How to chair a virtual meeting
Virtual meetings have become a daily part of working life for many of us, and so too has dealing with the challenges they present.
From technology failures to miscommunication, remote working has given us a whole new perspective – and yet with clear management, virtual meetings can be just as productive as in-person discussions. We asked RADA Business tutor Lucinda Worlock for her thoughts on how to connect with your colleagues when chairing.
Read on for Lucinda's five points of insight.
1. Communicate a clear purpose
With virtual meetings, it can be difficult to get a sense of how we’re showing up and connecting to our audiences. We all have to deal with with our own personal and professional circumstances, and the impact these have on our energy, our communication style, and the way we connect with others.
So when it comes to hosting a meeting – particularly a virtual one – it helps to first set your objectives.
Everyone needs to understand the purpose of the meeting, and why they are gathered together to achieve it. There is nothing more draining than sitting in a meeting, wondering why you are there and feeling like it is a waste of time.
Try following these steps:
- Communicate your objective prior to the meeting by circulating an agreed agenda.
- Clearly state the points of the agenda again at the start of the meeting.
- Draw together the key points from the discussion and refer back to your agenda as the meeting ends.
Such repetition of purpose provides much-needed context for the meeting. Everyone knows why they are there, and can begin moving together towards a clear destination.
2. Read the (virtual) room
Managing group dynamics and individual behaviour starts with observation. When we connect with our audience, they move into active listening and we start to build a true dialogue.
As a chair, look for proof of engagement: signals that demonstrate the audience is listening and interested (or not). This is just as important in virtual meetings as in-person.
When people are genuinely interested, we see it in their body language and through non-verbal cues in their gestures and expressions. These might take the form of strong eye contact; nodding or smiling, or turning their body towards you.
We can also observe active listening through verbal cues: non-lexical sounds (or 'non-words') that communicate feelings quickly and effectively. In conversation they might sound like, 'Mmmm,' and 'mm-mm' or 'uh' and 'hmm' or even, 'ugh.'
Interjections are a universal tool to express ourselves directly, and often the first mode of communication that get lost when we mute a room.
Look for proof of engagement by:
- Paying attention to what people are doing, as well as what they are saying.
- If your audience is not engaged, consider what you need to do about it.
- Regularly asking questions and, in bigger groups, employing breakout rooms to build more intimate dialogue that you can reflect on later within the main group.
3. Technology as a force for good
With a shift to hybrid working, it seems that virtual meetings are here to stay. So how can we use technology to ensure we reach our shared goal?
Use your camera
Whether you love it or hate it, the camera is the fastest route into the hearts and minds of our virtual audience.
Try the following techniques to build connection:
- Encourage everyone to turn on their cameras. Being able to see each other increases the energy in the room and boosts the feeling of community and connectivity.
- Use the camera as a proxy for eye contact so at the very least, introduce yourself and emphasise key points by looking directly into your camera lens.
- For more support on getting ‘camera-ready,’ check out our guide on presenting yourself well on virtual calls.
Manage the mute button
A chair needs to manage group behaviour and ensure a base level of virtual etiquette. As a result, it can sometimes be tempting to mute everyone except the speaker – but what impact does that have on building real dialogue? Consider how you can raise voices, rather than silence them.
After all, a meeting is essentially a conversation. It needs a true feeling of connection and that's tricky when you’re at the mercy of the mute button. Of course, background noise and poor network connection mean we all need to mute from time to time, but when you encourage a group to stay ‘un-muted' it starts to feel more like a dialogue.
Keep an eye on the chat function
The chat box is a quick tool to ask questions, share links or additional content without interrupting or breaking the flow of discussion. It can serve as a way of sharing ideas or asking questions, particularly for less confident voices.
As chair, you can encourage participants to use the chat function and regularly bring in any questions or comments shared there. It is also a useful tool to capture any relevant links or shared information, which can then be circulated amongst the group after the meeting.
4. Advocate for others
Whatever your platform of choice, video-conferencing technology is audio-led. If you’ve ever spoken at the same time as somebody else, you’ll know that the loudest person is the one heard. And it's often not just the loudest but the most confident voices that dominate the space with questions, ideas and sometimes interruptions.
As Chair, look around and observe. Who hasn’t yet spoken – but might want to? Who has a question? Who’s just been interrupted? Are there questions waiting to be answered in the chat box?
The larger the group, the easier it is to miss these things, so read the room and advocate for those voices not always heard.
You can build space to advocate for others by:
- Acknowledging interruptions respectfully, and being swift and firm in dealing with any disruptive behaviour.
- Having a clear structure for the meeting, and being timely with the agenda.
- Allowing time at the end for any questions and encouraging active participation.
Perhaps most importantly of all, when you are chairing a meeting don't forget to make space for yourself, too.
When we listen, we often hold our breath without even noticing. This can become a habit that impacts both our listening and our speech.
Try the following:
- Use pause to punctuate your speech and allow yourself, and others, time to stop, breathe and think.
- Reconnect to your lower abdominal breathing and you will feel calmer and able to connect more easily with others.
- Breathing also gives us space to focus on intention and manage our response. This is particularly important when dealing with challenging or disruptive behaviour.
Chairing a virtual meeting requires energy, awareness and a clear purpose to create a space that truly encourages meaningful connection.
Ensure the success of your next virtual meeting
Whether you regularly chair meetings, deliver virtual presentations, or simply want to ensure your voice is being heard during online discussions, we have a range of courses designed to help individuals at all levels of their career.