How Can Leaders Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging - Ask A Business Expert

How Can Leaders Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging?

Do you remember when the term “Zoom fatigue” started filtering through our collective business consciousness? It became a hot topic around April 2020, as we settled into the collective stress and monotony of lockdown. 

Icebreakers for virtual meetings, virtual parties, happy hours, and other virtual gimmicks were rapidly losing their luster. People were no longer engaged. Instead, they felt cranky from the endless online meetings they needed to attend. 

Zoom fatigue or virtual meeting stress became a bigger workplace issue just a year after. 

I receive the same question almost every week. “We’ve been using virtual meetings constantly since last March, but we’re getting more stressed out by them. Why aren’t things getting better?”

I am Lauren Sergy, a communication expert and a professional speaker. I help people like you improve virtual meetings, making sure they are interactive for each participant. I am so passionate about what I do that I wrote a book called UNMUTE!, a practical guide that has already helped thousands of people to improve their virtual meetings. You can learn more about me and the book on my website at www.laurensergy.com

Now, let me answer the question of why things aren’t getting better.

There is a simple and inconvenient reality about virtual meetings – they are more mentally taxing than other types of communication. Yes, there are advantages to it such as expanded market reach and lesser transportation time, but virtual meetings also take more out of us. 

Two big issues exacerbate virtual meeting stress.

First, we are dealing with a communication environment that requires a huge amount of mental processing power. Our brains have to work around the fact that “normal” signals like eye contact and body language don’t work the way they would in person. 

Odd lighting, weird camera angles, and seeing into one another’s spaces pluck at our attention spans. Those attention spans are already shortened by the need to actively manage the technology itself – little tech glitches and delays, monitoring the chatbox, screen sharing, and so on. 

Plus, the fact that our environment is engineered to encourage multitasking. We’re used to having multiple windows and tabs open, while actively ignoring the tabs that call out to us, making us exert more energy to focus.

Second, hopping from virtual meetings to virtual meetings leads us to overschedule. The advantage of not having to physically go leads us to accept more meetings than we can handle, making ourselves too available.

It became normal to spend a lot of hours each day on camera. In fact, some of my clients report spending over 25 hours a week in virtual meetings.

When you look at virtual meetings in this light, it’s easy to see why they take a huge toll on us.

I receive the same question almost every week. “We’ve been using virtual meetings constantly since last March, but we’re getting more stressed out by them. Why aren’t things getting better?”

I found four strategies to help individuals and organizations lower the stress from virtual meetings, but before we discuss them further, let me first define what a virtual meeting is.

What is a Virtual Meeting?

A virtual meeting is any meeting that takes place through a virtual or video conferencing platform, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, On24, and other online platforms where participants can interact with one another through audio and video.

An example is a team meeting on Zoom with participants or attendees on camera.

What a Virtual Meeting is not…

A virtual meeting is not a webinar where participation is limited only to a couple of presenters, and the majority of participants do not have the option to connect with audio and video. This can include a training webinar, an interview between two people with many people watching, or pre-recorded sessions. 

Now that we understand what a virtual meeting is, it’s time to discuss the four strategies that can help make them better today.

If you’d like to read our full definition of what a Virtual Meeting is, then check out the Ask A Business Expert Dictionary by clicking on this link.

If you’d like to watch a video featuring Business Expert Lauren Sergy explaining how leaders can make virtual meetings more engaging, then click below – or read on!

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Four Ways to Help You Improve Your Virtual Meetings Today

Here are the steps to improve your overall productivity in virtual meetings: 

1. Avoid multitasking

Multitasking divides our attention and is bad for us, but computers and mobile devices are designed for it. We’ve trained our brains to associate being on them with having different tasks open at the same time. 

Closing the windows and tabs that create distractions and are not related to the meeting at hand will make it easier for you to focus and be more present, lightening your mental load. It also helps not to dip into your email or social media feeds or consider getting a website-blocking app to help remove temptation.

