Virtual Meetings: Making Them Productive and Engaging

How do you lead an effective virtual meeting and draw people in to participate?

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Best practices for leading virtual meetings

Here's what you need to know:

  • Limit disruptions like overscheduling
  • Ask yourself important questions, such as “What are the most important things we want to talk about?”
  • Facilitate for virtual engagement like body language, participant interaction, and virtual accessibility
  • Be conscious of time zones and outside noise

As the world has become more accustomed to working from home, many best practices have emerged to help you maintain the quality of your meetings when running them over a video conference (so you don’t need to feel like this anymore!).

While companies are transitioning to work from home, they now have an opportunity to re-evaluate how they are doing meetings, and create new processes to accommodate this new form of work. If you want to make the most of your virtual meetings, here are a few points to consider.

Disruptions caused by meetings

According to Harvard Business Review, 65% of managers report that their meetings are unproductive and prevent them from doing deep work. One of the great things about working from home is that it allows people freedom to do deep work, without physical interruptions from colleagues. However, this deep work can get easily interrupted when we’re scheduled into a slew of meetings.

Meetings are meant to be a collaborative time to align on ideas, brainstorm, and share information. If you’re inviting someone into the meeting who won’t be able to contribute in those ways, consider giving them their time back so they can be productive in their own work.

Another way to combat the over-scheduling of meetings is to limit the amount of participants allowed in each virtual meeting. Microsoft tried this out when they experimented with a 4-day work week. They limited their meetings to 30 minutes and capped the participation at 5 people. This actually helped them reduce their meeting time while increasing productivity by 40%.

According to Harvard Business Review, 65% of managers report that their meetings are unproductive and prevent them from doing deep work.

Questions to ask yourself

To keep things productive and manage disruptions, whether your meeting is in person or happening virtually, always ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Why am I scheduling this meeting and what do I need to accomplish by the time it’s done?”
  • “What are the most important things we want to talk about?”
  • “Can you replace this meeting with an email or a Google document?”

Facilitate for virtual engagement

There are certain nuances involved when communicating through video chat. These include:

Body language

Body language cues can be hard to read when you’re not face-to-face and even harder to read when you have poor WiFi connectivity over video chat. Because of this, it’s extremely important to encourage people to turn on their video and audio during meetings.

Dess Woods, Chief People Officer at ThoughtExchange says to imagine you were sitting in a face-to-face meeting and you had your eyes closed and ears covered. You would never do that in person, and covering your camera and sitting muted is the equivalent.

If translating communication from in person to video causes any difficulty, try to first assume positive intent from the people you’re interacting with as to not create any hostility.

Participant interaction

When leading a meeting virtually you’ll need to switch from meeting leader to meeting facilitator and think of new ways to foster dialogue. Draw people in to participate and figure out how each person can contribute and collaborate in more meaningful ways.

Some small examples include:

  • Using the meeting’s chat function to ask questions
  • Inserting polls into the meeting
  • Sharing funny GIFs and memes to warm people up

Another way to drive engagement as the facilitator is to invite each person in the meeting to share their unique ideas and speak. To be inclusive means that everyone must have the opportunity to be heard, and this can be even harder to accomplish over video chat. It will require extra effort by the meeting facilitator.

Virtual accessibility

When leading meetings virtually, consider accessibility for people who may need accommodations. One thing you can easily do is enable your closed caption to make it easier for people to follow along.

You can also record the meeting (with people’s consent, of course!) so anyone who needs extra time to catch up and rewatch certain parts can do so at their own speed.

Finally, whenever you give verbal instruction in a meeting, make sure to post the written instructions on screen and share documents beforehand so participants can follow along.

Nitty-gritty of video conference

Once you’ve covered the principles of virtual meetings, you can move on to the nitty gritty details of making this work.


Always schedule meetings with a time zone converter on hand to respect the potentially different geographic areas of your team. This shows you’re mindful of their schedules.

If your office typically ends their workday later than another office, try not to be the person who makes them work past their regular hours.

Managing the outside noise

Another detail to manage is the outside noise. If you’re leading a meeting, encourage everyone to put themselves on mute while they are not speaking so you don’t hear what’s happening in their background.

You’re already competing against many resources so do yourself a favor and mute all your notifications, too.

Remember, time spent in meetings equals resources that you and your team could use elsewhere, so use that time wisely.

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