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January 20, 2022
Virtual Meetings Depend on Leaders and Participants Alike
By Nancy Settle-Murphy

Nancy Settle-Murphy
Nancy Settle-Murphy

By now, everyone knows that virtual meetings differ significantly from face-to-face meetings—they’re more complex and challenging for all concerned—which means that virtual meeting success depends as much on how they’re designed and managed as they are on how attendees participate.

Tips for Virtual Meeting Leaders

  • Take time to learn how to conduct meetings. The absence of visual cues and the inability to discern the relative level of engagement makes leading great virtual meetings infinitely more complex and challenging. Shadow people whose virtual meetings expertise you admire, and then ask them questions to find out more. Brainstorm with colleagues. Read articles. Practice continuous quality improvements by seeking feedback after each meeting.

  • Promote your virtual meeting as a working session, and then deliver on your promise. Many people rightly associate webinars with one-way, monotone recitations of mind-numbing content that send participants to the mute button immediately. Design your session so that everyone feels they have made tangible progress toward a goal that’s relevant to them.

  • Demonstrate that you respect people’s time. For example, start and end meetings on time. Only invite those who need to be there. Arrange the agenda so that only some people need to stay on during certain topics. Avoid spending time reviewing content that can be reviewed independently. Don’t waste everyone’s time by catching up those who failed to do prework or who joined late.

  • Give people an opportunity to switch gears before entering the conversation. Some people spend their workdays hopping from call to call, with no time to mentally prepare themselves for the next topic. Most people need time to switch gears, much as walking from a hallway into a conference room can change our mindsets. Try designating your official start time as five minutes after the hour, and set your end time as five minutes before the next hour.

  • Start with a quick check in. Sometimes it’s enough to ask people to state their name and one thing they look most forward to this week, or what they like best about this season, or this month. This can help warm people up for the conversation to follow.

  • Keep participation balanced. By precisely scripting your meeting and timing your agenda, you can help ensure that no one dominates and that even the most reticent introverts have a chance to express themselves.

  • Use video to promote participation when it makes sense. Video interaction can enrich and enliven your virtual meetings and hold people accountable. It makes it more difficult to multi-task and alerts the team leader when a camera has been paused or participants begin to type or interact with other applications on their computer.

  • Practice the 80/20 rule. That is, 80% active participation and 20% passive. This means building in opportunities for active participation every 4-5 minutes. If you have 16 or more people in your session, invite them to type into a chat box, use a Q&A feature, take a poll or raise their hands. With a smaller group, you can interweave both verbal and online interaction throughout the session.

Tips for Virtual Meeting Participants

Participants also have a role in ensuring the success of virtual meetings. To that end, they should:

  • Be prepared to contribute. Review the meeting objectives and make suggestions or ask questions in advance if the goals seem unclear or irrelevant. Jot down ideas or questions and be prepared to share them during the meeting.

  • Be prepared to listen. Shut down other applications, silence your mobile device, and close yourself off physically, if possible. Clear your desktop, and make notes as you listen.

  • Ask relevant questions. This can help stimulate conversation, enrich the discussion, clear up misconceptions, and clarify complex points. It also makes it safer for others to surface questions or issues.

  • Contribute succinct ideas that will help achieve shared goals. What insights are most relevant to this conversation? What can you offer that hasn’t been said before? How can you condense your thoughts into as few words as possible, so that you can give others a chance to respond?

  • Use your voice to establish your presence. Don’t make your fellow meeting participants work to discover how you’re feeling. Inject passion when you feel it; subdue your tone when you don’t. If you’re using video, use your hands to gesture at least once in a while. Showing movement has a way of perking people up.

Nancy Settle-Murphy, president of Guided Insights, helps nonprofits design and run more productive meetings, whether face-to-face, virtual, or both. Call her at 978-263-2545 or email

January 2021

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