If you’re like a lot of people who are working from home, you still have some distant memories of what it was like to be in the same space as your colleagues, when you could say without hesitation that they have a lower half. Nowadays, with virtual meetings being the norm, you can only verify that they possess a torso and an internet connection. Still, companies manage to conduct business and carry on with communication.
Virtual meetings allow for businesses to forge ahead, even though digital may not be ideal. But before we trash technology too harshly, it’s important to acknowledge some of the benefits. In doing so, we can appreciate the differences between online and face-to-face meetings and make the best of whatever situation we’re in.
Cat Stevens/Yusuf was onto something when he said, “Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.” And that was several years Before Zoom (BZ). If you think about it, a virtual meeting is kind of akin to time travel.
Now wherever you are, you can be there. And here. Here and there. Near and far. It starts to sound a little like a Dr. Seuss book, right? Oh, the Places You’ll Go…as you sit right there, straight up in your chair, hopefully wearing more than underwear. (Or something like that, I never said I was a poet.) But apart from all these “pants optional” jokes being bandied about, what are the real differences between virtual meetings and face to face meetings?
It’s best to take a look at the differences between these two types of meetings in order to make the necessary adjustments and plan appropriately. We’ll discuss how you can engage attendees and keep that sense of personal connection intact even when working at a distance.
Now let’s dive into some of those differences and see what we can do about it!
See Related: How To Encourage Participation In Virtual Meetings
1. Say it Thrice
Attention is a precious commodity and everyone wants some. With face-to-face meetings there are plenty of things that compete for people’s attention. When meeting participants are working from home, multiply those distractions by 17 or so.
Kids, cats, unlimited access to snacks that call your name from the kitchen so cruelly while you sit at your make-shift desk in the dining room – all these things are vying for people’s attention, and we should appreciate that reality. If you as a presenter really want them to hear what you’re saying, then take the following tip from me, or actually, take it from Aristotle.
The Aristotelian triptych, or three-part framework, to presenting an idea is probably something you’ve heard before. Basically, it boils down to these three steps:
- Tell them what you’re going to say
- Say it
- Tell them what you just said
That seems redundant, you might be saying to yourself right now. And while you’re not entirely wrong, there’s more to the story. Telling a group of people what you’re about to tell them gives them a sense of the scope and purpose of your presentation.
And, if done well, this first part might also include something to explain why they want and need this information. Then, of course, you tell them what it is you want to tell them. After they applaud and give you a standing ovation for your genius idea, then you tell them again what you just told them.
Of course, in your closing, it will be more of a summary, and a final chance to get them on board. Then take your bow and exit stage left (which is probably Zoom right, right?)
Repetition is key in so many instances, whether practicing piano, memorizing a poem, or getting meeting attendees to actually pay attention to you. There’s more than one reason they say “third times the charm,” and one of those might have to do with our intermittent listening habits, which are often worse when we’re online. So even if this tip has been around for millennia, it’s more pertinent now with the number of distracted meeting participants at an all-time high.
2. The Importance of Body Language
When we look at face-to-face meetings vs. virtual meetings there are some rather obvious benefits with face-to-face meetings. When you’re in a face-to-face meeting, you have the chance to check-in on others’ body language (sometimes even subconsciously) because you are physically present with them in the room and can see everything play out in real time. Especially if you’re a leader or manager, it’s important to take note of these indicators of interpersonal and team dynamics.
If you are giving a presentation at a face-to-face meeting, it’s much easier to assess everyone’s level of interest and comprehension since our brains are pretty decent at reading body language and perceiving facial expressions around us. Facial expressions can provide a certain amount of insight into another person’s emotional state, so a presenter could slow down or change course if they see confusion popping up on everyone’s faces, or brows furrowing in disagreement.
In face-to-face meetings, it’s much easier to glance around the room and gauge things as you go along. However, when we’re in virtual meetings, some of that physical feedback is disrupted, either by technical glitches, timing, or just the distance that a screen seems to put between people. Many social cues are simply missed in virtual meetings.
So, if your current work situation requires that you participate primarily in virtual meetings, you might want to consider how you can regain some of that camaraderie that comes with in-person meetings. You could take a little extra time and meet one-on-one with people, or have small team meetings where everyone has ample time to speak. Since we’re losing a bit of the closeness (literally and figuratively) when we meet online, we should try to find ways to reverse the effects of that.
3. Distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder
Sorry for another downer, but I have to break it to you. Distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. I mean, we really should realize that after a million Hallmark movies where the gal goes back to her small hometown, falls in love with her old flame who’s now a plumber-slash-secret-philanthropist, and decides to leave her flawed fiance back in the big city.
