How to Host Virtual Meetings that Inspire Action and Urgency

What percent of your time at work do you spend in meetings? Previous estimates were that middle managers spent 35% of their team in meetings, while senior leaders spent 50%. Now with virtual work, many leaders say as much as 90% of their time is spent in meetings. Or at least it feels that way.

Meetings have a bad reputation. Some of that is because there are simply too many meetings. But the rest of that bad reputation is earned, earned by meetings that don’t have clear goals, don’t have any urgency, and don’t foster any sense of purpose.

So, in your quest to make your own work-life, and the work-life of your peers more purpose- driven, meetings are the perfect place to start.

Here are four tips to host meetings that inspire action and urgency:

1.    Set the context upfront

Tell people, in normal plain language, why the meeting matters and why you’d like them to attend.

If this isn’t a common practice in your organization, it might feel a little cheesy at first, and that’s ok. All you need is a simple sentence like, “In an effort to deliver the best product to our customers, it’s crucial we figure out some recurring supply chain issues. That’s what this meeting is about.”

People are busy and setting the context in advance of the meeting helps everyone focus. Attendees see why the meeting matters, instead of just another 1-hour of blocked time on their calendar.

2.    Adjust the physical environment

If you’re trying to foster engagement, think about the elements of the meeting environment you can change.

Change your zoom background. If you’re talking about customers, show pictures of them during the meeting. Or, instead of a video meeting, suggest a phone meeting. (I know, I know, an engagement expert who suggests sometimes turning video off, hearsay! But listen, people are tired, and it’s hard not to get distracted by looking at yourself. A phone call can be a nice change and provide a boost in productivity!)

In some organizations, simply changing the PowerPoint template is enough to jolt people awake. These changes send a clear signal to the attendees: pay attention.

3.    Avoid corporate-speak

Jargon like ‘synch on core priorities’ or ‘ensure strategic alignment’ are overused and can often cloud what could otherwise be a productive conversation.

If you’re trying to foster engagement in your meeting, speak in easy-to-follow language. A conversational tone is also more inviting, opening the doors for your colleagues to add insights and ask questions.
Constantly speaking like a squirmy corporate lawyer doesn’t make you appear smarter. It does the opposite.

4.    Wait out the awkwardness

I say this to you as someone who has facilitated thousands of group sessions: Don’t be afraid of the silence.

If you ask the group a question, and there is an initial pause, it’s tempting to fill that moment of silence with your own words. Especially if you’re nervous. But oftentimes, people just need a minute to form their thoughts. Wait 10-15 seconds. Then rephrase your question if you have to. In the vast majority of meetings, someone will chime in.

Even if it takes a moment of discomfort, getting group engagement is crucial. A meeting without some kind of back-and-forth dialogue is not a meeting. It is a presentation. A presentation you may want to consider sending as a pre-recorded message.

As calendars continue to fill, the need for engaging and effective meetings is paramount. Using these four tips, you can ensure you’re winning hearts and minds (not just calendar time).