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6 tips to amp up dull virtual meetings

Posted by Shivali Anand

April 4, 2022    |     5-minute read (821 words)

Research shows humans are hardwired for connection and that a lack of interaction with others may lead to mental distress. At the same time, due to continued workplace disruptions caused by the pandemic, many people have begun to work remotely or in a hybrid setup. Even with platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet to help foster workplace connectivity, it's easy to feel out of the loop in the absence of face-to-face communication.

Given the increasing reliance on virtual meetings, leaders should consider tapping into one of the six methods below to increase employees’ sense of connectedness.

1. Create conditions where everyone can contribute – In meetings, whether in person or online, one or two people sometimes dominate conversation, unwittingly shutting others out.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are three ways to deal with this situation: "First, make notes and stick to them. Give yourself a time limit and condense what you have to say into that amount of time. Second, send the agenda around in advance. Tell people whose opinions you respect that you hope they will speak up and then call on them during the meeting. Third, use a round-robin format, where you go around the room and everyone has an opportunity to talk. Some people will pass, but at least they were given a chance and didn't have to interrupt you to get a word in."

2. Minimize the need to impress – In a bid to impress others, especially their superiors, some people may aim to use fancy words, dismiss others’ accomplishments or overcomplicate processes.

"When we urgently aim to please other people, we're seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the outside world to give us what we should be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set ourselves up to live a life we don't particularly want but will fit with what other people expect of us. We don't dare take a chance on something that may bring on a disapproving stare or rank low on the social status meter. We do what's expected of us. We do what others want for us and from us. In return, we get their approval," writes Ilene Strauss Cohen in Psychology Today.

Take note of their fears and truly celebrate their achievement as much as possible to aid individuals seeking your approval.

3. Adapt a stance of curiosity – Leaders frequently enter meetings believing they already know what their team members will say.

Here is where the art of radical listening proves worthwhile. "You're not trying to filter what (people) are saying,” says Ralina Joseph, professor of communication and head of the University of Washington's Center for Communication, Difference and Equity. “You're not trying to fix them. You're not trying to solve anything for them,".

On the other hand, don’t go overboard with curiosity, which “is a tool that can work for you or against you," writes Marlene Chism, renowned speaker and author of "Stop Workplace Drama" and "No-Drama Leadership. "The key is to understand how to use curiosity to your advantage. Here are three skills you must develop to master the tool of curiosity: setting the right intention, asking the right question and listening."

"Curiosity must come from the right intention. Know your intention and communicate your intention before asking important questions. Ask the right kind of questions to give you the information you need, whether it is closed-ended or open-ended. Finally, listen and stay present," Chism continues.

4. Curtail distractions – Business meetings can be fatiguing. Allowing distractions in online meetings can cause employees to disengage before the dialogue even begins.

To minimize distractions, outline the meeting's agenda and purpose ahead of time. Before the meeting, decide where you want the topic to go and what tone you want to hear.

5. Avoid filler words and phrases – Filler words are meaningless noises or pauses (such as uh, um, ah, hmm, uh, huh and so on), words (such as so, as well, like, essentially, seriously, actually, apparently and so on) and phrases (such as you know, I believe that, you see, I mean and what I'm trying to convey is) that fill up our sentences without adding meaning.

Such phrases can divert attention away from the topic at hand and make the speaker come across as uncertain. The average listener attributes “ums” to the speaker’s anxiety or unpreparedness, according to research published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.

Practicing and recording oneself on tape is one approach to eliminating empty words that can lead participants to disconnect. Another technique is asking a trusted colleague or friend how often you use filler words to heighten your awareness.

6. Moderate the virtual meeting – A meeting without a dedicated moderator can quickly become disorderly and time-consuming. If no facilitator is assigned, take the lead. Also, share a draft agenda, including how much time is allotted to each topic and participant as needed.

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