations, virtual meetings will remain the standard for many professionals for the foreseeable future. While virtual meetings are an essential tool for distributed teams, they also run the risk of being less engaging than in-person interactions. It’s easy for team members to start tuning out — especially if they’ve had a few back-to-back meetings.
We asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust to share their best strategies for leaders looking to make their virtual meetups more engaging and interactive. Their top tips are below.
1. Ask for help with an unresolved issue.
Choose an unresolved issue that everyone seems to have an opinion on. Announce this as the agenda in advance, and make it clear that you are soliciting their advice to help resolve the problem and improve their work environment. Have an attendance list handy and know who you will be calling on for participation. – Michael Videira, STRAC Institute
2. Ensure everyone comes prepared to contribute.
Always provide the mic to each team member and ask them to come prepared to contribute. If they are called upon to speak, they’ll be alert and ready in anticipation. The leadership should establish a culture of collaboration and set the expectations. We require all team members to have their cameras on so we can see each other and connect. We want to hear from each person because we value their opinions. – Zee Ali, Z-Swag
3. Give as many people as possible a voice.
No one likes being lectured to. Try giving as many people as possible a role in the meeting or giving each person a chance to provide feedback. That variety increases engagement as well as retention and helps everyone feel like they have a voice in company matters. Finally, don’t underestimate a little icebreaker to kick things off and lighten the mood! – Angela Hurt, Veracity Consulting
4. Require video presence.
One of the easiest things to do is make sure that everyone has their video on so they are engaged in the discussion and are not multitasking. You can also ask for people to type answers to questions in the chat so they interact with others. Putting people into breakout sessions is great as well. – Jonathan Keyser, Keyser
5. Treat them like discussions, not presentations.
Talking less and listening more is a great way to engage employees. Treating virtual meetings less like a presentation and more like an active discussion will help to keep team members engaged. Come to the meetings looking for and expecting information and feedback rather than intending to primarily communicate directives. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology
6. Brush up on your meeting skills.
Virtual meetings are only as good as the people who are running them. The truth is some team leaders didn’t have good meeting skills before Covid-19 virtual meetings took off. If you want people to pay attention, get organized. Keep the meetings short and relevant to the topics. You can start by posting a meeting schedule, not deviating from it and keeping participants on topic. – Keith Woods, KB Woods Public Relations
7. Create opportunities for informal interaction.
If you know me, you know my passion is magic. Before every team meeting on Friday, I kick off our time together by performing an interactive magic trick for the team. I start off by explaining the trick and asking for team members to participate. Employees are able to engage with both leadership and other team members in an informal setting, allowing for a more enjoyable and engaging meeting. – William Balderaz, Futurety
8. Only invite the people who need to be there.
Make sure only people who need to attend the meeting are called. Ensure participants have a well-established role within the meeting — if they don’t, do not call them. After the meeting is over, treat it like any other task and assess participant performance, providing feedback on who did well and who did not. Include feedback on the level of engagement and why it’s important. – Samir Mokashi, Code Unlimited LLC
9. Talk less and listen more.
Involve all key players and have them report on work and identify issues. It keeps the leader of the meeting’s talking at a minimum — they help guide the agenda, prompt questions and pick individuals to answer, and they do less lecturing and less teaching in meetings. Spend most of the time solving problems. – Sherine Khalil, Valor Compounding Pharmacy
10. Involve your team throughout the meeting.
Involve and utilize your team members. During our monthly meetings, our director of employee engagement leads the entire virtual meeting while other members of the director team read and explain their appropriate sections. One thing we always begin the meeting with is our mission statement, which we like to showcase in a different engaging way each month, whether through a song, cameo or video. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group
11. Give everyone a role in the agenda.
Set an agenda and send it in advance. As part of the agenda, give everyone a predefined role or responsibility that requires some prep and some active participation in the meeting. This doesn’t have to be “busy work” or overbearing, but just enough to get everyone involved. And of course, publicly reward and praise everyone for their participation. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm
12. Encourage ideas and commentary.
Set the tone at the start of the meeting by indicating that all attendees are valued team members and are expected to engage. Open the floor to ideas and commentary as you go through topics. Randomly ask those not directly associated with that topic if they have questions or feedback. Encourage constructive collegial conflict and a good debate. Active participation is the key to great teams. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC
13. Share specific questions ahead of time.
Get everyone involved so that it’s not your monologue but a productive discussion. One way of doing it is by creating an agenda with specific questions for the members of your team and sharing it with everybody the day before your meeting. If you’re good at facilitating discussions, make sure you moderate the conversation to make sure everyone has a say. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
14. Leverage interactive meeting features.
Take advantage of Zoom’s functionality for polling and Emoji reactions. Keep meetings short and encourage interruptions and comments at any point. – Cody McLain, SupportNinja
15. Keep it interesting and fresh.
With new stressors in the mix, what worked last week or month may not work anymore in this virtual world. Keep changing up meetings by trying new starter questions, new surprise guests, and virtual lunch and learns. Try holding fewer video meetings in some weeks and using online chatting and engagement in other weeks. Bottom line: Keep it interesting and keep it fresh. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising