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How to make online meetings inspiring and inclusive

Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte
Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte
How to make online meetings inspiring and inclusive

As remote working and multi location teams have become a default in many companies, also the remote meetings and workshops are part of our everyday life. Yet, many continue struggling with how to get that sense of engagement and energy that you have at best in-room meetings.

In online meetings facilitators struggle with creating real contact with the participants. Technical problems make communication challenging, and it’s hard to get a conversation going, let alone engagement.

The principles of facilitation are the same for remote meetings and in-room facilitation. However, particular attention must be paid to methodological choices, technology management, and maintaining people’s levels of energy.

In this article, we have collected practical tips on facilitating virtual meetings and ways to overcome the challenges that are typically encountered in these meetings.

Xpedio Hybrid meeting blueprint

Build thoughtfully your team’s hybrid collaboration blueprint

Many workplaces are struggling as we speak with choices related to the balance between remote and at office work, between desires of employees and needs of the employer. Many workers have felt they’ve gained more flexibility to reconciling work and rest of life, as commuting doesn’t eat time anymore. Some companies have become 100% remote. In many, a preferred model seems to be an agreed day or days of the week when every team member is physically at the office. This model offers a great opportunity to make reflected choices on what part of collaboration happens face-to-face and what can be done remotely.

I shared a while ago a template to support the definition of what I call hybrid collaboration blueprint This template can support shared reflection within a team on the existing needs and channels of collaboration. In face-to-face encounters there is a natural opportunity to promote trust-building communication and feeling of unity, brainstorm ideas and handle conflicts. Open and interactive communication promotes also the commitment of team members.

In addition to face-to-face and remote meetings teams also have available different kinds of digital collaboration platforms where coworking can happen asynchronically. This means that team members can take forward the work in different moments. Its worth evaluating how these platforms could be exploited better, so that the shared meeting time would be use to what is most valuable, meaningful interaction.

Don’t be afraid to encourage the use of camera

The use of camera in remote meetings has many clear benefits:

  • The possibility to follow facial expressions in addition to voice helps the delivery of the message
  • The ability to receive feedback on own communication through following others facial expressions makes communication richer
  • Seeing each others’ facial expressions brings the experience of remote meeting close to that of a in-room meeting
  • Concentration on what is being said is easier when we can follow with sight the person speaking
  • Our focus is better also when we know that we are being seen by others. This reduces the likelihood of multitasking.
  • Seeing each others’ faces raises the level of energy in a meeting.

During the pandemy a phenomenon called Teams of Zoom fatigue emerged and, when researched more, the linkage between remote meeting fatigue and the use of webcam was shown to be positive. Sometimes, in fact, it can feel more relaxing not to be seen by others.

Altogether, it is good to discuss openly about the use of camera in remote meetings and agree on the ground rules. Is it agreed that everyone keeps the camera on – and are their specific meetings where the use of camera could be optional. This all depends on the hybrid meeting architecture of the team and the choices made to meet the different goals of collaboration. For example, if the team meets face-to-face every week and these moments are optimized for collaboration and communication, perhaps in another meeting it is ok to agree that the use of camera is optional.

Minimise distractions and start the meeting with a ‘Mindful Minute’

One of the challenges of a virtual meeting is that it doesn’t require any physical movement to participate, which would allow you to disconnect from the previous meeting and orientate yourself for the next one.

Another challenge is that the meeting takes place on the same computer as all the other work, so there are a lot of distractions – chat messages and pop-up emails, for example.

In order to overcome these challenges it would be good to ask the participants to remove from their computer screens things that disrupt their concentration, right at the start of the meeting.  This can be justified by saying, for example, that we are now having a 40-minute meeting instead of a 60-minute one and, to ensure time efficiency and good teamwork, everyone needs to be fully engaged with their thoughts.

Next, you can ask the participants to focus only on this meeting during a Mindful Minute.

Build the feeling of a shared environment

 One difficulty of a virtual meeting is that the participants are unable to share the experience of a single room. In order to build a shared experience, this challenge can be overcome by consciously building the feeling of a shared environment:

  • At the start, ask each participant to tell you what they see from the window of the room they are in at the moment or how’s the weather like in their location.
  • Verbalize what you can see but others can’t. Sometimes, something unexpected in the environment can catch a participant’s attention, and for a moment even distract them from the meeting.

