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Better Meetings

8 ways to make virtual meetings more interactive and engaging

8 ways to make virtual meetings more interactive and engaging-featured image

Your remote team members are all in a meeting, it’s been dragging on and on and people are yawning, glancing at their smartphones…  

Bored Season 8 GIF By The Office
Image Source: Giphy

There’s no engagement in sight. Holding virtual meetings that are productive and engaging is emerging as one of the biggest challenges for remote teams.

Why? It’s harder to feel the same sense of connection you get with face-to-face meetings. And let’s make one thing clear – remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. 

That’s why we prepared this guide on how to make your remote meetings more interactive and engaging. 

What can cause bad virtual meetings?

According to Gartner, 48% of workers will continue to work remotely and be part of a virtual team after the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means more reliance on video conferencing and other online communication tools to do everything from onboarding to creative brainstorming to daily team meetings. 

But how effective is this, really? Research from Verizon offers some sobering stats – 91% of people admit to daydreaming during virtual meetings. And it gets worse: 39% percent have actually visited dreamland 😴.  That’s right, nearly four in ten employees say they’ve dozed off during a meeting. 

How do things get so dire? Here are four reasons your meetings aren’t engaging.

❌ There’s no agenda

A lot of managers seem to think they can recreate the engagement that comes naturally at in-person meetings with a couple of icebreakers. 

Not gonna happen. 🙅

Sure, you want your virtual meetings to be interactive and engaging but that doesn’t mean you can allow chaos or a topic free-for-all. 

Without a meeting agenda that clearly tells people why they’re present and what’s expected of them, you’ll have a video call full of bored faces while you do all the talking. 

Instead, use a meeting agenda to lay out the purpose of the meeting and the topics that will be covered (ideally with times attached). Now you have a roadmap and you’ve given everyone time to prepare. 

Vowel meeting agenda

With Vowel, you can create and share meeting agendas from the app, either using a template or starting from scratch. The agenda carries into the meeting and is visible to everyone on the shared notepad (because we know it’s a pain to create a Google doc and set permissions for every meeting).

❌ You invite the wrong people

What’s ruder: leaving a meeting that doesn’t need you or wasting people’s time?

Remote workers already spend way too much time on video calls, so don’t add more interruptions to their busy workflows. A person who isn’t essential to the topic at hand will likely be disengaged until the end of the meeting.

If you’re not sure if someone should be at the meeting, contact them over Slack  or another chat app, and ask if they’d like to come. You can also make people “optional” attendees, so they don’t have to feel the pressure to attend. 

Tip: In Vowel, everyone who’s invited to a meeting (even optional attendees) gets the recordings, transcript, notes, and summary — meaning they don’t have to attend the meeting to get the relevant information. 

❌ You don’t encourage participation

When people don’t get to participate in a meaningful way, they get bored. They could start daydreaming or trying to multitask while the meeting goes on. Research shows that 79% of employees do other work while in a meeting. 

The result is that neither the other work nor the meeting ends up being productive. To overcome this challenge, encourage participation by asking questions, soliciting feedback, and giving everyone a chance to speak. 

Bottom line: make sure your meetings aren’t just one person droning on while everyone else feels like they’re in a lecture. That’s both boring and unproductive.

❌ The meeting is unnecessary

Unnecessary meetings are the main driver of what researchers call Zoom fatigue

The same research we quoted above also found that 45% of employees feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they’re expected to attend. Holding too many meetings has a clear negative effect on employee satisfaction and productivity; 47% of employees identified meetings as the number one time-waster in their day. 

But how do you tell if a meeting is unnecessary? Ask yourself:

  • Could I just make a simple announcement over email or Slack?

  • Is it possible to discuss these issues with the team through an asynchronous form of communication? (e.g. Slack, email, video recording)

  • Could it be a quick phone call to get a question answered or a decision finalized?

If the answer to just one of these questions is “Yes,” then the meeting is probably unnecessary.

So there you have it: the inconvenient truths about video conferences. Now, let’s look at how to make those meetings a whole lot better.

8 steps to better virtual meetings

Video conferencing tools are great. They were a lifesaver during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and are now indispensable for remote teams. 

But communication tools alone won’t make your meetings fun and engaging. It also takes two low-tech tools: management and planning. Be more mindful of these two things and you'll reduce the likelihood of people falling asleep during the virtual conversations. 

8 steps to better virtual meetings graphic

1. Have a clear meeting agenda with a strong purpose

How can you expect to boost engagement when people don’t know what they’re supposed to engage in?

You can’t  — and that’s true for virtual and face-to-face meetings alike.

Everything becomes easier with a meeting agenda, where you can clearly state the purpose of the meeting and let everyone know what's expected of them. 

In the meeting agenda, outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities (more on this later). During the meeting, assign action items to make sure your team stays accountable

Agendas should be shared ahead of time, ideally  a day in advance. Take into account that if a participant will be delivering a keynote or needs to prepare a PowerPoint presentation or slide deck, you’ll want to let them know at least 2-3 days in advance. 

2. Invite the right people

You might think inviting everyone every time is good manners – but it’s not conducive to a good meeting culture. Nobody benefits – your meeting is less productive and the person who doesn’t need to be there now has an extra obligation that’s sapping their productivity. 