2. Reduce on-camera time

Being on camera makes people feel they need to “perform” and not without reason. Giving yourself a break from the camera is a crucial step to reducing virtual meeting stress. Not every meeting has to be virtual, and not every virtual meeting has to be on-camera. 

Take a break from the relentless glare of the webcam. Try doing one-on-one calls through your phone where you can move around or establish certain meetings without requiring cameras. A new casual Friday for you and your team can be a “cameras off” day.

3. Communicate meeting expectations and etiquette

Everyone in a meeting must show up in the same way. This signals respect and attention and shows everyone is putting equal effort into the interaction. Unfortunately, breaches in virtual meetings etiquette – such as dress code or cameras on/off are rarely communicated, leading to unintentional insults.

If most people on a Zoom meeting have gone to the effort of making themselves more presentable, it can feel like a snub when someone once again refuses to even turn on his camera. 

Make it easier on your team by letting them know what’s expected, such as the dress code or whether cameras should be on, or are optional. A quick note on your meeting invitation goes a long way in creating better interactions.

4. Use transition times

We tend to bounce from virtual meetings to virtual meetings with little – if any – break in between. In-person, switching meeting rooms, getting up to grab a coffee, or driving to an off-site location gave us breaks where we could mentally gear up or process what happened afterward. 

If you’re mostly relying on virtual meetings, it’s important to intentionally build these transition times back into your schedule. 

I find that 10 or 15 minutes is rarely enough (after all, meetings frequently run over time). A 30 minute transition time appears as a tidy chunk in your calendar, making it easier to separate your meetings. It gives you time to do small follow-up tasks for your previous meeting and still leaves time for a quick stretch or break. 

Even if your previous meeting runs a couple of minutes over, that half-hour transition time gives you an adequate buffer to ensure that taking a much-needed bathroom break doesn’t make you five minutes late for your next meeting.

4 Ways To Improve Your Virtual Meetings

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Check out the Ask A Business Dictionary to learn more about zoom fatigue.

If you’d like to watch Business Lauren Sergy explain how you can prevent zoom fatigue, then click the video link below.

And check out the Ask A Business Expert YouTube Channel to get more tips and inspiration to grow your business.

None of these virtual-meeting-sanity tactics is rocket science, but they take discipline to implement. Having stress-reduction strategies like transition times, camera-off days, and etiquette notes can help everyone get on board and foster better habits across your organization. 

Flexibility is also important. Maybe an emergency meeting eats up your transition time, or someone from your team needs to leave their camera off because they are logging into the team meeting while dealing with a sick kid.

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Judgement and empathy should always be exercised. After all, we’re humans behind these screens. However, healthy virtual meeting strategies should also be prioritized as they help dial back the significant stress created by this otherwise wonderful communication method. And remember, if everyone’s camera is off, flannel jammies are perfectly acceptable daytime wear.

Conclusion

In this article, I introduced you to Four Ways to Help You Improve Your Virtual Meetings Today, which are:

  1. Avoid multitasking
  2. Reduce on-camera time
  3. Communicate meeting expectations and etiquette
  4. Use transition times

Remember, these virtual-meeting-sanity tactics are not rocket science – they require discipline to implement.

Lauren Sergy is the author of UNMUTE! How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity, which is now available at your favorite online bookseller. To learn more ways of making your virtual meetings better, visit http://unmutebook.com

Picture of Lauren Sergy

Lauren Sergy

Public speaking and communication expert Lauren Sergy has helped thousands of people become more effective leaders by developing critical communication skills such as persuasion, public speaking, and executive presence. She has worked with clients and audiences in Canada, the US, the UK, and Europe including 3M, Cargill, KPMG, T-Mobile, Grant Thornton, and many more.

Lauren teaches business communication courses at the University of Alberta. Her first book, The Handy Communication Answer Book, was featured on Library Journal’s Best Reference Books of 2017 list.

Her latest book, UNMUTE! How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity is now available via all major online booksellers. You can learn more about her work at https://LaurenSergy.com.

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