By now we have all become “experts” on virtual meetings, whether they are taking place on Zoom, MS Teams or good old fashioned Google Hangouts. But are they as effective as face-to-face meetings?

According to Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate cultural experts The Human Edge, the main reason that many a virtual meeting is ineffective is because there is little to no accountability for engagement.

“We are just not communicating as well as we did face-to-face. People need to pay attention in meetings and a passive attendee does not come across in the best light, which as employees we all need to be doing now more than ever in this difficult economic environment,” says Vermaak.

Meetings are hosted for different reasons – to influence others, make decisions, solve problems or strengthen relationships, but for it to be effective and a good use of everyone’s time and skills, voluntary engagement is a must.

Virtual meetings are here to stay – indefinitely

“Successful meetings require attendees to actively participate and it is the role of team leaders to equip them with the ability to feel comfortable expressing themselves on these platforms.”

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5 Tips from The Human Edge’s US partner VitalSmarts to help to make virtual meetings more engaging and productive:

The 60-second rule

If the purpose of the meeting is to solve a problem, ensure that you start off by ensuring that all the attendees understand and appreciate the problem or opportunity that is to be discussed. A good idea is to use the first 60 seconds to help them experience it – sharing shocking or provoking statistics, anecdotes, or analogies that dramatise the problem, but grabs the attendee’s attention and interest.

The responsibility rule

Early on in the meeting create an experience of shared responsibility. This is done by creating opportunities for attendees to take meaningful responsibility. Many will decide, even before they join the meeting, to take on the role of an observer – planning to do something else while still “attending” the meeting – this will no doubt affect engagement.

The nowhere-to-hide rule

If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. The best way to avoid this is to give individuals tasks that they actively engage in, giving them nowhere to hide. If need be, assign people to groups (a maximum of two or three) and provide them with the medium that they should use to communicate with one another – Zoom, WhatsApp, MS Teams, etc.). If your virtual meeting platform allows for breakout groups, use these liberally with a limited time frame.

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The MVP rule

Determine the Minimum Viable PowerPoint (MVP) deck that you need – remember your goal is engagement! The least amount of data you need to inform your group should be presented, and mix facts with stories to maintain interest and participation. Presenting a multitude of slides will definitely lead to disengagement.

The five-minute rule

Attendees are all in different locations, with different distractions. Help ensure they stay engaged and do not become an observer by talking or presenting for no longer than five minutes before asking the group to solve a problem or for their specific input, before continuing again. This will set a tone of meaningful involvement and demonstrate that engagement will be required.

“We have all needed to adapt our communication style and it is important that organisations do not lose their organisational culture and values as they adapt to this new virtual environment,” concludes Vermaak.