online meetings that don't suck your soul

Beyond the Basics: Online Meetings that Don’t Suck Your Soul

We don’t hate online meetings – we hate soul-sucking wastes of time.

After months of online meetings, video conferences, Zoom, and Teams meetings, you’ve mastered the basics:

  • You’ve got light in front of you (not behind you) so we can see you.
  • You look into the camera to connect with your team.
  • You’ve got a list of everyone attending and you call in each person to take part.
  • You found a decent microphone so your team can hear you and you don’t have to yell.
  • You invite the least number of people to make the best decisions.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, you summarize the purpose.
  • Your agenda is short, snappy, and people don’t drift and start checking emails.
  • At the end of the meeting, you check for understanding and schedule the finish by asking “Who’s doing what, by when, and how will we know?”
  • And, vitally, you’re not holding a video meeting when a phone call or email will do.

You’re doing these things, but online meeting fatigue persists. What now?

Why Online Meetings Wear Us Out

Online meeting fatigue is real. There are a couple of reasons it happens and, when you know why, you can do something about them.

Remote Energy Drains – It takes energy to look into that camera and convey your support, encouragement, urgency, or concern. And then, you’re putting that energy into the camera, but you don’t get it back.

Your brain is built to work with the verbal and nonverbal cues you get from other people. Without those cues, you spend more energy in the form of anxiety, trying to figure out what’s happening. Much of this is unconscious, but it’s happening and it wears us out.

Seeing Yourself – Imagine a traditional face-to-face team meeting. Now imagine holding a mirror in front of your face while you’re talking. You would become hyper-aware of your facial expressions, posture, the tilt of your head, that fly-away hair that won’t behave, asking yourself “Should I move that way, no-wait-I’m-mirrored-go-the-other-way. Oh dang, that looked dumb, argh …” the list goes on.

The default “see-yourself” settings in many video meeting platforms create new awareness. For some of us, this isn’t bad—we needed the help. But this awareness of yourself consumes yet more energy – energy you never had to expend in a face-to-face setting.

People Become Less Human – One of the challenging aspects of our humanity is that it’s easier to see people close to us as fully formed persons with complex lives and a range of interests. The farther away a person is, the easier it is to reduce them to their role, a number, or even a problem. Online meetings can reinforce this tendency if we’re not careful. (Fortunately, they can also help to humanize one another if we’re intentional about it.)

How to Invigorate Your Online Meetings

Get Personal – One of the most effective and easiest ways to reinvigorate your online meetings is to show up with (and invite others’) full humanity. You can set a different tone and create meaningful connection by starting with the people, rather than the business.

Get past the friendly banter and start with meaningful, but safe, self-disclosure. For example:

  • Ask everyone to share an inspirational quote that’s guided them through challenging times.
  • Have every participant show an object that is meaningful to them and explain why.
  • For a lighter tone, you might start by asking everyone to share the most humorous regret they have during the pandemic.

Add Drama – What made Tiger King such an early pandemic phenomenon? Perhaps it was the lack of new alternatives, but at its core, that show had drama. (I wasn’t a fan of the show, but every minute had you wondering “What the heck will happen next?”)

Now, I’m not suggesting you threaten your competition or accuse a colleague of murdering their spouse (and if those references don’t mean anything to you – you didn’t watch the show, and that’s perfectly okay)—but, you can add drama to your meetings and make them more interesting.

There are several ways to amp up the intrigue, drama, and curiosity.

Start by making interesting decisions. Start a decision-making discussion with a clear definition of what’s at stake, why the decision matters, and what their choice will accomplish.

Not making a decision? Use a classic pre-commercial television technique: the teaser. “When we return, will our hero save the day or will she face crushing failure?”

In a business meeting this might look like, “Today we’re discussing a new process that will reduce our headaches and give us a chance to catch up on …”  Assuming you’ve told the truth and the process really does those things, now I’m leaning in, paying attention, and wanting to get to the good stuff.

