How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings

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For a lot of people, meetings are considered the bane of their existence. It is however the necessary evils they have to deal with in the corporate world. Some would rather not have them, but they are needed, mostly when they are done effectively.
Meetings help us collaborate better. You see, a lot of our communication is nonverbal; in fact, body language makes up 55% of your communication. So, things like facial expressions, body language, and gestures all allow for everyone to be on the same page and move at the same pace. In most situations, we need to be in the same room (in this case, virtual rooms) to understand each other.
In recent times, virtual meetings have become an essential part of a workflow. It’s frankly been the only way of communication for many teams across the globe.
It’s typically hard to get people to pay attention in a physical meeting, let alone virtual ones! That’s not to talk of how annoying it can be to take a long pause for an expected reaction, and eventually get: “Can you repeat what you said?” which almost always means: “I stepped away to get a snack and wasn’t expecting to be called on.”
Fact is, in physical meetings, people feel obligated to feign interest. In a situation where no one can entirely see or hear everyone throughout the entire session, participation drops drastically. But that doesn’t have to be the state of affairs. Here are things you can do to make people participate in virtual meetings;

The 60-second rule.

One of the reasons why virtual meetings bore participants into a coma is because they have been called into a meeting to solve a problem they haven’t personally felt. You must rectify that if you want active participation throughout the meeting. In the first 60 seconds of the meeting, have participants experience the problem: you can do that by sharing shocking or provocative statistics, anecdotes, or analogies that dramatize the situation.
The aim is to make sure that everyone in the meeting empathetically understands the problem or opportunity before attempting to solve or explore it. However, be careful to keep it as short as possible.

The responsibility rule.

When most people receive virtual meeting invite, more often than not, they all gladly, unconsciously assume the observer role. You will have to counteract that position by creating an experience of shared responsibility early on in the meeting. Don’t take the, “I need all of you to be involved” route. That rarely works. Instead, give everyone a responsibility, that ensures their active participation. This next rule will further explain how that can be done.
The nowhere to hide rule.
Studies have shown that if everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. To avoid this, give specific tasks that can be solved quickly to people such that they have nowhere to hide. Individual tasks might be pushing it. You can, however, break people into teams of two or three (max). Then ask that they have a short breakout session of say 2 minutes, after which they will return to give the entire team their thoughts or feedback.

The less-is-more rule.

It would be best if you refrained from numbing participants of a meeting with slide after slide of numbers and dates and whatnots. No matter how knowledgeable or passionate you are about the topic of discussion, select the least amount of data you need to inform and engage the group. Don’t add a single slide more. Moreover, when you have multiple points to discuss, you may end up focusing on ensuring you get through everything rather than engaging the participants of the virtual meeting.

The 5-minute rule.

Ensuring active participation at a virtual meeting is no joke. The good thing is, when done right, there is accountability for engagement, not to mention heightened productivity. Participants of your virtual meetings are in their personal spaces with a thousand and one distractions. You have to ensure that the meeting has their attention for as long as it lasts by sustaining a continual expectation of meaningful involvement. Never go longer than 5 minutes without giving the group another “problem” to solve, if not, participants will retreat into that alluring observer role, and you’ll have to work hard to bring them back.
The stakes have been mounted higher than ever before. Uncertainty is the new normal. For your company to remain relevant with its product and or services, you will have to ensure that everyone in your team is on the same page and working towards the same goal to achieve maximum productivity. For the foreseeable future, virtual meetings are what you have to work with.
Over to you!

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