How to make virtual meetings more interactive

Tips for running remote meetings that get everyone involved

July 1, 2022Yellow Squiggle

We’ve all been in meetings where 1 or 2 people do all the talking. Not only are they a total snooze fest, but they’re also a major waste of your team’s time and resources.

But team-wide participation can be a challenge—especially when we’re not all together in the same room. Whether we intend to or not, it’s a lot easier to get distracted, start multi-tasking, or generally just check out during a virtual meeting.

In this article, we’ll cover tips, tools, and etiquette to help you engage remote attendees so meetings that happen when we WFH can feel just as exciting and engaging as those that happen IRL.

Remote and hybrid meetings are here to stay

We’ve grown pretty accustomed to remote work in the past few years thanks to the pandemic. While WFH has its definite pros and cons, one thing that’s certain is that it’s definitely here to stay—at least in some capacity—as businesses start to adopt a more hybrid approach to work. According to PricewaterHouse Cooper, over half of employees want to continue to work in a remote or hybrid model going forward. That’s backed up by research from Gartner too, which shows that 50% of workers will continue to work remotely post-COVID-19.

So what does all that mean for virtual meetings? For one, they’re not going anywhere either.

“All trends indicate that we will be in a hybrid situation for the foreseeable future,” shares Karin M. Reed, author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work in a recent interview. “You have to be able to figure out how to handle a hybrid meeting where you have three people in a co-located conference room here, three people in a co-located conference room there, and then five people joining on an individual webcam. And the challenge for the meeting leader is to figure out how to get everybody to talk to each other.”

In the following sections, we’ll cover just that.

Before you start: Quick tips to encourage participation

Meetings are generally better when all attendees are included and involved. (If you’re spending more time talking at everyone than with everyone, chances are it could be handled asynchronously instead). With that in mind, here are some quick tips to get all hands on deck for your next virtual meeting.

  • Set expectations ahead of time: Share an agenda and pre-read ahead of time so folks can come prepared for an informed discussion; make sure all attendees understand the purpose of the meeting and their role in it
  • Start with introductions: Introductions help people feel comfortable around each other and, in turn, can lead to a more meaningful discussion where everyone feels safe chiming in.
  • Keep it conversational: Use language and terminology that everyone in the room understands. Especially on cross-functional teams or teams with new folks—avoid using jargon that might disclude or discourage anyone from engaging.
  • Smooth out the kinks: Stress test your meetings for common painpoints—like running over time or always churning on the same topics—which are often the reason folks check out or become disengaged in the first place. For virtual meetings, be mindful of Zoom fatigue too.
  • Facilitate proactively: Meeting facilitation takes practice—and virtual facilitation requires new skills on top of that. We recommend sharing some facilitation resources with your team and assigning a facilitator ahead of time so they’re prepared to guide the conversation and get everyone involved.
“Proactive facilitation is critical in any virtual meeting because there’s a lot of stilted and stunted conversation. People don’t know when it’s their turn to talk. I advocate cold calling with good intention, meaning call on people by name to let them know, ‘OK, you have the floor’.”— Karin M. Reed, Video Communications Expert & Author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work.

Once you’ve optimized for inclusive participation, it’s time to use the tactics below to transform meeting participants into fully engaged attendees.

1. Engagement starts with your meeting agenda

The first thing to look at when it comes to meeting engagement is your agenda. Having an agenda in place before the meeting gives it structure and helps keep things on track. With a little prep work, you can also use the agenda to make the meeting more interactive.

  • Share it ahead of time: Not everyone enjoys thinking on the fly. Sharing your meeting agenda beforehand will give the whole group time to digest what will be discussed and levels the playing field. We recommend sharing at least 24 hours in advance to give folks ample time.
  • State your purpose: Participation takes a hit when folks don’t have a stake in what’s being discussed. To remedy this, include a meeting purpose on your agenda and outline the different roles and responsibilities of everyone attending. This builds meeting accountability, where each attendee knows why they’re there and what value their perspective adds.
  • Make it collaborative: Another way to ensure every attendee is bought into the meeting is to make your agenda collaborative. For example, the facilitator might collect discussion topics from attendees beforehand or use a tool like Range to let folks add them on-the-fly during the meeting.

