Keys to Engaged Participation in a Virtual Meeting
Steve Adubato, PhD
This column has shared tips for leading virtual meetings, but the best leaders also must understand how to be an active and engaged participant in virtual meetings, which does not come naturally to most people. COVID-19 has forced many of us to learn a new mode of communicating virtually using a variety of video platforms. Consider the following the next time you are participating in a virtual meeting:
· Make sure everyone can hear you. Be sure the microphone is close enough to pick up your voice. Set up your laptop, phone or iPad in a quiet space without a lot of background noise, which can be distracting not only to you, but also to others in the meeting, when it is your time to speak in the meeting.
· Stay muted. As soon as you enter a virtual meeting, mute your microphone until it is your time to speak. This will avoid background noise or activities like typing while people are speaking.
· Make eye contact. Look into the camera, not at the screen, while you are talking. This is not at all natural, as staring into the little green dot near your computer’s camera feels awkward, but it is essential so that participants feel as if you are looking at them. Conversely, actually looking at participants on your screen while you are talking can cause your eyes to dart around.
· Hardwire your computer into the internet. Sure, Zoom will work well via Wi-Fi most of the time, but a hardwire helps to ensure best quality and consistency. And, if your Wi-Fi isn’t working, get creative and hop on your phone using LTE.
· Stay centered. Adjust your camera so you are equally centered on screen. Right before you enter the meeting, you have the opportunity to see yourself before everyone else sees you, so use that time to adjust the positioning of your computer so that you are centered and looking straight into the camera, rather than up or down.
· Be polite. Hold off on eating and multitasking. Remember, everyone can see you, so choose your actions accordingly. Also, if you need to step away, say so. Politely excuse yourself rather than just walking away.
· Don’t fidget. Tapping your pencil, playing with your hair, looking anywhere but at the screen can all distract other participants. While you are muted, talking to people in the physical room you are in that are off screen sends the message that you are not truly engaged and in the moment in the virtual meeting. Keep movement to a minimum.
· Dress to impress. If you are home, it is tempting to simply stay in your pajamas or a sweatshirt, but you should treat the meeting as you would an in-person meeting.
· Get involved. If you are the host, it is your job to engage everyone in the meeting. Call participants by name to “force” engagement and to get them involved. If you are a participant, find an opportunity to offer feedback or ask a question.
· Be on time. Jump on a few minutes early to ensure the internet connection, video and microphone are working correctly.
· Get present. Be present. Stay present. Avoid distractions such as checking your text messages or e-mail. If you have to deal with one of your children or the family dog, just say so and then politely step away.
· Finally, get engaged and stay engaged. Force yourself to listen on a deeper level. Remote communication at this level is very different than being face to face in a meeting. It requires a deeper level of concentration.