How to hold virtual meetings that are dynamic and engaging

Keep them from multitasking and help them stay productive through the dog barking.

Smiling millennial lady freelancer wearing headset, communicating with client.

Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2020 as part of our year-end countdown.

Even though we have our struggles with video conference technology (see Tripp and Tyler’s “Video Conference Call in Real Life”), we now long for the cushy desk chair, the hi-res conference room video monitor and in-person connections. For those who have worked from home, it was probably by preference and not by company and government mandate.

What’s happening now is changing the world of work.

Companies who claimed they needed “butts in seats” are getting a first-hand experience of what’s possible virtually. Our remote colleagues used to be the minority on our teams. Now, the precautions around COVID-19 have democratized team meetings. We are all equally dealing with being with our pets, housemates and loved ones in our workspaces. And, we need to give each other a lot of room and permission to do what’s needed to help our homes and ourselves adjust.

As someone who has worked from home (WFH) quite a bit, I’d love to share some tips on how to develop a dynamic and engaging virtual meeting practice when everyone is remote, everyone has distractions, and everyone is dealing with some really heavy stuff right now.

1. Turn on the camera.

I know, believe me, that not all WFH days are also good hair days. The longer the precautions are in place, the more we’ll learn everyone’s real hair color. However, it’s important to maintain face-to-face even virtually. Otherwise, your colleagues are looking at a black square, your initials, or a vacation photo of you while you speak. It’s not fun.

Eye contact is powerful in-person and virtually. Body language still matters. We need to show up for each other, as we are, doing the best we can. Give us your face to look at when you speak and sit in a way that a bright window isn’t behind you so you don’t look like a Tony-the-Tiger silhouette.

Having cameras on also raises everyone’s accountability to stay present for the meeting. It’s not OK to do email when you’re in an in-person meeting and it’s worse in a virtual meeting. If you’re unmuted, we’ll hear your typing and it will be annoying.

Raise your standards when you host a meeting and include in your agenda: “cameras on please, be present for our time in this meeting.” Up your game on sending an agenda in advance, 24 hours at least. Folks are shifting how they work and knowing what is expected of them in your meeting ahead of time sets them up better for success.

2. Stay human. 

This is a time of physical distancing, not social distancing. We must stay social to stay sane.

Start your meeting by checking in with people. They might have just spent the last two hours homeschooling their kid, or the puppy just peed in the plant. Help them get oriented to the meeting’s purpose and reserve the first couple of minutes to ask how folks are doing.

Have people share something funny that’s happened during the day, or their best “I was interrupted by…” story (video conference version of a photobomb moment), or a funny meme. It’s a time to really acknowledge our humanity and be available for our teammates. When they feel you care and are acknowledging the environment they are trying to navigate, you will have more of their attention and respect.

3. Ask questions of everyone.

Use people’s names. Say them out loud and accurately, and ask for each person to contribute.

This is really key. For more introverted personalities or some non-English native speakers, virtual meetings can be really rough to get through and be heard. As the meeting host, be mindful of giving everyone a turn to add to the discussion. Be intentional and supportive.

Throughout the meeting, break up content or presentations every 5-10 mins with energy shifts such as asking questions to individuals, using the video conference annotation tools to draw circles for emphasis, writing live notes and asking the group if you are making the right notes, all of which keeps them engaged and responsive.  Introduce a poll, or run a short video and set up the questions you’ll ask folks after they watch it.

Wrap up the meeting with a review of decisions made, next steps and who is doing what. Show these notes (share your desktop) and get each person to verbally chime in on the commitments for agreement. Thank everyone for participating, call out points in the meeting that really worked well and generated a lot of productive discussion. You want to reinforce desired behavior and recognize it when you see it.

As the meeting host, you are setting the tone, pace and vibe for the meeting. Bring your energy, be prepared and set the permissions up front that any pet or person wandering into frame is A-OK.

Let’s go with the flow and embrace kids and dogs in our Zoom frames to help our meetings be dynamic and engaging. (Virtual) life is now in session.

Kim Clark is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group. She specializes in diveristy and inclusion, culture and internal communications consulting. Contact Kristin Hart at to learn more about RCG. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here



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