Reduce the Number of Participants In Your Remote Meetings

Here in Part 8 of this series on making Remote Meetings more effective, we’ll look at the importance of limiting the number of participants in your remote meetings.

“In the online world, a videoconference with more than seven participants isn’t a meeting, it’s a webinar.” – Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd, Remote Leadership Experts

We’ve all attended corporate meetings with 30, 50, even hundreds of attendees. These meetings have their place, mainly to disseminate corporate or top-level information. But they are mainly one way communication meetings (a leader talks and the attendees listen).

Successful working meetings require two-way communication and work best when you “keep it small.” In Remote Work, Chris Dyer and coauthor Kim Shepherd explain that large meetings can be useful, but for brainstorming or planning, leaders need to limit the number of participants so that everyone can participate fully. Meetings with much more than 10 attendees allow attendees to hide in the shadows or block attendees who want to participate.

Aim for 5 to 10 Remote Meeting Participants

Probably the most important reason to reduce the number of participants in remote meetings is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Imagine trying to brainstorm with 15 or 20 people. No one would be able to get a word in edgewise!

When there are a large number of participants (even 15-25), people with more assertive personalities may dominate the discussion, while those who are less assertive may become frustrated at not being heard (which can make them feel devalued or disengaged). And, some great ideas or important risks may never even be heard.

Of course, you call on everyone, but for a brainstorming meeting, taking turns can dampen the free-wheeling spirit of brainstorming.

The fewer attendees you have in a remote meeting, the more manageable the meeting will be.

Create Sub-Teams that Report to the Main Remote Team

One way to reduce participants in remote meetings is to identify topics that can be handled by sub-teams that meet separately. A single member of the sub-team can act as a liaison between the sub-team and the main team.

The liaison may be part of the main team or may just come to report when consensus has been reached in the sub-team.

This way, you can involve a large number of employees by proxy. They can be actively involved in brainstorming and decision-making meetings (on topics that impact them directly), but your top-level online meetings can remain small (10 or below participants).

Have Select Participants Attend a Portion of the Main Virtual Meeting

Another tactic for limiting the number of participants in remote meetings is to have people attend only during agenda items that impact them or need their expertise. In most meetings, not everyone has input to give or needs information on every topic in the meeting. Sometimes team members are really just waiting until their topic comes up.

If you want to ensure that all relevant information is shared with everyone who is impacted, you can use your meeting minutes or a summary that is distributed to all stakeholders and affected team members.

People don’t need to attend the whole meeting to get updates they need. Within meeting minutes, they can skip the sections that don’t apply to them. Additionally, chances are good that your staff will appreciate the time this approach saves them!!!

Invite Only the Key Stakeholders

Paul Axtell, in his HBR article The Most Productive Meetings Have Fewer Than 8 People (, says that managers often invite too many people to meetings to avoid offending anyone by leaving them out. However, if having too many participants undermines the remote meeting’s effectiveness, people will be frustrated and feel their time is wasted.

Develop the meeting’s participant list based on the purpose. If it’s brainstorming, invite the experts and people known for creative thinking. If it’s planning, include the leaders of the business function being planned (or their experts). If it’s problem-solving, invite the people who are creating the problem and the people impacted by the problem (or divide them into sub-teams and then bring them together periodically).

Promote Participation and Accountability from Your Remote Team Members

It’s easy to tune out during a large online meeting, especially when meeting leaders ask people to go on mute and even turn off their cameras. By keeping the participant list small and calling on your quieter participants, you encourage people to pay attention and be ready to engage.

To go a step further, you might assign each participant an agenda item to cover or facilitate. If that’s not practical, make sure each person knows why they were invited and how they are expected to participate.

Build Stronger Connections Between Remote Team Members

If your team is remote, hybrid, or distributed in multiple locations, an online meeting is a chance to strengthen the connections between your team members and build team spirit.

Dedicate five to seven minutes of your online meeting to letting people catch up. Small talk is actually a big deal at work, according to The HR Digest, and it helps build trust, creates psychological safety, and promotes openness and sharing.

If your team is large, you can try pulling together sub-groups of your team that work interdependently to regularly meet on topics that affect them. This would be a chance to build connection among those who work closely together.

Smaller meetings also allow for more variety in different types of team building, as well.

Managing Remote Meetings Effectively Is a Key Skill in Our Evolving Workplace

Effective leadership of remote teams is highly valued today, and effective meetings promote positive business results. Anyone who is motivated to grow their career should develop skills in leading effective remote meetings.

Check back soon for more remote meeting insights, and, for additional ideas on optimizing your in-person and remote meetings, see our 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