2. Use icebreakers to crack open conversation

Icebreakers are questions you ask to bring people into the fold. In meetings, they help folks feel safe to speak up with ideas, concerns, and questions. A quick icebreaker at the beginning of your time together (think: first 5-10 minutes) can get everyone talking from the get-go and create a safe, trusting space for discussion. They’re a great way to strengthen team culture in the long run too.

Icebreakers are most effective when they include a range of topics. Mix it up with questions on work style, personal interests, fun topics, and serious ones to get to know each other in a variety of ways. Our free Icebreaker tool has 350+ questions to keep things interesting. Here are a few examples.

Example icebreaker questions

  • What seemingly tiny thing are you especially grateful for?
  • Where, outside of work, do you get your best ideas?
  • What would you rather hear first: good news or bad news?
  • What’s something new you learned this week?
“I've had people say to me, ‘Wow, it seems like we waste a lot of time on icebreaker questions.’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, well that's kind of the point.’ If we’re not intentional about actually connecting with each other — outside of daily work — it’s never going to happen.” — Nic Roth, Head of Engineering, Postscript

Icebreaker questions and spinner in a Range meeting

3. Make it visual

Remote meetings are the perfect type of meeting to experiment with visual aids.

During a virtual meeting, it requires a lot more energy to follow along—our eyes naturally dart around from speaker to participants as we try to read the room. Research also suggests that seeing your own face reflected back in self-view tends to make you feel more critical of yourself, and can be extremely mentally taxing.

Visual aids remove some of this pressure and distraction, by providing a natural focal point. They help folks follow along—65% of people are visual learners—and feel more comfortable engaging in a discussion around what’s being shared. They can help both speakers and participants feel more present in the conversation and can make it a lot more collaborative and engaging, too.

Visual aid examples

  • Slide deck: Slides are great for breaking down complex topics or helping folks follow along with a longer meeting share. So if you’re telling a story or sharing something meaty, tools like Google Slides, Keynote, and Powerpoint are right for the job.
  • Virtual whiteboard: There are lots of tools out there designed to help remote teams ideate and brainstorm together, in real-time. A few of our favorites are FigJam and Miro.
  • Meeting agenda + notes: When your meeting doesn’t warrant another type of visual aid, consider having the facilitator share the meeting agenda and notes (happening live) for all to follow along. You can use a tool like Range to facilitate, note-take, and follow along smoothly in one place.

4. Collect feedback in real-time with surveys and polls

At the opening of a meeting, you might check in with folks around how they’re doing, what they’re most looking forward to discussing, or something they’re proud of this week. Knowing how your teammates are doing can help build empathy going into the conversation. (For instance, if someone’s a little quieter than usual, it can be helpful to understand that they’re low energy and didn’t sleep well last night versus being checked out of the meeting.) Asking about the agenda can help you prioritize topics, and positive reflection can strengthen bonds and trust going in.

During the meeting, polls and surveys can also help boost energy when there’s a lull and are a way to shape discussion. For instance, you might ask something like “Has this meeting been a valuable use of time so far?” as a simple yes/no to get a pulse check. If many attendees answer “no” — you might open up the floor to explore what isn’t working and recalibrate.

At the end of the meeting, check in with how everyone’s feeling again and ask how you might improve things for the next go around. Meeting management tools like Range can help facilitate this, making it easier to collect and maintain a digital record of feedback and track how you’re doing towards it over time.

Poll topic examples

  • [Opening] What’s your energy level today?
  • [Opening] How are you feeling today? (1-10, red/yellow/green, emojis)
  • [Opening] What would you like to discuss today?
  • [Opening] What’s something you’re proud of this week?
  • [During] Gut check — how’s the meeting going so far for you?
  • [During] Should we keep our Wednesday team Slack shares?
  • [Closing] Quick checkout—how’s everyone feeling?
  • [Closing] Name 1 thing that worked well in this meeting and 1 thing you’d change.
“Ask your team what you can improve. Maybe the meeting is boring or it’s not relevant to someone and they genuinely have nothing to share. Maybe it’s a hybrid meeting and the facilitator isn’t calling on remote folks enough, so they just give up. There could be a lot of barriers there that you aren’t aware of.” — Katie Wilde, VP of Engineering at Buffer and co-author of "The Holloway Guide to Remote Work"

5. Circulate roles and divvy up tasks

Sometimes routines are a good thing — but sometimes, they can be incredibly dull. Rotating meeting roles is a great way to spice things up a little, plus take a little bit of the burden from your own shoulders.

Here are some of the roles you might rotate.

