Six Tips For A Fresh Start With Virtual Meetings In 2021

Tactics like changing your body language and polling your audience can make virtual meetings more engaging and productive.

If you’re like most facility executives, at least some of the team meetings you used to hold in person are now taking place on a screen due to COVID-19, and it’s likely these virtual meetings will continue to fill your calendar in 2021 and beyond.

The new year is an opportunity for a fresh start with virtual business meetings, according to Mimi Bliss, an executive presentation skills coach and former TV reporter in Nashville, TN. Bliss worked (virtually) with more than 1,000 professionals on virtual presentation skills during the first nine months of the pandemic. In interactive workshops and coaching sessions, she asked people to share what was wrong with their virtual meetings and how they could make them better. The professionals worked for law, accounting and architecture firms; universities, government, and global corporations; and industries ranging from economic development to financial services. They represented multiple countries and worked in eight different time zones.

virtual meetings
(Credit: Getty Images/fizkes)

“What we learned is that tactics like changing our body language or polling our audience can improve engagement and productivity,” Bliss shared. “When I polled people at the beginning of my workshops about their #1 challenge with virtual meetings, the leading response was almost always ‘lack of interaction.'”

At the end of each workshop and coaching session, Bliss asked participants what they’d learned that would result in better virtual meetings. Here are six of the top-rated techniques:

  1. Use the interactive tools. Professionals are increasingly interested in using standard virtual technology like Polling, White Board and Breakout Rooms to improve engagement. “A quick online poll question allows everyone to participate,” said Bliss.
  2. Elbows off the table. When we lean on a desk or armrest, our voice gets flat and we make distracting gestures that are too close to the video camera. “Over and over, people talk about what a difference it made when they sat-up and took the weight off their elbows,” said Bliss.
  3. Start the stopwatch. A common complaint about internal virtual meetings is “the same three people do all the talking.” Bliss gets great feedback about her advice to provide time limits. “I am polite, but firm. I explain that I want everyone to have a voice at the virtual meeting, so I’m asking each person to give us their best 30 seconds (or whatever time frame is appropriate). People are more concise when I provide a specific time frame, which results in more people having a voice.”
  4. Stop rambling. The secret is to speak in shorter sentences. When you hear yourself talking for too long, stop and pause before starting a new sentence. “Short sentences are especially important with global communications, when you meet with people whose native language is different than your own. They need time to process what you’re saying,” said Bliss.
  5. Use photographs. People are more engaged when they can react to a photo of people or a place. “With virtual meetings, people are more motivated to simplify their slides and add high quality images,” said Bliss.
  6. You’re on TV. It’s a challenge to look professional while working at home. Two techniques that were consistently rated as important were “look at the video camera when I’m speaking” and “improve my lighting.”

“If we get better at virtual meetings during the pandemic,” said Bliss. “We’ll be more effective as leaders and presenters when we can do a mix of in-person and virtual meetings in the future.”

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