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How to get better at running inclusive meetings

Too many meetings featured image

Everyone has their own unique traits, preferences, needs, and talents — yet the way we approach meetings often doesn’t account for this. Traditional meeting culture favors one-sided agendas, dominant talkers, and assigned notetakers (who usually don't participate in the conversation). In other words, it's not built for everyone.

Meetings should be a place where attendees feel welcome, comfortable, and free to share their thoughts in a way that matches their needs and preferences.

In this guide to inclusive meetings, we’ll explore: 

  • What is inclusivity?

  • Why meetings should be more inclusive

  • How to run more inclusive meetings

  • How Vowel promotes inclusivity

Inclusive meetings should be the go-to standard for every meeting we run. Let’s find out more about inclusivity, why it matters, and how to achieve it. 

What is inclusivity?

Whether you’re reading Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, or posts on LinkedIn, you’ve probably noticed a spike in content around inclusion.  

Inclusion, in its simplest form, means giving everyone a seat at the table, no matter who they are. Inclusivity gives everyone an equal opportunity to take part, be heard, and feel understood. It should be our default, not just for meetings but for workplace culture as a whole.

Why meetings should be more inclusive

Inclusive meetings happen when every team member feels like they have a chance to contribute to the overall conversation, or at least that people like them are represented in decision-making. 

The trouble is, meetings often aren’t inclusive enough. Some people dominate the conversation, while others struggle to share their point of view in a way that feels meaningful to them. 

Agendas and pre-reads get shared late, so those that need extra time to process information aren’t able to contribute fully. People are expected to follow the conversation with no subtitles or captions, which can be a struggle for many. 

We live in a world where we should all be striving for diversity, but diversity is impossible to achieve without inclusivity. If diversity should be our default position, we need to do more to help us get there. And it needs to come from the top. In recent research, respondents cited leadership as a source of exclusion in 58% of cases.

Leaders, managers, and individuals all play a part in creating a more inclusive environment, even if most or all meetings happen on video (which can create even more challenges, as seen in this survey by SurveyMonkey and FlexJobs).

Video meeting challenges

How to run more inclusive meetings from start to finish

Practicing inclusivity isn’t just about trying to get more voices to speak up. It’s about trying to get the leadership to listen to all the people on their team without any biases. 

On paper, it doesn’t sound that complex, right? Just listen to more people! But this has proven to be more challenging than you’d think. 

Here’s how to make your meetings more inclusive. 

1. Check in on everyone’s accessibility needs

While you can take steps to make your meetings a more inclusive environment in general, it’s best to check in with your team members to find out how you can improve their individual experiences. 

People both with and without disabilities all have unique needs that you can support in different ways. Ask your team members what they struggle with at the moment, and how you can create an even better environment for their needs, work style, and preferences.

If someone needs longer to process information, you can provide all your materials in advance so they can review beforehand and contribute in the moment. For your team members with a slower internet connection, choose a platform like Vowel that works well even at low internet speeds. 

2. Take schedules and communication styles into account

It’s normal for companies to have a meeting culture that sets your ground rules for meetings. You might decide that you have a “no meetings” day, that they’re always held via certain software, or that you should greet everyone on arrival.

Having a meeting culture is great, but you should strive to tailor it to suit the needs you’ve already identified on your team, so you can create a greater sense of belonging and respect people's time.

Take away the need for people to speak up to get involved, and let people take part through text chat, emojis, or virtual hand raises instead. Schedule meetings for when most people can attend, but also record them so others can review in their own time (this is especially important for distributed teams!).

3. Share agendas beforehand

Meeting agendas and topics used to be decided by the host, with only a handful of people given the opportunity to influence the discussion. A more inclusive way to approach the process is to get everyone involved right from the start. 

While the meeting host should kickstart the process by defining the meeting goal and key topics, sharing it out well in advance of the meeting gives people a chance to ask clarifying questions and add points of discussion.

With Vowel, it’s easy to bring your whole team into the meeting planning process. Work together on a collaborative meeting agenda in advance, so there’s no surprises when the meeting time rolls around.

Shared meeting agenda in Vowel

4. Use reliable, browser-based meeting software

Look to break down as many barriers to your meeting as possible, including using software that’s easy for everyone to use. Be mindful of everyone’s location, the power of their PC, and how reliable their internet connection is.

Avoid anything that requires a download or is difficult to use in areas with slower internet speeds. This is especially important if you have remote workers in locations that don’t have the fastest internet speeds, or where the weather can make things challenging at times. Browser-based systems like Vowel work great at low speeds, so there’s no friction between your team members and the meeting. 

Team video call in Vowel, a video conferencing and meeting tool

5. Make someone the facilitator

Meetings that aren’t hosted properly can often run over time, veer off into off-topic conversations, or have one person dominating the conversation. Create a better environment for your discussions by having someone act as the meeting facilitator. 

Ask your meeting facilitator to not only be a timekeeper, but a guardian of your meeting culture. Welcome people as they join your meeting, encourage people to take part in a way that suits them, and keep any challenging situations at bay. This organized, supportive approach to running a meeting helps everyone feel more comfortable.

6. Remove the need for a note-taker

They say that great meetings have an excellent note-taker — someone that’s there to record exactly what happened, so you can reflect on it accurately later. While having accurate meeting notes is essential, use technology to take meeting notes instead so everyone can engage in the meeting fully. 

Not every meeting software features live transcription and notes you can read back over, but ours does. Revisit meeting notes, review highlights from your video call, and say goodbye to the need to assign someone to sit and take notes instead of taking part. 

7. Encourage guests to share their nickname and pronouns

We all have a preferred way of being referred to. Our pronouns and nicknames are the way we present ourselves to the world, and how we’d like to be known. Ask your team members to be open with sharing their nicknames and pronouns to promote a more inclusive space.

Encouraging everyone to add their pronouns to their online meeting profile helps make the environment more welcoming for all. It’s a positive step towards removing any default assumptions. You could also encourage all your team members to share a phonetic spelling of their name or nickname in their profile too, so nobody’s worried they’re pronouncing someone’s name wrong.

8. Give everyone the chance to speak

Research by HBR shows that women are twice as likely to be interrupted in group dialogue, and feel more uncomfortable speaking up. Extroverts are also more likely to take control of conversations, leaving others resigned to simply agreeing. Look for a way to challenge these traditional power dynamics and make your meetings a place where everyone has the chance to share their point of view. 

Ask your meeting facilitator to be aware of who’s talking and who isn’t, and look for ways to balance things out. Step in to ask a question or prompt for someone’s thoughts on a topic, so they’re actively engaged in the conversation. With the help of Vowel’s talk time indicator, it’s easy to see everyone’s contributions. Aim to keep that number balanced, with no one person dominating the meeting. 

“In a remote meeting, it can be easy for introverts or shy people to remain silent. Encourage everyone to participate by asking questions and soliciting input from all attendees.” — Will Yang, Head of Growth, Instrumentl

9. Offer different ways for people to take part

While we want everyone to engage in the meeting, we might find that it looks different for different people. Some of our team members might love to talk at length about a topic, but others might be more comfortable sharing their thoughts in a chat box. Offering multiple ways to engage in the meeting is a great step towards inclusivity. 

Think about the types of meetings you run and how you can add more variety to them. Features like virtual whiteboards, chat boxes, polls, emoji replies, virtual hand raises, and private PMs all help everyone engage in a way that’s comfortable for them. 

10. Review decisions and action items at the end

It can be tough to remember what you agreed to or what happened in a meeting, even if you listened carefully all the way through. Give your team members the best chance of success by reviewing decisions and action items at the end of the meeting. 

Recap your discussions and share a reminder of everything that was agreed, along with action items and next steps. This is extremely helpful for everyone, but especially so for those that have trouble with processing or remembering information, or are hard of hearing. 

Add an action item to shared meeting notes

11. Make it okay to miss or skip meetings

Traditional corporate culture made us feel like meetings were absolutely essential — an event never to be missed. While it’s great to try and attend meetings where we’re needed, today’s culture should shift towards it being acceptable to miss a meeting every so often, especially meetings where you're considered "optional." 

We’ve all had moments where we had to handle an unexpected challenge, or simply felt too burnt out to be present. Maybe we’ve just had too much work to do, or are in a good focus flow, and don’t want to break it to attend a meeting.

Give your team members the flexibility and space to take care of life’s moments, without the pressure to be at every team meeting. If you’re using a thoughtful meeting platform like Vowel, people invited to the meeting can always catch the replay afterwards — it'll appear on their dashboard after the meeting ends, with no need for the host to share.

12. Ask for feedback 

An inclusive meeting culture isn’t about setting some ground rules and living by them. It’s also about change, growth, and adaptability. Continue to ask your team members for feedback on how you can improve future meetings so they’re even better. 

Encouraging feedback is a key part of adopting a learning culture at work. Research by HBR found that in highly diverse organizations, 14% of companies had a strong learning culture — compared to just 8% of not very diverse companies.

Seek out feedback, learn from each other, and use this to support not only better meetings but more inclusivity throughout your company. 

How Vowel helps promote meeting inclusivity

Running better meetings means running inclusive meetings. It means offering people different ways to engage, collaborative agenda planning, and easy transcription. For inclusive meetings, regular meeting software doesn’t cut it. That’s why you need Vowel

With Vowel, inclusivity isn’t an afterthought — it’s baked into everything we do. Enjoy features that help create a better meetings experience for all, like: 

  • Simple web-based software, so it works in low-bandwidth situations

  • Talk time percentages, so you can make sure nobody dominates the conversation

  • Collaborative agendas and notes, so everyone can contribute (and not rely on one note-taker)

  • Real-time transcriptions, so everyone can participate fully, knowing there's a searchable record of the meeting

  • Comments, hand raises, and emoji reactions, so you can engage while staying on mute

  • Synced notes, so you can find exactly what you need 

  • Meeting recordings, so anyone can catch up on what they missed later

  • Personalized meeting settings, so people can share their names, pronouns, and preferred emoji colors

  • Agenda timers to keep meetings and agenda topics from going over time

Inclusive meetings take effort — use Vowel to help you speed up the journey and build in processes to make meetings better before, during, and after.

Make your meetings more enjoyable for everyone

The future of better work is a more diverse, inclusive place for all. An environment where every team member can speak up in their own way, and feel listened to. While meetings remain a big part of our culture, they continue to be a great place to make leaps towards a more supportive and diverse culture. 

If your goal is to run more inclusive meetings, make Vowel your go-to online meetings tool. With inclusivity built-in, you can create the best possible environment for everyone on your team to share, collaborate, and engage in their own way. Experience the future of inclusive meetings — try Vowel for free today.