Four real tips for better virtual meetings

Aug 4, 2020

Here is a safe bet: You have led more virtual meetings in the past few months than in the prior year. Maybe it has gone from one a month to one a week. Or from one a week to one a day. Or many each day. Virtual meetings are on the rise for everyone, so what can we do to make them better?

Remember the Basics

Even though it's virtual, it's still a meeting. So advice about better meetings still applies, and is even more important because virtual meetings can be more challenging. What are those basics?

  • Have a clear agenda and share context in advance.
  • Make sure you can set up and join meetings quickly so they start on time.
  • Make sure the right people are invited.
  • Confirm the purpose and desired outcome with the participants at the start of the meeting.
  • Manage the time to meet your goals.
  • Minimize tangential conversations. Should it be the topic of a different meeting? Or should you just call everyone back to the task at hand?

Appeal to the Eyes

What is missing when your meeting goes online? While your ears are still busy, there is much less for your eyes to do.

Seeing faces improves the quality of communication, but turning cameras on can be either a big help or a big distraction. We've all seen the unexpected visitors. Kids, pets, and partners in the background help us build a more human connection but also distract us.

If you do turn on your camera, remember you can show more than your face. Gestures – a thumbs up, a maybe-maybe-not hand wobble, a slightly exaggerated shrug – can allow you to project a reaction to an idea faster than weighing in with a “Yes, sounds good to me” or “I'm not so sure.”

Or consider a different, equally powerful visual component – the screen share. No, not death by presentation. How about note taking? Either the meeting leader or a participant can simply open a document and start taking notes to give everyone something to fix their eyes on.

Doing this means that everyone knows their input has been heard, because they see it entered in the meeting record. If something besides the meeting needs your attention for a bit, the presented notes allow you to easily review what you missed or half-heard in the background. And sharing the notes after the meeting can serve as a useful reference when you are taking care of your follow-up tasks.

If you do need to share a lengthy presentation or a complex document, send it over email before the meeting in case connectivity issues mean you must conduct your meeting in audio only.

Leverage Chat

Video conferencing platforms change how we have conversations. They filter out many of the cues we use to take turns and ensure that only one person talks at a time. These factors push meetings toward each speaker talking for longer in each turn. So how can we create something like brainstorming or a freewheeling riff on a theme or important issue? How can we generate a lot of ideas quickly?

The chat or instant message feature can be your friend here. First, the meeting leader needs to pose a very clear and specific question. After teeing it up verbally, write a short version in the chat area. Ask everyone to type their idea into the chat box. The meeting host then reads out each idea as it appears in the chat window.

Reading the chat out loud might feel artificial at first, but it allows all the other participants to keep their eyes fixed on what they are typing with the confidence that they won't miss anything because the host is sharing others' comments. Because each chat entry might be only a few words, you might need to ask people to clarify what they mean when the chat messages stop coming in, but this kind of “chat storm” creates a lot of engagement quickly.

Back to Basics: Call to Action

For some reason, virtual meetings most often miss out on the most important basic – the call to action. Perhaps because we can't use non-verbal signaling to assign or accept tasks, you must give a little extra attention to clarify who is responsible for action items, and agree on a timeline for follow-up.

Many virtual meetings done. Many more to come. Why don't you share with us your favorite tool or tip? Drop us an email at