If it seems like you spend every day plugged in, logged on, and staring straight ahead at the screen, you’re not alone. Like everyone else, Clean Comedians is adjusting to the new normal. As it turns out that dude from Jamiroquai was pretty dead on with his prediction about virtual insanity, though he probably didn’t have endless hours of Zoom meetings in mind. Since this virtual world of video conferencing and remote meetings is our reality now, the challenge is to make it work and keep meeting attendees active and engaged.
At any given company, the majority of team members have figured out how to find the meeting ID, punch in the code, and look at least semi-presentable for the duration of the virtual gathering. However, that doesn’t mean they are engaged. Some people have perfected that “no really, I’m totally listening” face when in reality it’s more of a “I know exactly where to put my phone so I can scroll through Instagram and avoid detection” face. The answer is not to scold or shame your colleagues into collaboration. It’s figuring out how to make virtual meetings more interactive.
Times have changed and your teams can’t chat at the water cooler or have a quick discussion across their desks. So, what things can you do to make online meetings more interactive and meaningful? Great question! There are several resources and tools out there to set you on the right path, and you can read our 10 tips right now.
See Related: 5 Ways To Effectively Lead Virtual Team Meetings
#1: Do you really need this meeting?
You may ask yourself: Why do we need this meeting? You may ask yourself: How did we get here? And if you don’t ask yourself that question, you may find yourself sitting in a rather unproductive situation. You may not have realized that quoting a Talking Heads song from the 1980s would be a good starting point before scheduling a virtual meeting, but it makes sense to ask these important questions before moving forward.
A lot of folks burn out or feel dragged down by unproductive interactions. So ask yourself: what are the goals? Is there a better approach to achieve them? Do you need everyone to share their input if you already know the actions you plan to take? Perhaps an email, a phone call, or a tool like SurveyMonkey is just fine for what you need to share or the feedback you seek. Maybe you don’t need an online meeting at all.
Another question to ask is who really needs to be in the “room?” People like to have a purpose, so when they feel like they’re just a face in the crowd, it may not be the most constructive meeting. What’s worse is that the more people filling up those Brady Bunch boxes on your screen, the less likely it is for anyone to engage. There are even psychological theories and terms to back this idea up. Diffusion of responsibility is an often observed phenomenon where people are less likely to take responsibility when many people are around. Whether it’s trying their hardest at tug o’ war, or responding to cries for help, the more people that are present, the less likely it is that any individual will act because they think another will. It’s basically ascribing to the “someone else will take care of it” school of thought. So be sure your virtual meetings have a purpose and only invite the team members who have business being there, because it’s important to respect everyone’s time. It’s really…same as it ever was.
#2: Break the ice
Why do you have to have an…ice breaker? (This question sounds best if you sing it to the tune of Dione Warwick’s Heartbreaker). If you’re having multiple meetings a day with the same people, an ice breaker isn’t necessarily essential. However, for most meetings, it’s a good idea to start with a simple check in that reminds everyone we’re not emotionless automatons. Though it feels like we are all plugged into the Matrix now, there’s still a Neo underneath there somewhere. Small talk can actually get attendees sharing, and keep the conversation flowing.
Everyone arriving at a virtual meeting is transitioning from a different activity, whether it be an earlier online meeting, fielding questions from family members dealing with distance learning, or just waking up. The point is, each person needs a moment to arrive in the virtual space in order to be engaging and effective. Actually acknowledging, hearing, and seeing each other by sharing something personal sets the scene for improved communication and collaboration.
The ice breaker can be basically anything. Ask each of the participants: what’s the craziest job you ever had? What’s your favorite sitcom? Or, you can always use it to get team members to contemplate the task at hand. For example, if you’re talking about showing customer appreciation you could ask each person about the best compliment they’ve ever received (avoiding NSFW content), or what they’re thankful for today. Whichever approach you take, you’ll encourage participation.
#3 Tighten up your tech game
Though it’s true that most folks have some familiarity with FaceTime, Zoom, Slack, or Google Groups by now, but you still want to help ensure that everyone on the team is up to speed. Don’t assume proficiency in every app or platform you use if you have new employees or someone who’s a little slow on the software uptake. Make your meeting tools are as simple as possible. In order to have effective and engaging online meetings, you should help participants make it to the meeting on time and be ready to work. When you email out the agenda, also share detailed instructions on how to access the remote meeting for attendees to follow.
Make sure your conferencing software is seamlessly integrated with your communications so you’re not sending out new meeting IDs to everyone five seconds before start time. Also, if you’re going to include interactive elements, make sure that you explain ahead of time how it will work. Do your team members know not to close certain windows while they answer poll questions? Again, at this point in the game, months into a multitude of virtual meetings, you probably don’t need to worry too much. That said, it’s better to be sure your tech set up is more “beam me up” than “bum me out.”
#4 Shall we play a game?
As long as we’re pulling out dated references, let’s draw on some wisdom from that Matthew Broderick movie, WarGames. One can learn a thing or two and play games at the same time! And as long as you don’t accidentally hack into NORAD’s server and start World War III, it can be lots of fun. Humans like to have a good time, and even though we may feel a little removed from one another as we meet virtually, there are still ways to connect and increase interaction.
Luckily there are ample options when it comes to technology and you can use software to set up games and increase audience engagement. There are tools that allow you to have virtual team trivia battles, and even show live leaderboards updating in real time. There are virtual prize wheels, or you can create rewards on your own. You can use a simple live poll to create a quick game and decide whether you’d also like to do giveaways for some or all attendees.
