Hopefully, one of the positive effects of remote working is that meetings have been pared back to what’s strictly necessary. This has probably helped everyone’s productivity. But there are still plenty of meetings going on (judging by the number of Zoom fatigue posts and articles doing the rounds).
And we shouldn’t forget that meetings sometimes have a value beyond their immediate purpose in helping to build team cohesion and identity. This often comes out of the small talk and casual asides, both of which can become casualties in the world of online meetings.
It’s also harder to make spontaneous interjections when it involves unmuting or catching the eye of the chair from your tiny corner of their screen. Meetings risk becoming a more passive experience for many participants.
So here are a few tips that might help everyone feel more engaged, and make meetings more productive and maybe even enjoyable.
Try to Shake Things Up
The normal approach is to have a conventional structure: here’s the agenda, here’s who’s taking the lead on each item, chip in if you have any comments. Is that the best way to get everyone’s input in an online meeting?
Why not be creative and look for opportunities to get people to speak or participate in some other way? Maybe circulate questions in advance and ask for verbal feedback on these during the session. This could stimulate debate and interaction and get more ideas and different perspectives out on the virtual table. Participants will be more actively engaged with the subject matter.
Keep tabs on the time though. This type of exercise can easily run away with you if you’re not careful. When I use this approach I explicitly set a time range for the discussion. Don’t be afraid to let it run on for a couple of minutes though (if the content is very good), or cut it short if things look to be drying up. Better to end on a high and cut it short before it loses its momentum.
Try to summarize what was said and by who. People will definitely stay engaged if you set yourself a challenge to accurately summarise their input. It also recognises their input – and who doesn’t enjoy that!
Get Slides Off the Screen Quickly
It’s likely that you’ll have to do a bit of screen sharing to show slides and visuals. Leaving these on the screen when they’re not needed can cause engagement levels to drop off. Get them off ‘shared screen’ as early as possible and let people see one another again. You can always flash the visuals back up again if somebody wants to pick up on a particular detail.
It’s important to guard against people disengaging and getting distracted by doing another task (like checking email or social media) when they think they’re out of sight or if that part of the meeting doesn’t interest them.
More positively, having faces rather than slides on the screen helps improve engagement with one another. That is especially important in these times of so much social isolation and home working.
If slides or other visuals must be shown for a significant portion of the time then try to make them more engaging. One of the easiest ways is to ‘build’ them so that when your key message changes so do the slides. Of course this is good practice in any situation, and is particularly important when working remotely.
Another great way to keep people engaged is to ask them to pose questions to one another about themselves or the topic being presented (whichever is most relevant). You could even set up a couple of quizzes or polls.
Explicitly ask people for their thoughts, rather than waiting for them to offer opinions. You should only do this if you know they will feel safe to be explicitly asked. By exploring thoughts and opinions everyone learns something. This could potentially help identify where to focus your next session or the remaining time within the existing one.
My final tip: keep it short. In my experience 30-45 mins is the optimum length. Any longer and you should think about a break so that people can rejoin the conversation feeling refreshed.
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