Another fun way to add dramatic tension is to use tools like the Wheel of Names to review content, summarize action items, check for understanding, or choose someone to answer questions. You don’t want to overuse it, but people almost hold their breath waiting to see where the needle lands.

Finally, you’ll introduce more drama as you vary the other techniques in this article. Your team will constantly wonder what might happen next. That positive anticipation alleviates fatigue and boredom.

online meetings fatigue

Collaborate – One of the best advantages of online meetings is the ability to collaborate quickly, discuss critical questions, and regroup to share analysis, conclusions, and solutions. We’ve been so proud of the speed with which large teams can quickly identify strategic solutions and move to action when given the chance.

Use your breakout rooms, whiteboard tools, collaboration platforms like MIRO, and your public chat room to take advantage of all the thought-power on your team.

Bottom line: if you hold a meeting and don’t have participants talking with one another about critical issues, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

online meetings fatigue

Think Outside the Screen – It’s only natural – we zero in on the camera lens with an occasional glance at the video images on the screen. Before long, your world—and the world of your teammates—has shrunk to the rectangle in front of you.

Ease online meetings fatigue by thinking outside the screen.

  • Get people moving. Stand up. Dance.
  • Have a yoga practitioner on your team? Have them lead a 60-second yoga break.
  • Do an agenda-related scavenger hunt – “In 30 seconds, find an item that best illustrates [the problem we’re addressing] or [the future we want to achieve].”
  • Communicate key messages outside the screen in ways no one will expect (check out this article for a fantastic list of ways to communicate off-screen.)

Build, draw, tear—almost anything you’d do in person, you can adapt for remote meetings.

live online leadership development

Remove Energy Drains – Once you’ve got your camera set up and you know you framed your backdrop the way you want it, in many platforms, you don’t have to keep looking at yourself. Here’s how to hide your video from yourself in Zoom.

What about that energy drain of not getting reactions?

Depending on your platform, you can use thumbs up, claps, emojis, chat responses, or visual cues (think jazz hands) for real-time feedback. Create a culture of engagement and people will naturally interact with one another’s comments, feedback, and presentations. No, this doesn’t replace the real-time nonverbal signals we’re accustomed to, but over time it will help.

Your Turn

Some of the most fun moments over the past few months have been talking with leaders about the fun and creative ways they run meetings and engage their teams. We’d love to keep that spirit of creativity, fun, and team engagement going here.

Leave us a comment and share: What is your best suggestion to alleviate online meeting fatigue?

Lead remote meetings to build results and relationships

Lead Remote Meetings that Get Results and Build Relationships


Even after social distancing ends, remote meetings are here to stay. In this episode you’ll get several ways to ensure that your remote meetings are the best use of everyone’s time – including how to take advantage of technology to do things you can’t do in a face-to-face meeting. Every meeting should lead to results and build relationships – and remote meetings are no exception.

In this time of extraordinary uncertainty and change, your team has learned to adapt quickly and do the best they can, with what they have, from where they are.

You’ve seen what can be done, despite constraints, as you worked to find creative, sometimes even Herculean solutions to serve your customers while keeping everyone safe.
As we look beyond this immediate crisis to establish a new normal, how will you leverage this spirit of micro-innovation, problem-solving, and customer advocacy on your team? Join us for a free IDEA Inspiration Rally to unleash your team’s best ideas for a better, bolder future.
take charge of remote meetings

How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings

Lead remote meetings that get results and build relationships.

Tired of shadowy silhouettes, screechy feedback, and multitasking participants? It doesn’t have to be that way. Remote meetings are a daily fact of life for most leaders. When you lead them well, they can build relationships, and leverage your team’s expertise from anywhere on earth.

Like in-person meetings, however, good remote meetings don’t happen by accident. It takes intention and clear expectations to give everyone a productive experience that helps your team move forward. Here are fourteen ways you can take control of your remote meetings and make them a productive experience for everyone.

Lights, Cameras, Action

You wouldn’t show up to most in-person business meetings wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, then put your feet up on the desk. While you hopefully don’t have remote team members show up this way, remote meetings require a different set of etiquette to ensure that the experience is connected and productive.

