Don't let well-intentioned big mouths hijack your virtual meeting

How to Prevent Well-Intentioned Big Mouths From Hijacking Your Virtual Meeting

The pivot to more virtual meetings didn’t create this problem. Anyone who has ever run more than a meeting or two knows the challenge of managing the person who just can’t seem to shut up.

It’s extra tricky when they’re a high-performer whose heart is in the right place. And extra, extra challenging when no one else is talking.

After all, it’s human nature for your oxygen sucker to think, “Thank God for me, otherwise, no one would say a word.” And they keep on talking for the good of the team.

My best advice for in-person meetings is to take a break. Then have a quick hallway conversation with the well-intentioned over-sharer to (1) thank them for their ideas and contribution (2) share your concern about getting more voices into the room and, (3) invite them to help draw others in by asking more questions and inviting their colleagues to contribute.

5 Ways to Encourage Everyone to Share in Your Remote Team Meeting

So how do you keep your well-intentioned talker from hijacking your virtual meeting? In some ways, it’s actually a bit easier if you use this opportunity to reset expectations and leverage the technology.

1. Take time out to reset expectations as a team.

First set the stage, “We’ve been working from home for a while now and it looks like we’ll be at this for a while. It’s really important that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and offer their ideas in our virtual meetings.”

And then, invite their ideas.  “Before our next meeting, I’d like everyone to email one or two I.D.E.A.s to ensure everyone has a voice in our virtual meetings. Then, I’ll combine the ideas and we can talk through them and come up with a strategy that will work for all of us.”

Note: by giving everyone a chance to submit their ideas in advance, you give the people who are normally not talking a better chance to weigh in on what it would take to draw them in. This pre-gathering input technique can work well on other topics too.

2. Use the power of chat

The private chat works just like a hallway conversation but without having to take a break. Use a similar “thank, explain, invite” approach as I outlined above with your meeting hijacker.

Public chat also works great to prime-the-pump for conversation. One of our favorite ways to do this is to ask everyone to “put your fingers on the keyboard,” and then ask a provocative question and have everyone chat in the answers. Then you can call out the answers of some of the folks who are less likely to unmute and speak.

3. Leverage breakout rooms for more intimate and streamlined conversation.

This is where technology is your friend. When we’re facilitating virtual meetings or live-online training we almost always use the breakout rooms to encourage deeper dialogue. We find the smaller the better. It’s hard to hide in a group of three or four, and we find participants do a better job of encouraging one another’s contributions and making space for everyone to speak. AND the ideas generated are almost always better with more brains actually engaged in the conversation. Vary who gives the readout from the groups each time. You can even randomize it so that it’s not just a volunteer. For example, “and when we come back I’d like the person with the birthday earliest in the year, to give the readout.”

4. Teach the art of facilitation and then take turns.

Empowering all team members with some basic training or tips on remote facilitation will help everyone know what success looks like and be more likely to help keep the meeting more inclusive (with a side-effect of encouraging some self-regulation). By rotating the meeting facilitation through every member of your team you by default encourage more balanced conversations.

5. Talk with your well-intentioned meeting hijacker off-line.

If you try all this and still have a well-intentioned meeting hijacker, it’s time for an off-line voice to voice feedback conversation about the pattern, point out why it matters and invite them to come up with a solution. Our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. technique for having a difficult conversation works great at a time like this.

Your turn.

I’d love to hear your ideas. What are your best techniques for preventing a well-intentioned big mouth from hijacking your virtual meeting?

HT to James daSilva of Smartbrief for the prompt.