One of the most frustrating things about leading virtual meetings is not being able to answer a simple question: are they out there and just listening silently, or are they silent because they aren’t really paying attention? The problem is that they can sound the same to your ears. How do you know the difference?
Here are just a few simple ideas to help you get the feedback you need as a presenter or meeting leader, while not letting paranoia get the best of you.
Set the expectations clearly at the beginning of every meeting.
As with so much in life, you get the behavior you ask for. Since many people have basically been allowed not to participate, nor have they been held accountable in the past, it might be a bit jarring to be told you’re EXPECTED to participate. Give people the chance to act like adults. When there is an expectation, then they can hold themselves to that standard. When you tell people that they are expected to participate, and you actually take the time to ask for their input, and treat it seriously… it’s amazing how things can change.
In a traditional meeting, you can look around and see if people are understanding, or look like they have a question, or need a bio break. That is hard to do in a virtual meeting unless you can actually see their faces. Webcams allow you to do this, but there is an important caveat. Emphasize the positive aspects of using a webcam (reading each other’s body language, keeping their interest, helping people get to know each other.) If the sense is that you’re only using it to spy on them and make sure they’re working, there will be massive pushback and you’ll nullify the advantages that seeing each other have.
Identify logical places to check in and get the feedback you crave.
In a face to face meeting, you are getting constant visual feedback: slow down, speed up, they get it move along, or check to see what you haven’t explained properly. While you might not get a constant flow of signals on a conference call or webmeeting, that doesn’t mean you can’t get the feedback you need. Identify places to check in. Stop and ask “What do you think about that?” or “What else do you need to know about that before we move on?”
Make sure “Any questions?” isn’t a rhetorical question.
One of the most common mistakes online meeting leaders make is checking in but not giving people time enough to respond. After this happens a few times it appears that you aren’t really interested in their questions. When you ask for questions, give them time to respond. Five full seconds is long enough to encourage real participation and input. Count it in your head—it’s longer than you think (and most of us are comfortable with. It takes practice.)
If they don’t volunteer, respectfully call on them for feedback.
You know that people will have questions, you might even know who has them but they won’t speak up. It’s okay to call on people and encourage participation. Just remember to be respectful; you’re not trying to bust them, and they should know before hand you’re going to expect their participation. Also, mention their name before asking the question , “Bob, what do you think?” so Bob has a chance to focus if his mind’s been wandering. You’re not out to embarrass people, you want to encourage participation.
Give them multiple ways to offer feedback.
Not everyone is comfortable (in fact most people aren’t) speaking up on a conference call. Most web meeting platforms allow you to encourage participation in multiple ways. Here are some of the most obvious:
- Not muting their microphones or phones on entry. Is the message that they get when they join your meeting “sit down and shut up until given permission?” They are grownups. If they need to mute themselves that’s fine, but encourage them to unmute when they want to speak.
- Use a “raise hand” button if there is one. Many platforms allow you to mimic normal meeting or classroom behavior. If someone wants to speak in a meeting room, they raise their hand. No reason this should be different. The only thing to know is many people don’t know that feature exists and how to use it. Don’t assume they do.
- Encourage the chat or Q an A boxes. It is actually frustrating to speak up on a call. People talk over each other, the same people monopolize the conversation, and it can seem rude to interrupt the leader with a question. Many people find chat a great way to overcome those barriers. Introverts can think about their ideas before speaking, it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the conversation, and people with English as a second language can be more easily understood.
The best way to see if people are paying attention is to ask for the feedback your brain desperately requires. That sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do it. Don’t be that person.
What are your best practices around meeting input and engagement? Share them with our reader in the comments section.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.