However you go about it, games can inject a little joy in an otherwise dull and detached environment. Sharing in some light-hearted competition can encourage team bonding and create time to have a quick chat or conversation.
#5 Take one for the team
A joke, that is. After all, a little self-deprecation never hurt anybody (else). It seems we always appreciate a person who has humility and sense of humor about him or herself. So why not have a little fun and play it up? If you’re running a meeting and are comfortable putting yourself out there for a little light jabbing, then consider creating a Lingo Bingo card that pokes fun at the phrases you tend to use.
Maybe you are someone who starts every sentence with “look,” “listen,” or “hear me out.” It’s also an interesting opportunity to be aware of your own words and a chance to see where you might be overusing certain ones. Seriously though, how many times can a process be “optimized?” Does everything need to be “scalable” “going forward” as you follow “best practices” or “disrupt” the industry?
Perhaps you can imagine how fast folks might be able to fill up a Bingo card with your most frequently used phrases. Here’s one from Hubspot that has bingo cards already filled out with corporate buzzwords, as well as a card you can customize with different words. Send out a PDF of the card prior to the meeting so that your co-workers can print it out and track your words. Of course, if you’re delivering a quarterly report that spells impending doom for half the staff, this would not be the time for Billy’s Lingo Bingo. But if it’s a casual check-in then it’s one of those things that can engage teams and keep people’s attention.
#6 Dance Break!
There’s that saying “dance like nobody’s watching” but what’s wrong with a small audience? As long as no one gets hurt, there’s nothing better than a dance break. And if anyone on your team can break dance during dance break, extra points for them! So put on some Chaka Khan or Dua Lipa and bust a move.
Everyone is sitting around too much these days, so any excuse to get up and shake it should be welcome, but not all attendees will be into it. Some participants in your group might be a little shy. For those individuals, there are still options. They should feel free to turn off their camera before they boogie on down. Or, they can be invited to stand up and do some simple stretching.
Here are some exercises you can do even without getting up from your desk, if you choose to keep it a little more low key:
#7 Is there an echo?
You know one way to get people to listen to you? Listen to them. Communication is an act of reciprocal respect. Getting everyone to actively listen is half the battle. Most of us could use practice clearly communicating our ideas as well as learning to listen better. One way to practice the latter is to echo what someone just said. If you repeat what you heard a person say then it shows that you were indeed listening, and also allows a space for any needed clarification.
When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can structure it in a way so that before someone speaks, they first reiterate what the last person said. It won’t work in every context, but for a brainstorming session it can prove effective. You can even add in that improv trick of “yes, and” where the second person builds off the first idea. So if Claire says, “I think we should bring in baby elephants for the virtual launch party,” Tamika can add “yes, and they should be wearing our branded merch.”
If you’re going to try out this tip, you should email teammates a detailed agenda ahead of time and maybe even pre-select the speaker order. Remember, you’re not aiming to cause any undue anxiety. You want to ensure active listening and engagement, and hopefully share some great ideas.
#8 Ask questions throughout virtual meetings
If you want to end your meeting with a clear understanding of tasks and next steps moving forward, don’t wait until it’s almost adjourned to pop the question about questions. And simply asking “any questions?” may not be the best way to get feedback. Try asking a specific question, and directing it to a particular colleague. For example: Mateo, if customers are coming across barriers with this new navigation, what do you think we can do to address that?
That’s pretty much it. Any questions? (Kidding, of course).
#9 Visuals make your virtual meeting better
Follow best practices by using visuals and get your attendees engaged. Humans are hard-wired to process visual stimuli. We react instinctively to images, and can decode facial expressions and body language faster than reading all the words on a PowerPoint slide. Like the dogs in the movie Up (squirrel!), moving objects can make even more of an impact. So what does all this mean for online meetings? It means you might benefit by including some short videos or getting your audience more engaged with a variety of visual content.
Visual learning outperforms auditory learning and recall in several studies. Visual cues trigger emotions and help us recall information much better. Sometimes an infographic is a better way to convey information to a big group. You can facilitate a conversation around a picture that helps team members come to a shared understanding of an issue. Using visual content allows your audience to interact with information in a unique way. Plus, if you can find a way to insert a quick video of otters holding hands, how can you resist?
#10 Hire a virtual entertainer
So you have a business conference to coordinate, or a virtual awards ceremony approaching? Given the time we spend online with remote work and meetings, why not see if you can spice things up? An event with a professional Emcee or Clean Comedian can improve any presentation, whether it’s an actual meeting in person (remember those?!) or all virtual. It’s a great way to increase interaction with a larger audience, since a professional knows how important it is to read the room, include people, and make an online meeting engaging.
First though, you need to know where to go to find the right fit. Know your audience and select a virtual entertainer that meets the moment. Make sure you’re hiring a professional who has experience and rave reviews. You get what you pay for, so be careful when someone who “always wanted to try stand-up” is offering you a “great deal.” Whether it’s a magician, emcee, or comedian, you’ll want to be certain the material is appropriate and can keep everyone engaged.
Let the comedian know which of the attendees might be particularly fun to call upon. Communication with the performer before your presentation or conference is key to getting good audience participation and having a successful remote event.
Feel free to contact Clean Comedians for any help with this one. We’ll be here (and there) for you!
Adam Christing is the founder of CleanComedians.com. He holds a degree in public speaking and has written 3 humor and personal growth books including Your Life is a Joke: 12 Ways to Go from Ha Ha to AHA! He is also a virtual magician and virtual keynote speaker. Adam’s virtual demo video can be seen here.