How can I begin a virtual meeting in a way that focuses and energizes the whole group?

A common "efficiency trap" is to go "straight to business" and skip introductions and small talk. There are some risks to this straightforward approach:

  1. I don't know how focused and alert the group is – is their mind elsewhere? Are they checking email or on the phone?
  2. Some attendees may not arrive on time (no matter how much I would like them to) – if I begin without them, will their focus suffer? If I begin multiple times, will I lose momentum from the meeting?
  3. I don't know whether we are aligned on the goal of the meeting – do we share expectations on a successful meeting?

Our weeks are full of meetings, sometimes without any breaks in between.

When meeting face to face, we physically move to another desk, room, or office. This provides us with an important transition from one context to another. While moving, my mind is tuning into who I am meeting and what we are supposed to be doing.

In virtual meetings we may miss this important transitioning – we just click "leave meeting" and then "join meeting" without as much as a breath in between. How can we expect our minds to tune into a new group and new topic so quickly?

Here is a simple starting recipe to reduce the risks mentioned:

🤝 Have a "sign in period" of a few minutes before you begin. If your meeting time is 8-9am, start your meeting at 8.04 or 8.06. Show that starting time on the slide you are sharing when people sign in.

👋 Use the sign in period to say hello to each person and ask them how they are. Is this their first or 6th meeting today? Check in with people and listen to their voice. Is their mood neutral? Cheerful? Tired? Make note of their mood – it may be useful later in the session when addressing each person, especially if you need their help on a task or buy-in on a decision.

🎯 State the purpose and agenda for your gathering when everyone has checked in, and ask a few people if they are OK with both. Ask people to say (or write in the chat) if they need to leave early. Communicate with your words and actions that you expect commitment to this meeting. NOTE: Here we may need to show empathy if people are very busy or stressed out – checking in before we begin informs us of the group's mental and emotional state.

This way, when you do begin your presentation; give your introduction to the topic; or ask people "what we should do about X", they are more likely to be tuned in and aligned on the expected meeting outcome. You are more likely to get questions about your presentation, answers to your questions, and commitment to goals and actions.

In a nutshell: A simple sign in + check in of 5-10 minutes can do wonders for more focused meetings and better meeting outcomes.

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