Lead Remote Meetings

In this ongoing blog series about making the most of virtual meetings, a couple of key points have emerged. One is that, while virtual meetings are similar in some ways to in-person meetings, there are important differences.

The Remote Meeting series is intended to help you be aware of those differences, which leads to the second key point. Effective meetings don’t just happen. As our Executive Coaches often tell clients, you have to be deliberate about planning and leading each meeting.

Here are six insights into what is unique about remote meetings and how take a deliberate approach to incorporating the insights to lead engaging, productive remote meetings.

1. Wait Longer for a Response

When you ask a question, wait longer for a response than you normally would. Participants are even more likely to feel reluctant to speak in a remote meeting.

You’ve probably been a participant yourself, so you may understand that sitting alone in your home office can be less engaging. In addition, not everyone thinks fast “on their feet.” Some people need a little more time to process, but they still have great ideas.

If getting people to engage is a big challenge, consider letting participants know you will call on each person, in turn, for input. This sets the expectation for participation and has the extra benefit of helping ensure everyone has a chance to provide input.

Tip: Don’t be afraid of silence. It allows people to gather their thoughts and shows you truly want to listen to the meeting participants. Americans tend to fill the air with words, because we feel uncomfortable with silence. But avoiding silence is not necessary and can be detrimental to effective communication.

2. Have the Remote Participants Stay on Mute

If it’s a large meeting or there’s background noise, ask participants to stay on mute until they have something to add to the discussion.

We’ve all been on meetings where some conversation is going on in the background in someone’s remote office, or where family members are talking. In addition, having many people on the line can create echoes or other distortions.

The downside is that you may have to remind participants to come OFF of mute when they talk, but that’s preferable to unmuted distractions.

3. Provide Recaps

When you lead remote meetings, provide brief recaps of information presented or decisions made throughout the meeting to ensure that participants have absorbed critical information (check for understanding). Following a virtual meeting is a bit more challenging than staying focused in an in-person meeting.

You can also ask participants to recap, which will increase engagement. You could have a rotation of the participants do the recaps (this will certainly keep the participants on their toes).

Check for understanding.

Checking for understanding throughout the meeting ensures that everyone is following the meeting and is able to digest the information.

The check-in provides another value: the opportunity to identify who’s doing well and who may need help. Help may include support for a project or assignment, or it may involve supporting individual wellness and balance.

4. Be Prepared to Articulate Your Feelings

It’s harder for remote participants to read your emotions from your facial expressions, body language, and/or tone of voice.

In a remote meeting, you need to be direct and articulate about your feelings. Before the meeting, consider the best way to express your feelings.

The most respected leaders are open and authentic. When you share your feelings, it gives others permission to do the same.

This holds true for both positive and negative feelings. Of course, you don’t want to lose your cool, but it’s alright to communicate that you are frustrated or disappointed (as long as it’s part of a larger constructive conversation about how to improve things).

5. Implement Short Breaks

In longer meetings (1 hour or more), give participants short breaks to stand up and stretch. It’s good for you, too! Choose a time between topics to minimize losing momentum.

You can make it a “free period,” asking people to be back in five minutes, or you can have short activities. Many employees indicate that working remotely can be lonely, so you might make those five minutes a “water cooler” break and just let people chat.

You might also want to include a team-building activity to break up the challenging work the team does. A simple activity is to ask everyone a get-to-know-you question like:

  • If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
  • If you had a free airplane ticket anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • If you had to spend $1 million in a year, what would you do with it?
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

You can google team-building activities and find many ideas.

6. Collect Remote Meeting Best Practices

Ask your team for remote meeting best practices or things to avoid and implement their ideas for improvement. Few things engage team members like the opportunity to provide input – as long as it isn’t an empty gesture. You must incorporate the ideas into your meetings.

At first you may not be excited about an idea, but consider this: if it appeals to one person, it probably will appeal to others as well. The true value of incorporating input is the engagement message it sends to the team.

7. Invite an Expert

Bringing in an expert (internal or external) on one of the responsibilities or goals of the team can increase interest and even excitement about your meetings. Encourage your team to ask the expert questions. This could be an expert in your industry, in culture or productivity, or in a specific area such as marketing or strategic planning.

After the expert’s presentation, open the floor up for questions. People enjoy learning from experts, but they enjoy the opportunity to engage with experts even more. Prior to the meeting, let your team know what the expert will cover and ask them to bring questions.

For more ideas on optimizing your meetings, see my blog on meeting management tools.

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With Our Consultations Coach: Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC (BIO)
With Our Consultations Coach: Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC