If you want engaging virtual meetings, then learn the ENGAGE method. The method has been refined over the past 35 years and has a remedy for the most common virtual meeting problems. ENGAGE stands for:
Engage and interact with every attendee. If you want engagement, engage! If you want your next virtual meeting to be engaging, then try different ways to engage your attendees. Greet all of your attendees as they arrive. Have every attendee check in. Ask your attendees to chat. Keep track and check in with the attendees who haven't said anything and give them the opportunity to pass if they don't want to contribute.
Go to bit.ly/evmengage to see a video of a professional host giving a demonstration of engaging and interacting with every attendee.
Never lead a meeting alone. If you want engagement, assign an attendee or someone you invite to a meeting a role in the meeting (after you have trained them). Roles include chat engagement, muting and unmuting, renaming, and security. Any or all of these roles can be delegated. They must be engaged to do their job and it allows you, the host, to focus on connecting with your attendees.
Go to bit.ly/evmnever to see a video of a professional host working with a producer as an example of never leading a meeting alone.
Good looks. If you want engagement, look good. Take a shower. Dress up. Frame your face. Clean up your background. Turn on your lights. Wear your company gear. Wear bright colors.1 Like Bruno Mars says, “If you want to show up, then show out.”
Go to bit.ly/evmgood to see a video of multiple backgrounds evaluated for good looks.
Air traffic control. If two or more people talk at the same time, no one can hear. An engaging meeting is when you understand what is said. You can help by creating air traffic control. From physical to virtual hand raises or other types of talking sticks, help find a way for attendees to communicate without stepping on each other's auditory toes. Until a videoconferencing platform perfects simultaneous audio, use air traffic control.
Go to bit.ly/evmair to see a video of a professional host demonstrating air traffic control.
Get productive with virtual tools. A virtual meeting is about getting work done. We all have to meet to get our job done. As the host, you need to value the time even more, because as soon as you log in, you start an invisible timer to each attendee's “I'm done” factor, or when they cease to be productive. Virtual meeting fatigue is real and you're doing everyone a favor if you can get your collaborative work done and get back to nonvirtual meeting work. Arrive on time. Plan. Value each other's time. Make decisions everyone buys into. Document your decisions. Get out. Your attendees will feel valued and more engaged if you can host productive virtual meetings.
Go to bit.ly/evmget to see a professional host working with attendees to get productive with virtual tools.
End your meeting on a high note. You want your attendees to have more energy after your meeting. Product teams did research on product demonstration meetings. They discovered that if you end your meeting on a high note, customers are more likely to buy your product.2 Your meetings are exactly the same. If you can find a way to end positively, your attendees are more likely to come back and they are more likely to be engaged. Ask for feedback. Do a cheer. Play a video. Celebrate success. Say thank you. Then log off.
Go to bit.ly/evmend to see a professional host end their meeting on a high note.
As the host of a virtual meeting, one of the ways to create engagement is to engage with every attendee.
Engaging every attendee solves one of the biggest problems with virtual meetings, which is logging in and feeling left out. Every attendee wants to feel valued and know that their work is meaningful. All you have to do is engage them, which you can do by talking to them, by chat or by one of the many virtual tools available to you.
In a one-on-one meeting, you'll find it easier to be engaged in the conversation. As more and more attendees join your meeting, you'll have to think about different ways to engage with every attendee. The following is an easy activity to engage with every attendee.
This is the most basic activity that can help you engage and interact with every attendee. You may see more engagement during your meeting after a check-in and you may see more engagement after your meeting if your meeting was successful.
The following is a collection of best practices.
Hello: Make sure to greet every attendee as they arrive for the meeting. There's nothing worse than arriving in a strange new location and having no one talk to you. Think of yourself as the greeter or welcoming host to your virtual meeting by saying hello.
“A person's name is the sweetest sound”: This quote comes from Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Use an attendee's name as often as possible. If someone is new, ask if you are pronouncing their name correctly. If you get the pronunciation, make a phonetic note on how to say their name. Make sure you have the correct spelling when you edit or transcribe their name. There's no faster way to disengage someone than to miss a detail like their name. Using an attendee's name is a sure way to engage them, as they will look back to the screen and figure out what's going on.
Chat: If your meeting starts to be bigger than 15 attendees or if you have a lot of presentation material, then you can use chat to engage your guests. Even if you are in the middle of a discussion with an attendee, you can send a quick “Hello” chat to someone who just logged in without disturbing your conversation.
