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Five ways to get everyone to contribute in a virtual meeting

“You cut out, can you repeat that” – we hear these words daily at the moment and we know too often mean “I was typing another email and wasn’t listening”. “Sorry, I’m late” translates to “the kids wouldn’t stop fighting and I have been a wrestling referee for the last 20 minutes”. And “Sorry, I was on mute” from those who have quite frankly switched off and have other distractions around them. Whilst it is a time of patience and forbearance, we all need to muster through these strange times in the best way. But we can also maximise the productivity of virtual meetings.

When home and office worlds collide, how can we get full team engagement in our virtual meetings?

The number of Zoom calls we are attending has escalated. We barely get enough time to make a coffee before the next one starts, and it seems that we are spending the majority of our day in virtual meetings, but still wondering what we have done with our day.

So, the first thing we need to ask, “Is there a good reason to hold your meeting in order for those attending to show up fully engaged?”.

There are four broad reasons to hold a meeting:

  • to influence others
  • to make decisions
  • to solve problems
  • to strengthen relationships

The Three D's.

Since all of these are active processes, passive passengers in a meeting rarely do any quality work other than listen. It starts to become didactic, disengaging and distracting. So how can we improve meeting engagement?

Here are some tips that may help when you next host your meeting:

1. The 60-second rule.

First, share the problem early on.

I would never recommend that you engage a group in solving a problem until the members have actually felt the problem.
What could you do in the first 60 seconds of the meeting to help your participants to experience it and become engaged early on? You could share shocking or provocative statistics, bring anecdotes, or analogies that highlight the problem. For example, you could share a statistic showing competitors sales that provokes a sense of challenge within the group. You could share an anecdote about a frustrated customer who has complained because the team failed to offer a great service. You could just share an overview of the outcome you need from the meeting.

No matter what tactic you use, your goal is to make sure the groups empathetically understand the problem (or opportunity) before you try to solve it. Have your group take personal responsibility for the meeting content and their contribution and set your expectations.

2. The responsibility rule.

Part of our human behaviour is determining our role and it is no different when we enter an online meeting, conference call, or any social setting for that matter.

For example, when we enter a cinema, we unconsciously define our role as an observer — we are there to be entertained. When we go to the gym, we are there to work out. The biggest threat to engagement in virtual meetings is allowing ourselves or our team to unconsciously take the role of observer.
How many times have you accepted a meeting invitation and accepted without really understanding your role in the meeting? It’s the same thing. We willingly accept the role as observer when we do this.

To counteract this implicit decision, create an experience of shared responsibility early on, (and possibly even screen sharing if the meeting content allows).

I wouldn’t recommend that you do this by saying, “Okay, I want this to be a conversation, not a presentation. I need all of you to be involved.” Because that won’t work, nor win you a captive audience. Instead, create an opportunity for your participants to take meaningful responsibility. This is best done using the nowhere to hide rule.

3. Diffusion of responsibility.

Diffusion of responsibility is the social psychology phenomenon that individuals are less likely to take action when a larger number of people are present. Sometimes referred to as the “bystander effect,”. Diffusion of responsibility occurs when an individual assumes that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so.
So, for example, let’s say you’re driving down the road and notice that there is a small fire on the side of the road. Research suggests that you might think to yourself that it seems dangerous. However, you notice there are dozens or hundreds of other drivers who have seen the fire and you think that surely someone else will have reported the fire and you drive on without reporting it.

If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible.

So in your next video conference, and to ensure the bystander effect give your remote team tasks that they can actively engage in, in real time, so there is nowhere to hide. When you define the problem in the first 60 seconds, assign people to groups of two or three (max) and give them a medium with which to communicate with one another (Slack, Teams, Whatsapp or even the breakout rooms in Zoom).
A good idea would be to give team members a very limited time frame to take on a brief task. For example, three minutes into your presentation, you could say something like, “The next slide shows who your partner will be. I want you to take two minutes in your breakout group to identify a possible solution to the problem; brainstorm the response we could give to the frustrated customer both internally and externally. Identify a process that we need to refresh”.

Next, you could ask everyone to type their answers into the chat pod, and/or call on one or two to share their example over the phone.

4. Minimum Viable Powerpoint

Can you recall the last meeting you attended where the slides were busy and crammed, the slides all looked the same, more words than images and the slides just kept coming? Disengaging right? So how can you create a successful virtual meeting?

So, remember that feeling as you build your army of slides and try to use them as a visual aid instead of a visual assault of mind-numbing data organised in endless bullet points. To encourage engagement, you must use a blend of visuals and stories as well as facts.

What is your minimum viable deck to make your point clearly and keep attention in the group? Don’t add any more than that. And the additional benefit is that your meeting then becomes a conversation, two way and you aren’t led by “I need to get through all of my slides”. Take your time, don’t rush and ensure everyone is with you.

5. Five minutes.

Keep momentum and keep attention by giving your group more problems to solve or more ideas to generate. At the moment we are in rooms of our houses filled with distractions, children popping in and postmen knocking. It is important to sustain involvement and set expectations of doing so then you risk losing your participants back into the role of observer, and you’ll have to work hard to bring them back.

Create 2-3 opportunities to keep your audience with you. We find polls work well (as well as generating insights on how the audience think or fell about an issue that you could use later on), create smaller groups with break out rooms, use the virtual white board and even the chat function so you determine your audience opinions and ideas.

Communication is not always about the words we use but how we ensure the powerful two-way conversations. Some of us are feeling a little disconnected and by bringing people together in meaningful meetings we stand to benefit so much more as teams and partnerships, improving the relationships with our customers and stakeholders.

Following these five tips will hopefully change and dramatically improve the productivity of any virtual gathering. And should you need any more guidance we would be happy to help. Email us at hello@greybearconsutancy.co.uk for ways to keep your powerful conversations going and delivering results.

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Emma Clayton

Emma Clayton

Emma has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 22 years across sales, marketing and communications, and has been part of some of the largest blockbuster product launches over the years.

Emma has a huge passion for the NHS which is infectious and has been instrumental and a leader for some world class medical education programmes, that not only improve lives but improve efficiencies and value to the NHS.

Connect with Emma on LinkedIn or at emma@greybearconsultancy.co.uk

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