You log into a virtual meeting and you are one of many squares in the gallery of participants.
You easily could turn off your camera and try to avoid being called on. Or, you could prepare a
few minutes ahead of time and come ready to add value to every virtual meeting you attend.
Remember, for productive virtual meetings productive, participants play a key role. The meeting
facilitator cannot do it alone. Here are seven strategies you can employ before and during to have more effective and productive virtual meetings.
Don’t wait for a virtual meeting facilitator to assign you a speaking role. Offer to provide an
update or share a perspective ahead of time. Selecting and framing your topic proactively is
always easier than adapting reactively. If the facilitator has no role for you, consider key issues
you would like to raise or valuable insights you can share.
Remember to make your update or perspective concise—around two to three minutes in most circumstances. After all, attention spans are short for online meetings, which is why it is helpful to get different speakers on the computer screen in the first place.
Brainstorm the two most likely questions you will be asked, the two worst-case-scenario questions you could be asked, as well as the two insights you would most like to share during each virtual meeting. Crafting a mini-outline on a Post-It Note for each, affixing them on your laptop so you can see it easily without looking down, and rehearsing your one- to two-minute contributions aloud several times will reduce tangents and improve confidence.
Overtly Structure Contributions
Whether you are providing a weekly report or responding to a question, structure your virtual
meeting contributions. Like rehearsing, this is another best practice of longer presentations and
should be applied to online meetings where listeners are easily distracted.
Support your position with one anecdote, or two points, reasons, or examples (at the very
most, three points, reasons, or examples). You can rely on familiar patterns of arrangement,
such as problem-solution; past, present, future; and why, how, what. A structured meeting
contribution might sound something like:
- “Let me share one story to illustrate why this is the best option for our organization.”
- “There are two reasons why our investment in the program is higher than expected. The
first is . . . “
- “To understand this project, let me give you a brief summary of what we did last year,
what we are doing now, and where we are headed next year.”
Structure will enhance clarity—it will make your presentation easier to follow. Listeners will
know what to expect and can more readily digest and retain what they hear. Structure will
promote succinctness—by previewing what you’ll talk about, there is less chance you will go on
tangents or lose your train of thought. Structure will elevate polish—meeting participants who
are able to overview and then discuss one thoughtful story or a few key points when put on the
spot come across as organized, prepared, and confident. Structure creates productive virtual meetings.
When it is your turn to speak or a question is directed at you, give yourself a moment to think
before speaking. Many professionals rush to answer without taking a moment to think it
through. A three-second pause is perfectly acceptable, makes you appear confident, and will
help prevent a rambling response. In virtual contexts, the time it takes you to unmute yourself
is a helpful reminder to pause.
If you need more time to think, thank the questioner. You don’t have to do it for each and every
question in a long meeting, but you can use this strategy for questions you didn’t anticipate
ahead of time. You can also say a genuine “thank you” to diffuse hostility. Don’t repeat the
negative charge or accusation. Instead, pick out the issue being addressed. For example, “Thank you for bringing up the issue of cost because I know it’s a real concern in this economy.” Another subtle way to show gratitude and respect is to respond to the questioner by name during your answer.
Restate the Question
Speakers should repeat questions to show they understand. If you are unclear about what was
asked, don’t hesitate to request clarification from the questioner. Also, when you are in a
virtual situation and listeners may be distracted, repeating questions allows everyone to focus
on what was asked. Restating the question can also be helpful because you can reframe it when necessary—to diffuse a hostile question or to bridge the question to a related subject you want to discuss. Be careful when linking a question to another topic—it has to be in the ballpark or listeners will feel insulted. Finally, honesty is the best policy; if you don’t know, don’t try to fake it. Offer to follow up with the questioner with specific information that you don’t know off the top of your head or that falls outside your area of expertise. Or, consider asking others in the meeting if they can answer.
Don’t filibuster during meetings, especially online meetings where participants may be
experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” Most updates and responses to questions should run about one to two minutes long, but the length of your answer should depend first and foremost on how long it takes to fully answer the question. No need to stretch it past a sentence if that is all that is needed.
Use Video Strategically
If people can’t see your face in a virtual meeting, other attendees may forget you are
participating. Whenever your internet connection is strong, curate your setting and turn on
your camera during virtual meetings.
When you need to leave the camera frame physically to sign for a package at the front door or
you have to take an urgent client call and will not be present mentally, turn off your video feed
to show that you are temporarily “out” of the virtual meeting. It can be confusing and
distracting to other participants if someone walks away from their computer or is talking in
another conversation while muted in a virtual meeting. If you have a few seconds, leave a short
note in the videoconference chat box to announce your absence (“be back in five” or “taking an
urgent client call”). Simply turn off your video feed until you can refocus; when fellow meeting
participants can see you again, they know you’re “back.”
Smooth and productive virtual meetings are not the sole responsibility of facilitators.
Participants must also do their part and can add tremendous value to productive virtual meetings by preparing and presenting