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Effective Meetings in a Virtual Environment: How to Minimize Distractions

Have you ever found yourself daydreaming about weekend plans or the lunch menu while attending a business meeting? While this can happen during any meeting, virtual meetings are particularly susceptible to distracted and unfocused participants. When attending a meeting outside a physical office, participants can easily find themselves distracted in their casual environment. It’s easy to check out when you’re “watching’’ a meeting.

When you’re leading a virtual meeting, beware of participants slipping into observer mode. You want to minimize this. It’s also important to realize that the sense of accountability changes when participants are not face-to-face. Even well intended, well-disciplined meeting members can find it difficult to maintain focus when attending a virtual meeting.

While this post is about minimizing distraction, it’s very important that you, the meeting organizer, have a high level of employee/participant trust. This sets the stage. Trust that the participants are paying attention. There will be small distractions, outside your control, that come from participant’s environment. Trust that they can handle it without distracting the whole team. Every staff member at Research Integrations works from home offices all across the nation. Thus, our meetings are conducted in a virtual environment. Below are some tips we have learned over the years to minimize distractions.

 5 Techniques to Minimize Distractions—the key is to keep them engaged

1. Use an appropriate tool and use it wisely

Be sure the meeting tool doesn’t demand too much attention from the participants. You want participants to be focused on the meeting, not the tool. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of choosing the right tool for your virtual meetings. I outlined 6 things you should consider before choosing a tool. You can access those tips here: http://www.researchintegrations.com/?p=369&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=134

 2. A little change goes a long way in focusing attention

Utilizing multiple people to lead and report is a great technique. This change of speakers in a virtual meeting can often refocus participants. Very simply, it adds interest just by including a new perspective or point of view. Plus, individual participants may respond better to different personalities and ways of presenting.

Another important note is that visuals are great for refocusing attention. They don’t need to be extravagant or flashy. But bold and obvious works best. They could just be a new image each time you change agenda topics. This signals a new direction but most importantly, it refocuses the attention of anyone who may have drifted. Also, meeting members who need to step away can easily rejoin the meeting because it’s easy to track where you are in the meeting.

3. Give them a reason to pay attention

If you want members to pay attention, then you should consider the following:

1. Establish clear meeting objectives.

Participants are more likely to pay attention when you keeping your meeting on target. A clear direction and set of objectives keeps meeting members interested. If you sense your participants are bored, you might need to consider whether you have enough targeted substance and the right group of people

 2. Invite participants who are interested in or impacted by the meeting objectives.

Participants need to feel that they either have something to gain by participating in the meeting or something of value to contribute. In determining who should attend the meeting, look at your topics and be sure they apply to all meeting members.

3. Include visuals that support the meeting objectives.

One of the most obvious visuals is the use of an agenda. Providing an agenda allows meeting members to follow along. It also allows them to easily step back in if they stepped away for a minute.  Be obvious. When moving to a new meeting topic, be very clear. Again, this refocuses your participants. Along with an agenda, look for other places where a visual might enhance the discussion topic. Avoid long explored topics with no visuals to support the content. It’s difficult to remain an active listener during long lectures. This is compounded when the meeting is held in a virtual environment because you lose the personal sense of accountability.

4. Use methods that encourage interaction

Minimizing distractions is closely tied to participant engagement. One way to gauge the distraction of meeting members is to monitor the participant engagement. In an earlier post, I wrote on this subject. You can access this here: http://www.researchintegrations.com/?p=475&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=134

 There are several ways to encourage participation. Live video feeds from each participant bring a quality of face-to-face to a meeting. It allows participants to focus on the person speaking in a manner similar to in-person meetings.

 Screen sharing allows participants to see your documentation and organizing techniques. This draws them into the presentation and process.

 Have leadership voices report on critical information and actively seek feedback from all participants. Take the time to touch base with meeting members who consistently have a lesser role. This can be done via email or through a personal phone call. It doesn’t have to occur during the meeting. This action reminds members that you are aware of the time devoted to your meeting and that their presence matters. In the long run, this action encourages participation. By showing members they are important and that you remember them, they become more invested in you and your meeting.

5. Keep information understandable for all participants

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than being in a meeting where the presenters sound like they are speaking in coded shorthand. Newbies are likely to checkout when they have no idea what you’re talking about. For example, the use of acronyms, while appropriate for some audiences, may not be appropriate for all attendees. This can be remedied by avoiding specialized language or by providing explanation and perhaps even a defined written list of some of the most common acronyms and domain specific  terms that you’re likely to use.

Recap

Distraction occurs in any meeting, but virtual meetings are quite susceptible. The right techniques help minimize this possibility. Keep in mind, these can be used in any kind of meeting. The key is to keep participants engaged. Adding a little bit of change and visual representation goes along way. I hope the techniques above assist or inspire creation of your own for minimizing distraction. Please share any ideas you have or techniques you’ve used with me in the comments.

 

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