Engage Your Quiet Attendees: One of the most common challenges is getting attendees who have their video or audio off to engage in the meeting. These attendees are quite often shy or introverted. Help create a safe environment for your attendees to contribute. A good practice is to wait longer than is comfortable for you when you ask a group question. Allow the attendees to figure out when they want to answer the question. The reason this will get your quiet attendees to engage is because they are offering to talk when they are ready, not when you are ready. A professional host shared that he had an attendee who did not want to turn on her camera. The host thanked her for sharing by audio. The host continued the meeting and eventually the attendee offered to answer a question on her own. Later in the meeting, the attendees were tasked with writing in a shared document. For this quiet attendee, it turned out that writing was her passion. This attendee went on to write 75% of a work assignment. The host believed she contributed because she felt safe. Google conducted 18 months of research for high-performing teams and discovered that psychological safety is one of the top five factors. Creating psychological safety in your virtual meetings will help them be more engaging. See Chapter 3 for more on psychological safety.
Log in Early/Stay Late: The most important meeting is the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting. One of my strategies for being the host of a virtual meeting is to log in 10–30 minutes early and stay logged in for 10–30 minutes after the meeting. This will give you extra time to meet your attendees and get to know them better before everyone is logged in. Also, it will give you time to have extra conversations after an important meeting to clarify and plan. I discovered this secret while working at Microsoft. I was able to have important conversations with busy but important developers, executives, and employees who were too busy to schedule a one-on-one. I got the information I needed and I accelerated many projects and relationships this way.
Create a Checklist: In smaller meetings, from 5 to 15 people, you can ensure that you have engaged every attendee by creating a simple checklist of every attendee and making sure you check off each one as you engage them with a question, a report out, or a chat. Make sure to find a way to end the meeting by attempting to engage everybody at least once.
“Pass”: Allow an attendee to say “Pass” if they are called on during a meeting. The key here is to not force someone to engage if they don't want to, and allowing them to pass is a simple way to do that. This means that they don't have anything they'd like to contribute or they would rather use the time for something else, while making it known that you made an attempt to engage with that person.
Let the Inmates Run the Asylum: An incredible strategy to engage your audience is to give control of the meeting over to them. The original concept derived from Edgar Allan Poe's “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.” Here, it means that you let the attendees run the meeting. If you find ways to hand over control of the meeting to your attendees, they become immediately engaged.
The Association of Talent Development (ATD) states that the top three adult learning theories are:
For instance, the activity “A to Z” (see Chapter 8) is a case where after you teach how the activity works, you let the inmates run the asylum, which means that you turn over total control to the attendees. Resist your urges to assist or coach the attendees. Ideally, do nothing. Have a backup plan at key points to give hints without giving a solution away. If you give the solution to the attendees, you rob them of the learning lesson and they will take nothing away, except to give you their problems. If your attendees own the solution, they will also own the learning they derive from the activity.
The Participation Map: When your meeting grows to more than 15 attendees or if you have a more complex meeting, such as a learning meeting, consider using a participation map. A participation map can help you recognize common patterns of problem meetings, such as one or two people dominating the meeting, certain members contributing nothing, and helping shy attendees turn on their camera or engage.
Use our template or make your own. On the left side, write every participant's name, in alphabetical order by first name so they are easy to find. On the top, write your key goals or time marks. For this first participation map, you can use “Logged In, Checked In, Chat, Share, End.” When you conduct your meeting, make a checkmark or write a comment anytime someone participates. If someone participates too much, make sure to call on other people. If someone does not participate at all, make sure to check in with them. Remember that you can allow them to “Pass.” Checking in with them lets them know they were given an opportunity to contribute as opposed to feeling ignored or left out. You can use a spreadsheet if you have multiple screens or you can print the map if that is more comfortable for you. Inclusion is a powerful engagement tool and it will help engage all your attendees of various personalities and styles. This can be difficult for one person to do, so this is one of the first roles I delegate (see “Never Lead a Meeting Alone”).
In this participation map, you can see the attendees' names on the left. The names are sorted by first name so it's easy to find them. On the top of the document, I have the plan for this meeting. I have the Planned Time and the Actual Time, which I fill in with the time I start the activity. During the meeting, I can enter the time I start and it will help me calculate if I'm ahead or behind schedule. The name of every activity is at the top so I know where I am in the agenda. You can see comments made by the attendee in the Air Traffic Control column. All of these notes help the host know if they have engaged everybody. The host can create more engagement by reusing comments that were made earlier.
Go to bit.ly/evmmap to see a professional producer edit a participation map during a meeting.
During my trainings, I show my participation map toward the end of the meeting to show what we have been doing. For most attendees, this is the biggest surprise because they didn't see it coming. This is the biggest takeaway, as almost none of the attendees were using a map before the training.
I've been using participation maps since 1999 to track participation on teleconference-based trainings. The response was enormous then and continues to be now. Many non-engaging meetings are dominated by one person and leave many people out. Use participation maps and you can balance your meeting's engagement.
I find when we're doing our calls, two people are stone rolling the whole meeting. They are going off and nobody gets a word in edgewise. The participation map will be very useful for fixing that.
