Keys to Leading Effective Virtual Team Meetings

By Gilly Weinstein, MS, PCC. When it comes to leading or facilitating a virtual meeting, most principles from the olden days of meetings — think people sitting around a tangible table, breathing the same air, with dressier clothes — apply. I was reminded of this recently during a conversation with a client when we discussed how to step up the quality of his presence and his impact in the many meetings he runs.

“You, as the person leading this meeting, have many simultaneous responsibilities, beyond ending on time and emerging with action points.” 

“What do you mean?” he asked. “What’s more important than that?” 

Well, there’s a lot to keep your eyes and attention on, beyond ticking time and ticking through agenda items. To engage and align people in your meetings while keeping the dialogue energized, open and effective, here are the main ones, in no particular order. 

Notice how each individual is showing up 

Keep scanning the faces you have before you, is this person engaged or checked out? Sounding enthusiastic or defeated? Is their camera on or off? Is their camera always off? Could the cameralessness be having an impact on how others experience, hear or understand them? And the obvious, worth reiterating: is anyone looking sad or physically unwell?

Notice how people are contributing

For each person, listen closely: are they speaking out confidently, or reluctantly? Are they demonstrating authentic conviction or do they seem to acquiesce a lot? Are they sharing less than you know they are capable of? Are they avoiding challenging questions or avoiding challenging each other? Which ties into the next point…

Notice how your team members (or participants in the meeting) are interacting 

This is about picking up on how people are treating one another. Do you sense that people are truly listening to each other or maybe talking at, or over, one another? Are they layering points constructively over what a colleague just said, or are they throwing out marbles into the circle, in a way that feels disjointed from what the last person said, or not quite tuned in to what was shared in the past few minutes? And if they manifest clear signs of being tuned out (which is ok, by the way, given how much is competing for our attention these days) are they acknowledging that? 

Notice the energy in the air 

This is a tricky one but gets easier to do, I promise, once you get into the habit. How is this meeting feeling? Stimulating or sluggish? Constructive or confusing? Dreary or sparkly? Tired or energized? As team coaches we use quirky qualifiers to describe the energy of a meeting: is the air prickly or peaceful? Does the oxygen feel scarce or abundant? Is this meeting feeling sloooowwww or progressing at a palpable clip that fosters a sense of possibility? This is sometimes referred to as atmosphere or the emotional field. 

Notice values that may be there, or may be lacking

Similar to the above, this is another dimension of awareness for you to hold: is there trust in the air? Is there respect? Is there humor? Is there passion? Is there a shared sense of purpose? Is there an undercurrent of wanting to align despite different views, or is there a sense of heels digging in? Is there a sense of care? 

Notice the elephants

Are people avoiding certain topics? Is there unspoken stuff hovering? Specific points or even entire issues we are deftly dancing around?

Notice how YOU are doing 

Tap into your own self-awareness, including that felt sense to help you gauge how this meeting is going. Check in with yourself now and again, even for a split second and sense your mood: am I feeling tension, serenity, lightness, weariness, impatience, exasperation, hopefulness? Maybe this informs what you say/don’t say. And remember that all of your senses (are you feeling hot or cold, tense or fluid?) can provide in-the-moment data, as can other signals from your body. For example: a sensation in your throat, or chest, or gut, or roof of your mouth, or behind your eyes. This is all part of the somatic intelligence you can draw from in every interaction, including in virtual meetings.  

This sounds like a lot, but…

I know this sounds like a lot. Especially when you want to focus on the content of the conversation, the agenda items, and probably even thoughts of a yet another meeting coming up. But know that all of the above, once we get into the habit of remaining aware, does not require more time, it just demands your full presence. To actually notice and adjust (in real time) how you navigate a meeting you’re leading warrants your full attention. 

The metaphor I offer (even well before the Zoom meeting era) is “multiple screens.” Picture a responsible, alert security guard, vigilantly scanning multiple monitors, from a relaxed capable posture. Without much effort, her trained attention will pick up what’s going on here or there, and her curiosity and honed intuition will point her to what warrants her attention.

In an ideal world all meeting participants would develop the habit of remaining aware, noticing and adjusting their contribution, attitudes and tones accordingly. As a leader, you get to model all of these noticing techniques, no matter how many people in the meeting, and no matter the topic. You’ll know it’s working when your meetings flow more productively and when everyone emerges more energized. Including you.

For more about leadership, communication, and how executive coaching can help, schedule a consultation with Gilly.