  • Facilitator: The facilitator’s job is to keep a meeting on track. They have a copy of the agenda, and they make sure that the discussion sticks to it — no sidetracking. The facilitator is also responsible for making sure everyone in the room gets a chance to share and participate equally.
  • Organizer: This is probably you (or whoever the de facto leader of meetings happens to be). As the organizer, you’re responsible for scheduling the meeting, creating and collaborating on the agenda, and sending out the invites.
  • Notetaker: The notetaker takes meeting notes, of course — but it goes a little deeper than that. The notetaker not only creates a brief report detailing the main topics discussed at the meeting (and the conclusions drawn from those discussions), but they also jot down the action items that you or your team members need to take care of before the next meeting.
  • Timekeeper: The timekeeper’s job can often be combined with the facilitator’s job, depending on how busy the facilitator is. The person assigned to this role ensures that each topic doesn’t go over its allotted time limit.
  • “Vibes watcher”: This one comes from author and CEO Elise Keith. You may also recognize the “vibes watcher” as the discussion moderator or facilitator. The person assigned to this role makes sure everyone gets a turn. Their job is to keep an eye on the attendees, and if it looks like a person or topic has been overlooked, they can jump in and safely steer the conversation to the right people or subjects.
  • Attendees: This is everyone else who attends the meeting. While they may not have a role specific to that particular meeting, there is still a set of expectations for them. They need to add their own items to the agenda, read the final agenda prior to attending, and come prepared with demos or notes on topics they wish to discuss.

6. Add gamification elements to level up your meetings

If you want to energize your meetings and improve overall productivity, games and activities may be your best bet.

Gamification means bringing elements of games in scenarios that aren’t games, like meetings. At work, gamification has been shown by a growing body of research to have a surprising impact on productivity. It’s an important driver of motivation and productivity. And according to research, newly formed teams perform up to 20% better on tasks following a 45 minute collaborative game.

Some specific elements of games that can be applied in meetings include:

  • Competition and scoring: At the end of each agenda topic, send out a quick poll for the team to score its effectiveness from 1-10. Rank each topic at the end and keep a running list of top score-ers.
  • Creativity: For a brainstorm, try incorporating different rounds where folks write, draw, or even act out their ideas to see what creative ideas you can generate.
  • Collaboration and group problem-solving: Try starting your meeting with 10 minutes of a quick drawing game or one of these fun ideas to get folks working together.

While you don't want gamification to take up the entire meeting, a short exercise can loosen everyone up and spark camaraderie and creativity.

Make virtual meetings more interactive with meeting management tools

As with almost everything today, technology can help improve the engagement in your virtual team meetings too. Things like chat features, dynamic agendas, and instant note-sharing make team-wide engagement—even in large meetings—more achievable.

Best-in-class meeting management tools incorporate many of the strategies we’ve covered in this article to help leaders put them to use without having to think too hard about it.

For instance, being able to automate portions of your agenda or pull in a quick team-building question can streamline your meeting and leave more time for discussion and engagement. Many management tools also provide a simplified way to share notes, action items, and keep everyone in the loop. This equal, open access to information levels the playing field for participation in future group discussions too.

Reduce your meeting load and have better meetings with Range. Start for free.

“Sometimes we confuse someone being introverted with them being not engaged, when that’s actually not the case. I like giving people a space that isn’t verbal to contribute. Maybe that’s a Slack chat or a document people can comment on ahead of time. This makes it a lot easier for folks who don’t like interrupting or don’t like speaking in public.” — Juan Pablo Buriticá, SVP of Engineering at Ritchie Brothers

Make virtual meetings more interactive with Range

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Meetings in Range were built with interactivity in mind.

Running your meetings with Range gives you the power to streamline agendas with templates, make discussions dynamic, and easily assign roles to keep things engaging.

  • Collaborate better with more effective meetings
  • Easily facilitate balanced discussions that make every meeting worthwhile
  • Keep everyone included and on track with much less effort
  • 300+ icebreaker questions are built directly into the tool to keep things fresh and interesting.
  • Built-in spinner tool and live agenda collaboration empowers discussion, and makes it easy to facilitate a great meeting that engages the whole group.
  • Build agendas, record actions, and share notes automatically
  • Create a recurring agenda for all the topics your team discusses every week from metrics to project updates.
  • Easily document notes from each topic to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Share notes via Slack & email
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