Christine Wagg, Ontario, Canada
The participation map I absolutely love! I can't wait for you to share that!
Julie Rocks, corporate trainer, Costa Mesa, California
You taught me something very important with the participation map. I never saw that coming! That was tremendously useful.
Jegatheeswaran Manoharan, Accordia Training & Development, Malaysia
Virtual meetings have a variety of engagement tools. The most important one is you. Be engaging and your meetings will be engaging, too.
If you are new to virtual meetings, there are a lot of different elements to creating an engaging meeting. In a face-to-face meeting, you've had years of practice to notice body language, watch for breaks in the conversation, and see when people are engaged or not. In virtual meetings, you need to relearn how to do all this.
The fastest way to make your meetings more engaging is to never lead a meeting alone. This means meeting as a team and delegating key roles, as necessary, to other attendees. This has the side effect of engaging them during the meeting because they have an important role. By meeting as a team, you can focus even more on being the host or presenter of your virtual meeting.
While you don't need to delegate if you have a one-on-one meeting, consider delegating when you have 15 or more attendees or if you have a specialized goal for the meeting, such as training or data review.
Common Roles to Delegate
When I launched new online classes in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, I did everything myself. I created a new meeting on Zoom. I set up registration. I did marketing on email and social media. I logged in 30 minutes early to greet guests. I started streaming to Facebook LIVE. I muted people who were loud. I ran my own slide deck. I presented and facilitated everything. I engaged people in chat. I held up signs when people were on mute. I kept a participation map to ensure everyone engaged. I stayed on for 30 minutes afterwards to answer questions. I did this for over 20 meetings. And then I suddenly realized, I forgot to hit record. All this work and no post-event marketing value. I was exhausted. I was deflated.
Then, an amazing student named Gil Peretz, the co-founder of PositiveChutzpah.com, gave me this wisdom: never meet alone. Some of my best friends were interested in how I was delivering these meetings. Debbie Ann Schneider and I had already worked together at the top youth camp Global Youth Leadership Summit. Debbie Ann became one of my first producers. First, she tackled the participation map, and as the speaker I was able to focus even more on the attendees. Next, she took over chat engagement and then security and muting/unmuting. I was able to facilitate four programs in a single day by using a team. When I was asked to coach, co-produce, and co-emcee a 200-person four-day conference, we created a team of 36 people to handle one live conference, one Asia watch party, and one EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, Africa) watch party. Never lead a meeting alone. Each team member has a role and they are more engaged as a result. By dividing and delegating roles, you will be a better host and your attendees will feel more attended to because more people are helping them during your virtual meeting.
After you've followed the best steps from the Virtual Presence Primer (see Chapter 2), make sure you look good during your meeting. Center your head to the camera. Position your main screen as close as possible to the video window. When making a key point, take a moment to look directly into the camera.
Donna Cunningham of Seattle Genetics (seattlegenetics.com) drew eyes on a Post-It note and put it next to her camera to remind her to look at the camera as much as she would look at someone in the eyes during her meeting.
Looking good also means sounding good. If possible, meet in a quiet location. If this isn't possible, make sure to mute when you're not speaking. Most systems have a push-to-talk button, like the space bar, to help control your background noise.
One of the most common mistakes is forgetting to unmute if you're going to talk. Make sure to check your mute status before you start speaking. You might have been muted by the host. If you're the host, make sure to give reminders to unmute if you ask someone to speak.
Brad Cochrane, keynote speaker at story1stmarketing.com, was one of the first to use visual signs during meetings. He wouldn't have to unmute. He could just hold up a sign that said Yes or No. I created a collection of useful and fun signs. The most popular sign is “You're On Mute.” Here's a link to signs that you can customize: bit.ly/evmsigns.
If you need to step away or take another call, there is no established etiquette. This is a place where your virtual meeting can establish an etiquette. In one successful virtual meeting, the attendee chats BRB or “Be right back” and then steps out. If necessary, they mute their microphone and turn off their camera. When they return, they unmute their microphone and turn on their camera and chat, “I'm back.”
One of the top problems with virtual meetings is people talking over each other. Until technology comes out where attendees can talk at the same time, nobody can understand anything when two or more people talk. To maximize your virtual meeting, create systems to make sure that all audio is clear and understood by all attendees. Imagine that your audio channel is like air space and that you want to create air traffic control so you don't have collisions in mid-air. Good air traffic control includes systems so that only one attendee is talking at a time and that someone is in charge of muting attendees who are loud by accident. This can include children, pets, lawnmowers, and other noises that are transmitted to your virtual meeting. If you're having a one-on-one meeting, you won't have to worry about this as much, but as your meeting grows in attendees, the problem grows. Attendees should raise their hand to speak, and if two or more people want to speak, the air traffic control person should choose the order.
To practice, just have every person check in, such as with their name and where they are calling from. Make sure every attendee has the opportunity to check in if you have 25 attendees or fewer.
