Project Management

How To Connect With People In a World of Virtual Meetings

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Are you spending more time leading webinars or web meetings (or participating in them)? It's a rare week that I'm not leading webinars with clients (or meeting with them through a web-based tool).

Though I've been surprisingly pleased with the results after years of tweaking my approach, I am struck by how ineffective virtual meetings and training sessions end up if we're not careful.

This is front of mind for me because later this week I'm interviewing Dr. Nick Morgan about his excellent new book Can You Hear Me? How to Connect With People in a Virtual World (HBR Press). UPDATE: Here's a brief segment of the interview:

Here are some quick lessons for your consideration.

It's Better If We Can See Each Other

One of my clients, in particular, is notorious for people having tape over their laptop cameras. I'm not disputing the wisdom of considering security measures with webcams. What's funny is that for about 5 seconds or so after they log in, I see them in a frame. Then the tape comes down. It's not about security. It's that they don't want to be seen.

I get that. But see if you can get around that with your participants. Nick shares the science behind this but you know it intuitively. When you can see each other, there's more connection.

If I'm leading a training session or meeting, I always have at least my camera on. Depending on the size of your meeting participants, it may not be feasible to have everyone's camera on. But I recommend you keep yours on.

And as I learned from Nancy Duarte in our interview about persuasive presentations, when you're speaking in a virtual session, "fall in love with the little light on your webcam." That's her way of reminding us to look them in the eye, so to speak.

Provoke Interaction

Good face-to-face meeting etiquette remains true for virtual sessions as well. Limit lecture. Provoke interaction.

Whether it's a training session or meeting, I try to make sure 5 minutes doesn't go by without some sort of interaction. It might be:

  • Asking a question. Polls usually take too long. Get a question on the table and have people respond through the chat box or by unmuting microphones.
  • Calling on someone. Do it because you genuinely want their input. There's a side benefit as well: when they know they can be called on, they're more likely to pay attention.

I don't care if it's Tony Robbins at the mic, the longer you go with only one person speaking, the more participants will be drifting to their inbox, social media, or other distractions.

Make It Personal

As we get more virtual, we lose connection. Find a way to keep your virtual meetings personal. This can include:

  • Referring to people by name. Call back to comments they've made earlier.
  • Encouraging people to actively use the chat box, sharing thoughts, questions, jokes, etc. If you're not used to this it may seem like it would be distracting. To the contrary, it's an amazingly effective engagement technique. And you learn about each other based on these interactions.
  • Having people share something up front. This depends on the context of the meeting, but here's an example. During the minutes before the meeting starts, I will occasionally put something like this in the chat box: "What's something good from your last week?" This has the benefit of getting people interacting, priming some positivity, and providing an opportunity to learn about each other.

Bonus Tip

Have music playing when people are logging in. When there's quiet, people often don't know if the audio is working correctly. Plus, depending on your music choices and their tastes, it can add some helpful ambience.

I stream a music service using a curated playlist (I find upbeat jazz works for many audiences regardless of culture) and make sure the tool is sharing the computer audio.

Share Your Tips!

What have you learned about making virtual meetings and webinars more engaging? More valuable? What are some things you try to do and seek to avoid? 

And how about some true confessions.... Have you ever led (or participated in) one of these in your pajamas? Any funny stories you're up for sharing?

I don't see virtual meetings or training going away any time soon. But we can do better. Agree?

If you found this helpful, give it a like and share it with your network. And leave a comment with your lessons and stories. Let's learn together. Thanks!

Posted on: November 27, 2018 11:54 PM | Permalink

Comments (20)

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Dawson Preethi BSc(Eng) MSc (Str) MSc (Wtr&Env) PMP| AECOM ARABIA Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Interesting suggestions and rare kind of observations. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Ann Jones Lincs, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Hi Andy, virtual meetings are certainly on the increase, some good suggestions, thanks for sharing

Markus Kopko, PMP Principal Project Management Consultant| Karer Consulting AG Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
. Thanks for sharing.

Eduin Fernando Valdes Alvarado Project Manager| F y F Fabricamos Futuro Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia
Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
Thank you, @Eduin, @Markus, @Julie Ann, and @Dawson. Any advice or lessons you have from your experience are invited! Thank you!

Kathy Castle Author at| Freelance Tx, USA
Great article. Thank you for sharing

Rami Kaibni
Community Champion
Senior Projects Manager | Field & Marten Associates New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
Great points Andy. Love it, and can’t agree more with you. For me and from experience, I find nothing beats face to face interaction.

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
@Rami, I wish we could talk about this face-to-face! Hah! Thanks for joining the discussion!

Rami Kaibni
Community Champion
Senior Projects Manager | Field & Marten Associates New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
@Andy, that would be awesome. Maybe they should introduce a live video chat feature here.

Pang DX Singapore
Thanks for sharing the practical tips.

Glenn Chundrlek Project Management Specialist| Miami University Loveland, Oh, USA
Thanks for the helpful tips. I have been in and led my share of virtual meetings. One tip that I'd like to share is to include an agenda in the meeting invitation. This gets people thinking about what they can contribute. Also, be aware that some of the attendees may not be native English speakers, so try to keep from speaking too fast. Finally, while I haven't participated in my pajamas, I have done so in my comfortable sweats and having not shaved, so I made sure my camera was disabled.

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
Love that, @Glenn! Great advice. OK, true confessions.... I've learned that if I wear my big "over the ears" headset, I don't have to shower before my early morning webinars. :) When leading sessions for Europe and Africa, the start time is often quite early so I've been able to shave off a good half hour off the process, thanks to a bulky headset. Hah!

Sante Delle-Vergini Senior Project Manager| Infosys Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Cool topic, and something I just posted about on my Scrumptious blog on this site, and also wrote my masters thesis on.

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
@Sante, that is great to know! Would you please provide a link? I would love to read that blog post. Thank you! I would greatly benefit from your insights!

Riyadh Salih Saskatchewan, Canada
Hey Andy nice to see you shining here again, well it is true like Rami mentioned that Interactive communication is the best but virtual advancement also provided a huge easiness to people across the world and the galaxies, the comfort extended to talk to your siblings in the basement on Media apps like whatsApp video talk.

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
Great to hear from you, @Riyadh! Thank you for joining the discussion!

Drew Craig Coach, Practitioner, Consultant, Humanist| North Highland Philadelphia, Pa, USA
This has been on my mind lately. I have projects that are a mix of co-located and off-site, and would like to increase the level of our internal engagement by using video chat. Additionally, I have a new project about to start whereas the client has set the expectation for all calls to be video calls. A bit apprehensive, mainly because it is new and will take time to adjust, but definitely feel it is a barrier that needs to be overcome. I certainly see the value from dismantling the geographic constraints.

Andy Kaufman Host| People and Projects Podcast Lake Zurich, Il, USA
@Andrew, thanks for joining the conversation. Just a few minutes ago I wrapped up the interview with Dr. Nick Morgan. He said an interesting thing, something to the effect of "Let's face it. Having virtual teams and using this virtual technology is not ideal--not by a long shot. But it's just the reality we're faced with." So with that in mind, you're embarking on a great learning adventure! Experiment with some different approaches. Try some new things. And I'll bet, when you're done with this new project, you'll have some lessons learned that we'll all benefit from. Go get 'em!

RAJESH K L Project Manager, PMP| Bharat Electronics, Bengaluru, India Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

LORI WILSON RETIRED - Technical Project Manager| RETIRED - LifePoint Health Clarkston, Wa, USA
Nice tips!

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