Back-to-Back Virtual Meetings Can Be Mind-Numbing. Even if you've issued the agenda and assigned pre-work ahead of time, it's hard to control distractions and people zoning out.
Aaah the days of face-to-face meetings -- you get to catch-up with everyone at breaks, bounce ideas off each other, engage in lively debates, and wrap it all up with well-deserved high-fives at the end of a productive meeting.
Yes, in-person meetings are hard to beat. But we'll make the case that virtual meetings can be just as, if not more productive and engaging as face-to-face meetings.
Here are 20 of our favourite tools for high-stakes virtual meetings. Pick the ones best suited to your particular meeting objectives and we guarantee, you’ll get stronger participation and better outputs.
# 1: Do A Virtual Check-In
Make time for this. It replaces the 'hello, smile, quick chat' people get prior to starting in-person meetings. The tendency for online meetings is to dive right in but sometimes, the flow feels a little off.
More than just a warm-up, even a quick virtual check-in helps people stay present and sets expectations for them to contribute. Most importantly, it connects individuals to others, something we need more than ever these days.
How it works: Do a round table check-in. Our go-to question: Give me one word or phrase that describes how you're feeling right now, at this moment. Then, post this question plus everyone's first names in the chat. Sharing is done based on the name order (prep this ahead of time to cut/ paste into the chat).
Note: Ideally this is a video exercise but if time-constrained, people can post answers in the chat.
Outcome: A better understanding of attendees’ state of mind. It will vary from 'SO excited for this meeting!' to 'I can’t keep my eyes open... 2-year-old was up ALL night'.
# 2: Request Video To Be ON
This is really helpful for high-stakes meetings. It helps people stay present and pick up on those visual cues. Issue Virtual Ground Rules ahead of time so people can put their makeup on or change out of their PJs. Access a full list of Virtual Ground Rules here.
# 3: Encourage Chat
It's an easy way to drive interaction.
How it works: Post the question in the chat and ask them to answer in the chat. For example:
Icebreaker: 'Who's your favourite Marvel superhero?'
Ideation: What are all the ways we could...[name the challenge]?'
Feedback: 'Post any builds on Sally's draft marketing plan'.
Personal: 'Is it time for a break yet? I'm tired.'
Voila! You'll receive LOTS of inputs in a short span of time.
# 4: Draw the Challenge
Drawing elicits unconscious thoughts. The act of drawing helps people express things that are hard to articulate with words. An added benefit: It gets people's right side of the brain moving.
How it works: Ask them to individually draw what they believe is the biggest challenge they’re facing regarding [insert topic here]. That's right - take out a blank piece of paper and DRAW the challenge. Each person then showcases their drawing via video with a short explanation of their masterpiece.
Outcome: A jumpstart to great conversations. Note: We’ve used this successfully in many strategy workshops. The visuals serve as powerful reminders of critical challenge areas.
# 5: Shorter Is Better
What’s typically a full-day face-to-face meeting doesn’t necessarily translate to a full-day virtual meeting. Break it up into shorter ones. Rule of thumb: no more than 2 to 4 hours a day.
# 6: Call On People By Name
Get more personal and grab their attention.
# 7: Utilize Virtual Collaboration Tools
Technology is always changing but in the spirit of making tough choices, these are our favourites today:
Communication Platforms: Zoom (Zoom is not permitted in all companies so here are alternatives: Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex)
Collaboration Platforms: MURAL (Other Alternatives: Miro, Trello, Stormboard, Shared Docs like Google Docs)
Outcome: A collaborative meeting deemed productive, efficient, and engaging
"I like this even better than stickies"-Head of Innovation, CPG Foods company after a virtual innovation workshop using MURAL
# 8: Put People In Breakout Rooms
Breakout Rooms allow for individual contribution. Otherwise, people can zone out. Do a 2-minute breakout for 1-to-1 interaction. Or, plan a 20-minute breakout so smaller teams can work on something substantial (i.e. work that never gets done due to back-to-back virtual meetings 🤔).
# 9: Use Emoji's
Who doesn't love emojis? We don't always come across the way we would like on video. Give people permission to express themselves using all the tools available. 🤔 👍 😜 ❤️ 😉
# 10: And...Reactions
Another reason we ❤ zoom. 👏👍
# 11: Be Clear on How to 'Raise Hands'
This helps minimize interruptions. If you don't have the 'raise hands' feature, ask people to send a direct chat to you. Or, ask them to literally raise their hand on video.
# 12: Keep the Conversation Flowing
Encourage people to be brief. For example, you could establish a 2-minute max speaking time when you're in 'discussion' mode. Use the Virtual Parking Lot if discussions are off-topic.
# 13: Break the Pattern: Mix Things Up
The meeting should be structured to avoid too much repetition. Create an agenda that mixes up the discussion format. For instance, after a presentation, block time for discussion & debate, or after serious work, plan a fun work activity. Here are some other ideas:
Mix up ways to respond alternating between text, images, or video
Mix up participation modes by alternating between live video, chat, or reaction icons
# 14: Play Some Music
If appropriate, play some music. Play energizing music at the start of the meeting and/or during 5-minute breaks. For individual think-time, we like instrumental music like Vitamin String Quartet.
# 15: Take a 1-Minute Stretch Break
Get those bodies moving. Lead everyone in a few stretches. Physical impacts mental.
# 16: Or, A Mental Energizer
Lots of options on Google. Here’s a fun one: show visuals of different time periods on a slide (e.g. prehistoric, the roaring 20's, 60’s hippie era, 80’s disco era, Backstreet Boys era). Ask people to pick the time period they’d like to experience for a day.
# 17: Put Up A Poll
Polls are handy when you have 10+ attendees. Use a 5-point agreement scale on a decision, level of excitement, or the need for a bathroom break.
# 18: Do a Virtual Check-In at the End
Gauge how people are feeling about what was or was not accomplished. If you run out of time, have them post it in the chat.
# 19: Surprise & Delight: Give a Gift
End at least 5 minutes early. Everyone loves the gift of time.
# 20: Have FUN!
Goes without saying...It’s all about mindset.
In A Nutshell...
Running engaging, productive virtual meetings takes more work than face-to-face...but it's worth the effort. We hope some of these tips will add more oomph to your virtual meetings. What additional tips can you share that have worked well for you?
If you’d like a free 1-page PDF of Virtual Ground Rules, please click here.