Encourage active participation in different ways

Sitting at a desk and looking at a screen is a quick way to lose concentration, so it’s even more important to keep participants active in a virtual meeting.

I believe all online meeting platforms have a chat function. In this, you can ask the participants to comment on a certain matter or give their answers to a question simultaneously, ensuring that each one participates.

The digital whiteboard function can be used in the same way as physical whiteboards and flip charts. You can create a template, for example a matrix, so that participants can introduce their ideas into the framework in a structured way. A feature of digital whiteboards is that everyone can write, draw or add sticky notes on them simultaneously.

The Poll option offers the chance to participate anonymously.

Small group discussions: This enables everyone to participate actively in a discussion simultaneously.

A facilitated remote meeting with a good level of variety of participation modes can for example look like this:

  • Welcome greetings
  • Ground rules
  • ’Mindful’ minute
  • A kick-off round discussing: What can I see from my window when I look out?
  • Assessment of the current state of the project with a line where 1 = inefficient operation and 10 = exemplary project work (Whiteboard)
  • Brainstorming: “By what concrete measures could we move towards number 10 in our project work?” (Whiteboard)
  • Categorisation of ideas (Whiteboard)
  • Voting on ideas: “Vote for the idea that will get us closest to number 10 most quickly”
  • Break
  • Together, define a person responsible for each action and a timetable, and agree on a way to monitor progress.
  • Assessment of the meeting (Chat): What was the best thing in this meeting? How could we do even better the next time?
  • Summary and conclusion

Not being afraid to ask open questions of participants, active listening, and ensuring understanding are essential tools for a virtual facilitator. It is, however, important to ensure that, before asking questions of individuals, you have their attention. You can do this by calling them by name before asking the question.

Check regularly that everyone can hear each other and, if necessary, repeat a comment or question by a participant to ensure that it’s clear to everyone.

Inspiring and iclusive online meeting blueprint

Ensure a good level of energy throughout the meeting

The biggest challenge in a virtual meeting is maintaining a good level of energy because sitting in front of a screen for long periods is tiring.

It’s good to consciously try and increase the energy level of participants because this will have a direct impact on the productivity and success of the meeting.

Here are a few ideas for increasing and maintaining energy levels:

  • Keep remote meetings sufficiently short: An online meeting should be ended before it becomes too exhausting, and it’s better to divide the subject into several smaller parts on different days.
  • Virtual meetings require regular breaks. Try to have a break of at least five minutes every 45 minutes.
  • Make use of your voice and body: If the facilitator’s voice is quiet and monotone during a virtual meeting, this can send people to sleep!
  • Take some deep breaths and voice-opening exercises before the meeting and, try to vary the pitch of your voice by emphasizing certain words.
  • You can also use the volume of your voice as a boost and stimulant. It’s also worth paying particular attention to good word articulation.
  • Have an exercise break: A short break for exercise will get the blood circulating.


This exercise is a fun and easy way to stimulate participants in a remote meeting, get them moving, and increase their energy levels. After that everyone is once again alert and ready to focus on the topic at hand.

Explain to the participants the reason for the exercise: “We’ve been working well and actively together. To keep our energy levels up, I suggest that here we do a short energizing exercise. Is that OK for everyone?”

Tell the participants the rules: I’m going to say the names of different colours or materials. When you hear the word, try to touch that colour or material somewhere around you as quickly as you can. As soon as you’ve touched it, shout that you’re ready.

Begin the exercise: Things to be touched could be, for example, something blue, red, white, metal, green, wooden, yellow, or woollen.

After that, you can ask, for example: “What was the easiest to find, and what was the most difficult? Are you now ready to return to the topic of the meeting?”

Virtual facilitation is in some ways more demanding than the face-to-face version, as the facilitator also has to deal with the technology and its potential challenges, as well as the special attention needed to ensure the participants’ concentration and energy levels.

The writer of this post is the founder and Managing Director of Xpedio, Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte. She has been working with facilitation and organizational development across the world for the last 18 years. Get to know Mirjami better here. 

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