Apparently distance didn’t make her heart grow fonder…of him. Anyhow, let’s get back to how distance can affect meetings, and all that business. As you may have noticed, people act differently online than they do in person. This is more pronounced when people on online forums and don’t actually know each other in person.
With that anonymity, they often feel emboldened to say things they might not otherwise, and aren’t as likely to suffer consequences. Distance, it turns out, can initiate a reverse Grinch, wherein one’s heart shrinks three sizes that day and makes people act differently than they do when in close contact with others. Take road rage for instance.
How many people would cuss out a complete stranger if they were next to them in the grocery line as opposed to the 405? Well, let’s not think too long about that. We don’t need another downer. The point is that the presence of another human in close proximity makes personal connection a little easier.
Even with companies where people pretty much know each other, the physical distance can still put a damper on relationship building or connecting with an audience. Some people tend to act like real-life rules no longer apply when you go online (see: pants conversation above).
Also, authority figures seem to hold less authority online, since the setting acts as an equalizer where everyone appears the same. Trying to lead or present with these limitations can pose additional challenges. Acknowledging this fact is the first step in addressing it.
To account for the distance between meeting participants, find a way for them to feel more connected to the present moment. Open up with an ice breaker to help establish or build upon connections between team members. Get everyone up and moving as a simple reminder that we’re not just disembodied heads nodding in agreement, or worse – nodding off.
4. New Opportunities Abound
So far I’ve pointed out how we miss out on a lot of interpersonal activity when we aren’t in the office stopping by each other’s desks or sharing stories at the water cooler. However, even though online meetings might not always be ideal, we must remember that with new challenges come new opportunities. Now that you’ve mastered one or more of the video conferencing options available, you may think you know all you need to know about virtual meetings.
Well, just because you have the technology to mute everyone, that doesn’t mean they’re listening. You can actually get people to engage in unique ways during virtual meetings that you cannot with face-to-face meetings at the office.
For example, if you do an ice breaker in a virtual meeting you could ask everyone to step away from their work space and go find something personal (but work-appropriate) that they can share with the group. Someone might share a recent work of art their kindergartener gifted them, while another person could call their dog over to do a trick.
It really expands the options you have when you do this at home as opposed to your desk at work, where you can only share your favorite mug so many times. It also gets people up and moving, as well as engaged, which is always good.
You can also take advantage of some digital tools in online meetings that aren’t exactly available in face-to-face meetings. For example, you can conduct an anonymous poll. As the host, Zoom enables you to create polls and administer them whenever you please during the meeting.
You can ask questions in a poll format to get a sense of where the team is on a given matter. It can be a yes or no question, or you can provide four or so options to choose from.
- Do others agree that the company needs to expand services to reach new demographic groups?
- What are the preferred tools to assess user experience?
- What should we order for our first lunch back in the office?
That last question might seem silly, but who doesn’t like to discuss food. Plus, it’s okay to do some “futuring” and envision a time when there will be a decadent lunch spread in the conference room (or at least some leftovers in the kitchen).
You can opt to make these polls anonymous or not. Here’s a person from Zoom with a brief tutorial if you’re interested in incorporating polling in your next virtual meeting:
5. Teams in Different Time Zones – Unite!
While many folks have shifted from an in-person workspace to the online sphere where they see less of their colleagues on a daily basis, others have had a different experience. If employees in your business are scattered throughout the country, or you have teams on both coasts, this could be an opportunity to mix things up. As long as everyone’s working virtually anyhow, maybe you want to rearrange your teams or try something you hadn’t considered before.
Companies generally consider the costs involved when arranging work groups, so while the boss may not have initially included everyone on the east coast design team in the early product talks, she could do so now. The new normal of everyone meeting online opens up a world of possibilities. You could bring in a consultant – a professional facilitator to streamline communication and take your business through re-branding or a virtual entertainer who can delight the entire team in a digital space.
If you need to boost morale, a clean comedian can help your staff get their giggle on. Having a fresh face in a virtual meeting could also be a welcome change. Not that you need someone with a doctorate in laughter to inject fun in your virtual gatherings, but a professional comedian can really bring a breath of fresh air to virtual meetings or a virtual conference.
You can have them play the part of Game Show Host and even give away prizes. Then, when it’s time to get back to business, everyone will feel better connected and more refreshed.
Keep Reading: 5 Ways To Effectively Lead Virtual Team Meetings
Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speaker.