For every item on your agenda, there should be at least one coworker present who can contribute something. 

It’s the best way to judge if someone should be there or not. Can’t think of any agenda item that a particular person can contribute to? Release them from the invite list (and send them the recording after, if you think it’s helpful). 

3. Encourage check-ins and casual conversations

Even if you’ve been meeting virtually with the same people for ages, there’s still always a bit of awkwardness at the start of each new meeting. 

We’re all used to virtual meetings by now but we evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to talk to people face-to-face. 

Get around this tension by dedicating a little bit of time to just chewing the fat. 

Research from Rutgers and the  University of Exeter found that office small talk has a beneficial effect on employees’ well-being.  Small talk is trivial in a physical office but can be difficult for distributed teams. 

Here are a few ways to pull it off:

  • Ask how everyone’s day or week has been going

  • Use icebreakers

You can’t rely solely on icebreaker questions to make things engaging, but they’re an easy way to get everyone in a talking and sharing mood (instead of…silence). And for most people, small talk is a more natural and fun way to start a conversation, get everyone talking immediately, and establish a sense of safety and trust. This can do wonders for team building, enabling better teamwork across the board.

(Check out our list of over 100 fun and interesting questions for inspiration).

4. Bring on the meeting emojis

Emojis are a fun way to express how you feel about something.

If you use Vowel for video conferencing, it comes with emoji reactions built in. At any time during a meeting, participants can show how they feel about a particular moment or an idea (without going off mute).

Vowel in-meeting with emojis feature

The best way to encourage everyone to use meeting emojis is to use them yourself. Let team members follow your lead and add a human touch to every virtual meeting you hold.

5. Encourage hand raises

Interrupting people isn’t good practice if you want them to feel heard and appreciated. Still, there are moments when you want to reply to something someone else said or ask a clarifying question. 

In real life, you’d probably raise your hand — and you can do the same in a virtual meeting as a lot of meeting tools (Vowel included ✋) feature the hand raise function. 

This is also a great feature for larger meetings like town hall–style conversations. People who are more shy or extroverted can still express their opinion by clearly indicating they want to speak instead of having to interrupt someone. 

6. Have shorter meetings

Ever been to a meeting that just wouldn’t end? A meeting that’s too long is the nightmare version of a gift that keeps on giving. It’s a bore-fest that keeps on taking – taking away everyone’s energy and motivation. 

How long should your meetings be? Around 45 minutes, or an hour max. Research shows that 83% of employees can’t focus any longer than that.

Agenda timers in Vowel

Let Vowel do the time tracking. You can assign a time limit to each item on the agenda and then track it during the meeting (you’ll hear a gentle beep when you’re a minute away from the timer going off).

7. Ask for feedback from everyone

Don’t be afraid to ask your attendees what they think about the meeting. Feedback is crucial if you want to optimize meetings so that they’re as engaging as possible. 

You can use live polls for this where the individual votes are private, but the entire team sees the result. In addition to feedback about the meeting, these polls can be used to vote on agenda items or as an icebreaker activity. 

Another way to share feedback is with Vowel’s comments feature. Every participant can write a quick text-based comment that saves as a comment history (instead of a traditional meeting chat). Think of them as the midpoint between an emoji reaction and a hand raise. 

Comments appear over the commenter's name so everyone can easily spot them. They’re also a great option when you’re having mic problems or a lot of background noise.

8. Assign roles

Effective meetings tend to have assigned roles for people. That’s great, but for a series of recurring meetings, it can get stale. 

So, don’t be afraid to switch it up and rotate the roles from the time. 

Here are some of the most commonly assigned roles in meetings:

  • Facilitator: Their job is to keep the meeting on track and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. They’re also in charge of the meeting agenda. 

  • Notetaker: They take meeting notes and jot down action items that are mentioned during discussions. Bonus if your team takes collaborative notes (backed up by transcription)

  • Timekeeper: They enforce the time limits on specific topics and agenda items. 

  • Vibes watcher: You might be able to replace the notetaker with Vowel’s real-time transcriptions and the timekeeper with the built-in agenda timekeeper and talk-time tracker. Watching out for vibes, though, is something that software can’t do (yet). A vibes watcher is like a facilitator who takes mood into account. If a person or their contributions to the discussion have been neglected, a vibes watcher can swoop in to guide the conversation toward them.

Not all meetings need all these roles, but if you’re assigning roles do make sure to switch them up. If one person constantly does one thing, they’ll quickly get bored.

Have more fun and interactive online meetings

Remote teams rely on virtual meetings to connect, discuss issues, brainstorm ideas, and get the job done and decisions made. But too many meetings can negatively affect everyone on the team by taking away energy, engagement, and productivity. 

Managers need to do better to make their meetings more interactive and engaging — and using Vowel is a great way to start. Vowel helps you create thoughtful meeting agendas and use times to stay on track for each topic and speaker.

Your attendees can use emoji reactions, hand raises, comments, and shared notes during the meeting to engage in the ways they feel comfortable. 

A screenshot of a recorded meeting summary in Vowel

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