Air traffic control also means maximizing your audio. If someone has noisy audio, such as moving, wind noise, background noise, leaf blowers, pets, or children, you don't have to say anything. As the host, just mute them and they will figure out how to unmute themselves if they want to say something. You can click their window and click mute or find them in “Participants” and click mute. Clear audio is critical to an engaging virtual meeting.
Go to bit.ly/evmatc to see an example of air traffic control in action with a professional host and producer.
What's the value of air traffic control? KC Frankenberger at Reynolds Community College (reynolds.edu) asked to be air traffic control for a virtual meeting. She noticed that out of all the virtual meetings, the most work got done at this meeting and the team got the most work done in the day after the meeting than in any other day over the past two months.
Chat and Share are two of your top virtual tools. Chat is a way to communicate by text during the meeting. It's powerful because it's the easiest way to communicate while someone is talking. Share is powerful because it allows you to share anything that you see on your screen. It's the fastest way to have all attendees understand what you're talking about and get on the same page.
Because only one person at a time can talk effectively in a virtual meeting, chat is the second most powerful engagement tool in virtual meetings.
Chat engages attendees to focus on the meeting and give immediate feedback without having to wait.
This feature helps the extroverts in the group who think out loud and want to share their thoughts in real time.
Chat also helps introverts, as after consuming audio, video, and chats, they often have the right answer and one of their chats can change the entire meeting.
In a poll I conducted online, 41 out of 41 of my industry professionals said that Chat is required for engaging virtual meetings.
One organization turned off Chat because they had a negative experience with it and found it distracting. Further research showed that the attendees on chat were giving feedback that they couldn't hear, the content was pre-recorded, no one was responding to their chat in real time, and the meeting wasn't meeting their expectations. Instead of adding a chat moderator and responding to the feedback, they decided to turn off Chat. Turning off Chat did not solve the problem; it only silenced the feedback to the actual source of the problem. The lesson here is to listen to your attendees' feedback and respond quickly, especially if that feedback is on Chat.
If you have a larger meeting, consider assigning or delegating the responsibility of monitoring the chat to someone on your team. It's their job to welcome people by chat as soon as they log in, ask engaging chat questions, and acknowledge people who chat so they and others feel more comfortable chatting.
If you're attending someone else's virtual meeting, hit up the chat room. It's the fastest way to find out if the organizer or speaker is paying attention to chat. If no one replies, you know that they are not looking at it. For me, that is very non-engaging, the same as if a famous speaker ignored me. Quite often, I find that it's not the speaker I want to network with, it's the people who are replying to my chats.
Share screen: We all need to meet to get work done. Collaboration is one of the most powerful tools for teamwork. The first way to get work done is to create an agenda before the meeting. Decide how you'll open the meeting, what you want to get done, and how you're going to close the meeting. Plan with people who will be presenting during the meeting. Send out the agenda to everyone before the meeting.
Learning how to share documents and videos is a key skill to getting work done. The following is an example using Zoom.
Click “Share Screen” and choose Screen 1.
Open up a document.
An easy way to show your attendees that you can get work done is to write a story. Write a story one line at a time; every attendee must contribute. At the end of the story, ask if everyone agrees with the story.
Another valuable exercise is to write the agenda for your next meeting.
If you have shared tools, such as Microsoft Office or Google Docs, email the link before the meeting and post a link in the chat during the meeting. Take the time to show your attendees that everyone can edit at the same time during the meeting.
To share a video, click “Share Screen,” then click “Share computer sound”;3 choose Screen 1 and click “Share.”
Without being face-to-face, Share Screen is one of the best ways to engage your virtual meeting attendees, collaborate, and get something done that everyone agrees with.
Do you want attendees to want to come back to your meeting? Find a way to end on a high note. You can ask a simple question such as “What did you get out of this meeting?” and ensure that you have enough time for everyone to answer. If you have a large meeting, ask the question in Chat. If you are short on time, ask everyone to use the sign language for applause for the meeting organizer. Ask people to raise their hands next to their head, then shake both hands, which is sign language for applause.4 You can end your meeting on a high note in under 30 seconds because it's easy to teach, no one has to unmute, and you've taught something new to every attendee.
Another way to ensure that you end on a high note is to play a musical, inspirational, or recap video. The video can be of this group meeting together in the past. It can be a music video with a song that every attendee identifies with. Music has the power to change everybody's mood. The video can be an inspirational video that will leave attendees feeling uplifted before the meeting ends.
You can acknowledge others in the meeting. Acknowledgment doesn't cost anything and it's shown to be a key factor in high-performing teams. A Globoforce research study in 2013 showed that 89% of people are more motivated by being told what they are doing right than by being told what they are doing wrong.5
Whatever you do, budget time to close your meeting on a high note.