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5 rules to keep everyone involved in online meetings

Updated: May 24, 2020

"Oh, no … I've another Skype meeting planned for this afternoon." said basically everyone that had to work from home during these past months. It's hard to keep that energy high when all you seem to do is sit behind your desk and talk to your screen.

And let's be honest, most of our meetings have always sucked, often due to a lack of accountability for engagement between participants. When hosting meetings in person, we can often ask for attention or engage through eye contact, even if people don't seem interested. When hosting remote meetings, this dynamic disappears and should be replaced by different opportunities where attendees can engage fully and contribute to quality work. In other words, one should invest in creating voluntary engagement between the host and the different participants of the meeting.

Joseph Grenny and Justin Hale from VitalSmarts did extensive research on how to create this voluntary engagement in virtual meetings and found five rules that work to boost engagement during online meetings. We liked their approach here at NNORM and decided to share it with you!

Are you ready to start hosting engaging meetings?

1. The "60-second" rule

When you need other people's help to solve an issue, it's crucial that they first empathize with the problem or opportunity themselves. Therefore, at the start of the meeting, during the first 60 seconds, help them experience it. This can be done through storytelling, showing statistics, analogies, or anecdotes that show the pain or issue. Once your participants "experienced" the problem or opportunity for themselves, they will feel more motivated to help you actively solve it.

2. The "responsibility" rule

Throughout their life people take up different roles. Sometimes they are pushed into a certain role by the environment and the social setting they find themselves in, think about going for a game of tennis rather as a an actor. Sometimes they choose their role for themselves, for example ranging from being the observer in a meeting to being the devil's advocate. The biggest threat for your online meetings is that your team members take the role of observer. The decision about which role someone will take up is often - subconsciously - already made when receiving the invite, so make sure to explicitely state everyone's expected role / contribution for this meeting. Best is to repeat this again at the start of the meeting. The key is to create this experience of shared responsibility which will boost engagement.

3. "The nowhere to hide" rule

The worst thing to do during a meeting is to make everyone responsible for a certain outcome. This will result in no one feeling responsible, the so called phenomenon of "diffusion of responsibility." This can be avoided by giving people subtasks that they can actively engage in: give groups of two (or three) a problem to solve in a limited time frame, divide people in breakout rooms to work on certain topics. The key is to make the task very structured and brief. Debrief with the entire group afterwards

4. The "MVP" rule

This is rule is not about the classic "minimal viable product," but all about the "minimum viable PowerPoint." Don't bore your meeting attendees with hundreds of slides filled with statistics and data. Try to find a nice mix between facts, stories, and the least amount of data you need to inform and engage the group. Do a dry-run upfront to see where you can add interactions! This will help you to engage the attendees while getting rid of the pressure to get through all of your slides.

5. The "5-minute" rule

Your participants should have a problem to solve every 5 minutes. If not, their minds will start to wander to other more interesting tasks, things or objects in their rooms. Don't let them get in that observer role! Because the road back from it is often long and hard. There are different ways of creating envolvement: ask questions, polls, brainstorm moments, a feedback round etc. Reflect on the best possible format for your meeting. If you are hestitating, drop us a message and we would be glad to give you some tips!


Want to start working on engagement during your online meetings? We've created a videotraining and ebook on online facilitaton and team exercises. Send us on email on if you're interested!

PS. It's your lucky day, because this week, you can win a NNORM digital teambuilding for your team. Participate here!


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