7 Tips for Hosting Engaging Online Meetings
I remember a time when online meetings were a rarity, used infrequently or by a few trendy organizations. My how times have changed. Yet, despite all the time we spend online, many people continue to struggle with how to host engaging online meetings.
This was the topic of a presentation I recently gave to a group of leaders looking for ways to increase participation, with less people having their cameras turned off.
Many of these tips are lessons I’ve learned along the way – either as a meeting facilitator or an attendee.
1. Conversational opening
Think back to in-person meetings. People would wander in, grab a coffee, and chit chat with others. This allowed for a natural transition from one meeting or project to the next.
It’s important to keep this transition time in the online world. Waiting until the designated start time to open a meeting can be jarring. Sure, some get down to business types are happy, but the ones looking to socialize are not.
2. Have a host
It’s important to have 2 hosts for meetings – the meeting facilitator and a technical host. Each have unique and important roles to play.
The meeting facilitator keeps the meeting moving along through a presentation, facilitating conversation and/or ensuring the agenda is followed. The technical host deals with the logistics of the meeting – admitting people from the waiting room, monitoring the chat box, answering technical support questions, reviewing the Q&A and helping people troubleshoot any challenges.
3. Know your audience
This holds true for all types of meetings – in person or virtual.
- Who’s in the meeting?
- What information do they need to know?
- What do they care about?
- Do you know their personality styles (to ensure you engage introverts)?
4. Stay focused
After introductions, share the meeting’s agenda and get agreement from participants. Ask if anyone has anything they’d like to add. As the meeting host, keep a copy of the agenda next to you to ensure you stay on track.
Ideally, limit your meeting to 1-3 key points you want to discuss. Recognizing people have a shortened attention span when staring at a screen, keep your agenda brief.
5. Conversation starters
Getting participants to engage in conversation requires a bit more effort and preparation in the online world.
This is why it’s important to plant conversation starters throughout the meeting.
This can be done through:
- polls – a quick way of getting people’s thoughts
- questions – pose a question and ask people to respond via chat room or verbally (giving the option helps encourage greater participation)
6. Break it up
For meetings with more than 8 or 10 people, breakout rooms are your best friend. But like all aspects of hosting engaging online meetings, some pre-planning is needed.
When I’m giving workshops or facilitating meetings, I assign hosts for each breakout room. The hosts are given the discussion topics and are planted in rooms to spark conversation. Their job is to remind people why they’re there (it’s amazing how quickly people forget the discussion topic in the transition from the main session to the breakout room).
When the breakout rooms close, I ask the hosts, or anyone from their group, to share part of their discussion. This works much better than saying – does anyone want to share, which is often met with silence.
7. Next steps
Finally, end your meeting with a wrap up of what you’ve discussion and identify next steps. Is it a follow up meeting or clear action items? Always assume that people have tuned you out at different times in the meeting.
Don’t let people come up with their own assumption of next steps. Tell them!
As we continue to spend more and more time online, new tools and techniques will emerge. Instead of getting overwhelmed, focus on what works for you. Start out small and grow from there.
Want to learn more? Download my How to Host Engaging Meetings training video.