How to Create a Better Virtual Meeting Experience

Few things are more discouraging than seeing the listless, glazed-over expressions of your attendees during a virtual meeting.

Of course, it’s possible their entire week has been jam-packed with multiple e-meetings. People are much more likely get “Zoom fatigue” when they’ve been overloaded. On the other hand, many of those same people could easily binge watch 6 hours of their favorite Netflix or Amazon Prime series with no fatigue and no problems, right?

What if virtual meetings could be wondrous events that we look forward to experiencing?

Is it possible?

We can look at the science behind movies and TV shows to help get us closer to having that experience.

Switch Things Up

Think about what happens in modern movies and shows that doesn’t happen in a virtual meeting: There are frequent cuts and transitions.  

We’re not built to stare at a screen with no action. 

Even something as simple as setting up your virtual meeting space to flip between speaker view and gallery view can help. You could try 2/3 speaker view and 1/3 gallery view. That way you listen to and see the speaker, and then look at the gallery to gauge people’s reactions to what the speaker is saying.


Invite Participants Into the Story

We can also learn a thing or two about story structure from movies and shows. Here’s a common story arc:

  1. One or more characters are introduced
  2. An event occurs that sets the story in motion (i.e. the catalyst)
  3. Some “rising action” and plot development takes place (things get interesting)
  4. The story hits a climax when it’s uncertain if the characters will prevail 
  5. The story ends after the characters find (or don’t find) a resolution to the problem

Two story structure elements can help lead us to more engaging virtual meetings: curiosity and chunking. 

Curiosity hooks us and keeps us engaged. It’s why so many people will binge an entire series on Netflix. They watch the first few minutes, and they’re hooked because they get dropped right into the story’s problem. They want to know what happens. Do the characters find a resolution? Often the first episode might end in a cliff hanger, and they can’t help but start the next episode. 

What if we could tap into that curiosity in our virtual meetings? 

Consider starting your meeting with a difficult problem, unexpected statement, or idea that compels others on the call to want to know more. Then find ways to invite participants into the story as it unfolds. 

“Chunking” is a technique that divides continuous experiences into discrete parts. 

For example, movies break up narrative, visual, and auditory elements into chunks to guide our attention. A scene transition. A sudden switch from wide angle to close-up. A significant shift in background music. In books, the narrative is chunked into chapters. Twists and turns in the story are critical to getting our attention. They pull us in. There’s an important balance, though. 

Too many twists can be confusing. Too few, and the story may get boring.

When leading a virtual meeting, you should chunk information up into discrete parts so nothing drags.

Keep things interesting by adding in a few surprises or visual aids. Incorporate frequent opportunities for attendees to engage, such as group polls or asking everyone to type something into the chat. You can also do group brainstorming activities with an application like Google Jamboard.

When planning virtual meetings, it’s extremely helpful to avoid a deficiency mindset and flip to a generative mindset.

Instead of thinking about what you can’t do virtually, think about what you can do.

For example, backgrounds can be used in practical ways. Meeting attendees could have a color of background that illustrates how they are feeling/thinking about what was just presented. They could have green for “I’m good, let’s move forward with it,” yellow for “I’m unsure about this and would like to hear more details,” and red could be “I have significant concerns I’d like to address.”

This is likely to lead to much richer discussions and can guard against the “checking out” that often happens when attendees are not expected/asked to be active participants.

SourceRituals for Virtual Meetings: Creative Ways to Engage People and Strengthen Relationships by Kursat Ozenc and Glenn Fajardo

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