Almost every company has relied on video conferencing and online meetings to do business during these socially distanced, trying times over the last year or so. And even before that, organizations of all kinds used tech for working remotely or dealing with different time zones.
While most of us have gotten quite used to meeting in cyberspace, that doesn’t mean it’s been as virtually fun or entertaining as it could be. Like most things having to do with remote work, there’s room for improvement.
Some may wonder why we should even worry about making meetings fun at all. It’s called work for a reason, right? Isn’t it about keeping your nose to the grindstone and getting it done? Well, sometimes, yes.
Data needs to be entered and budgets need to be approved. However, when we remember that we’re living breathing beings that actually perform better when there’s motivation or rewards involved, it can lead us to reconsider the role of fun.
Injecting a little fun, comedy, and humor in an otherwise monotonous meeting can awaken the senses and give a little shot in the arm to team members. A quick game or authentic question can snap us out of our sleepwalking state and shake up the autopilot in our brains. It’s kind of like when Cher’s character said to Nick Cage’s character in Moonstruck, “snap out of it!” No one is saying you should slap your colleagues, of course, but a change of pace in an online meeting may just do the trick.
It’s critical to make remote meetings efficient and productive, but if you want to keep your employees engaged and (*gasp*) maybe even enjoying themselves, you should try to increase the fun factor. Luckily, a lot of people have figured out ways to do just this, and several success stories can be found online. So if you’re starved for ways to keep virtual meeting attendees from drifting off to sleep, keep on reading.
Before you send out that next virtual meeting invite to your team, take a look at some of these tips. There’s no need to start from scratch when you can borrow and build on any of these ideas. Some are so simple and straightforward, while others may seem a little wacky, but it’s entirely up to you to decide which ones to incorporate into your virtual meetings.
So, without further ado, here are eight great ways to increase that employee engagement and fire up the fun for future virtual meetings.
Sharing is Caring – Popcorn Style
Kindergarten classrooms are full of good ideas, and show-and-tell is one of them. Bringing a personal item to the screen to share with other attendees is one way to reveal a little about yourself. Sharing is caring, as any child these days can tell you.
This tip includes a slight twist on the activity, where you don’t have your item until a person calls your name. Then, you go and grab something in your home that was influenced or inspired by their sharing session. For example, let’s say Janice just showed the team a stuffed animal that her nephew helped her create at Build-a-Bear.
When she’s done, she hands it off to Kim. Since Kim is now thinking of President Theodore Roosevelt (because Teddy Bears), she goes and finds that picture of her standing in front of The White House, and shares a few words about her visit. Then, Kim says, “ok, your turn, Pablo,” and Pablo grabs a tape measure because “White House” made him think about his time building houses with Habitat for Humanity.
This activity is part word association, part show-and-tell, and part pass it on. The team leader, or person running the online meeting, is the only one who is prepared with the first “show-and-tell” item. After that, it’s free association. It’s also the team leader’s job to make sure everyone keeps the conversation going and stays engaged.
Passed (Out) or Present
Why not have a little fun with our waning attention spans? Instead of straight-up shaming another team member for not paying attention, turn it into a little game. Kind of like how roll call could take kids who were spacing out by surprise, this trick is an interactive way to help meeting attendees re-focus. It’s just one way for a host to encourage an audience to engage.
Have all your team members write something like “present” on a piece of paper and keep it within reach. When you sense a lack of focus or feel the group drifting, hold your “present” sign up and see who follows suit.
The last person to hold up their sign has to complete a challenge or answer a trivia question. As long as this isn’t a performance review or an occasion where something super serious is being discussed, this can bring a little levity to an online meeting.
Yes, you’re very pretty. Now turn off your self view so you can contribute to the conversation without wondering if your eyebrows have always moved around like that as you speak. When we’re in an office setting, we look at one another without staring at a screen that shares concurrent video of our own faces. There’s something a little unnatural and a lot distracting about staring at yourself that much.
Pro tip: turn off that self view, while making sure your camera is still on for others to see you. This may not seem directly related to the subject at hand, but it is. If you’re worried about how you look the whole time, you’re less likely to let loose and have fun.
You can always check to see if there’s lipstick on your teeth in the bathroom mirror before hopping on that video call. Let the online video tools we have available to us be your friend, not your foe.
Mirror Mirror on the Web
Speaking of mirrors, that reminds me of one of the more physically-oriented games you can try with participants in virtual meetings. It’s a fun and interactive way to play with movement and physical communication, and makes for a good icebreaker. If you want to talk to your remote teams and employees about being responsive, doing this mirroring movement exercise provides the perfect analogy.
You can start off being the “mover,” or ask for a volunteer, and then have anyone who wants take a turn. Either way, one person starts off moving their body slowly enough so that others can copy the movement. It’s sort of like a silent Simon says.
If the mover – or dancer, if you wish – reaches their arm to the side, the attendees should mimic them and do the same movement in real-time. It’s free form movement and should be free of judgment.
You can make your virtual meetings a little more multi-media by bringing in some tunes for this one. Pro tip: ask employees for their music suggestions in the chat section at the end of a previous meeting to give them a preview of what’s coming.
Lights, turn off Camera, Action
Many folks arrive at online meetings or virtual events with their cameras turned off. Some might turn video on or off depending on their role in the meeting, or how engaging they perceive it to be at the moment. Chad Littlefield, best-selling author, and remote meeting engagement expert, suggests that sometimes you might want to have everyone turn off their camera and go into what he calls “podcast mode.”
While it may seem like a counterintuitive way to create fun and engaging virtual meetings, it can provide a moment for everyone to actually arrive in the virtual meeting space and be present for others. And as Littlefield says, “when everyone’s really present…you’ll experience way more meaningful connection and fun and moments that are worth having in your meeting.” He insists it’s one of the best practices, along with having attendees observe a 60-second moment of silence.
Engaging an audience isn’t always about putting on a big show, but also acknowledging where people are coming from, and meeting them there. If you’re the next emcee or host of a virtual event of any kind, these ideas may be of interest as a way to set the scene for collaboration and deeper engagement between participants.
Here are a few other tips Chad Littlefield suggests to make your virtual meetings more fun:
Let the Virtual Games Begin
Whether it’s virtual bingo, name that tune, or themed trivia, games are a great way to make remote meetings more fun. There are websites, tech tools, and software options that let multiple attendees participate in a virtual contest and try to beat each other to the buzzer. Team members can channel that pent-up energy that’s been building for months into a healthy competition.
You can use a platform like Trivia Hub where there are hundreds of trivia questions and full-service options that provide you with a host who can create an energetic atmosphere and encourage the audience to be more interactive. Or, you may already have a person in your office who is perfect for this role and familiar with all the meeting tools required.
Whether you want to outsource the organizing of the event or do it yourself, you’ll want to encourage meeting attendees to relax and enjoy themselves and put the worries of work aside. Letting your team out early to participate is one way to get everyone on board and have a successful virtual game night.
Dance, Stretch, Move!
Short of sending out swing sets to all of your employees, there are many ways you can encourage employees to get physical before, during, or after meetings. Every business should understand by now the importance of staying active. Some companies provide perks like gym memberships or discounts on exercise equipment because they know it’s mutually beneficial to have healthy people on their team.
Virtual meetings are so often just another part of our sedentary day. We forget that it’s up to the meeting organizer or host to invite participants to stand up, move around, or more. Attendees might feel rude getting up and moving around otherwise.
During a virtual event, there are many ways to get active. If folks are up for it, you can even try things like a virtual yoga class or line dancing and hire a professional instructor for the day.
As for your more run-of-the-mill remote meetings, you still have the option of introducing some physical activity, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Set a timer for 20 minutes when your meeting starts.
Then, when it goes off, ask everyone to stand as they are able, and engage in some stretches together for a brief moment before resuming your conference call. If you want to make it even more fun and unpredictable, announce a surprise dance party and end the meeting early.
Take Flight over a Sea of Samples
Now that you’ve worked together to burn some calories, don’t forget the flip side and equally appealing pastime of consuming them. Sharing a meal together, even if it’s just some simple snacks, is a surefire way to keep the conversation going and the ideas flowing.
There have even been some studies that suggest the simple act of chewing gum can improve cognitive function. So just imagine the benefits when real food enters the scene.
Employee appreciation snack boxes and beverages have gained favor over the last few months, with companies relying on services like BoxyBite, Snack Nation, Bottles Nation, and others to deliver drinks and treats to team members. Employees are generally appreciative of the gift, and it’s also a way to share a snack together while working further apart.
If it fits with your workplace culture, you could send a flight of beers and do a tasting together at your next virtual meeting, or keep it more tame with some tasty pastries or desserts. The important part is that you’re enjoying a bite or drink together, and can share opinions about something other than cost reports or product design. Change is always refreshing.
Those were just a few ideas, but if you’re looking for help with your next virtual meeting or event, we’re always here to help.
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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 speakers for hire.