1. Use the Camera

Seeing one another’s faces is a fundamentally better experience than voice alone. Even with the latency and delays that sometimes come with video, we are built to see faces, interpret emotion, and connect with other human beings.

Visual communication is higher bandwidth communication. You will get better results and relationships when your team can see one another. If at all possible, make video the default expectation for your remote meetings.

2. Use Lights

Now that you’ve got your camera on, make sure your team can see you. The number one problem with lighting is that people sit in front of a window or bright light and point their camera toward the window. The light washes out your face and all we see is a dark silhouette.

If you lead many meetings, it’s worth setting up a regular space where you will have good lighting. Sit facing the window. Get a lamp. Use what you have and ask others to do the same. Even if every member can’t get good lighting, they can avoid sitting in front of a bright light that washes out their face.

3. Use a Microphone

While video requires a good internet connection, quality audio is easy and affordable. If you don’t have a remote-meeting-equipped conference room, an inexpensive USB headset will help you and your team to hear one another with minimal feedback and background noise. It’s very difficult to have a conversation with the group if you can’t hear one another or you’re fighting feedback. Headset microphones eliminate these problems.

4. Look at the Green Dot

Have you ever had a video conference with someone’s left ear? If so, it’s because they have their camera on a different monitor than the monitor they’re watching.

When you speak, practice looking at your camera. This maximizes your perceived eye contact with everyone else. On the laptop I use for remote meetings there is a little green light next to the camera lens. I’ve trained myself to look at that dot as if it were the eyes of the person I’m speaking to.

Several times I’ve had meeting participants remark on how connected I was and how intently I was listening. That’s why. I was looking at the dot–but they see me looking at them. This takes practice to get used to, but it’s much better than people talking to your ear.

5. Limit Background Noise

Even with a noise-canceling microphone, background noise disrupts your team’s ability to have a meaningful conversation.

How to Facilitate Remote Meetings

Remote meetings require more from you than an in-person meeting. Your team will appreciate your leadership to help make the meeting the best use of everyone’s time.

6. Prime with Early Interaction

Many people experience remote meetings as a passive event where they listen to one or two people talk while they do other work, chime in with “sounds good,” and move on. To create a different energy and break up those habits, start your meeting with interaction.

Even before the meeting starts, ask questions, have a starter that engages people. It can relate to the topic or simulate pre-meeting table talk. Or you can have fun and humanize everyone–the opportunities are limitless. What if you started with a quick “waterfall” chat where everyone shares their answer to questions like:

  • The best thing that happened to them at work this week?
  • What made them most proud of their team?
  • What contribution they’re most proud of?
  • What they hope to get out of or achieve on the project you’re discussing?

Give everyone a moment to read through and appreciate the answers. You can also use this technique to pause and gather responses throughout the meeting.

7. Set Expectations

What time does your meeting start?

If you said “9:00 am” – what does that mean? Does it mean people should arrive at 9? At 8:55? What should everyone have read or done to prepare for the meeting?

In one organization, a scheduled 9:00 am meeting could start as early as 7:30 if an executive’s plane arrived early.

Don’t leave your meetings to chance. Great teams have mutually understood, shared expectations about how they work together and that includes meetings – remote or in person.

Unless you’re meeting with the same group and have a track record of good remote meetings, take time to explain the technology and processes you use. If you will use polls, breakout rooms, text chats, whiteboards, or other elements, describe how they work and give people a chance to do it before you use it for the actual conversation.

It’s also a good practice to review behavioral expectations regarding lighting, microphones, video, background noise, and engagement just as you would for an in-person meeting. Eg “To avoid talking over one another, please use the ‘raise hand’ feature and I’ll call on you. Let’s try it out–everyone raise your hand now.”

8. Keep Track of Participation

How long has it been since you’ve heard input from Doug? Should you invite Cheryl into the conversation?

When you lead a remote meeting, it is helpful to keep track of who is taking part. I will often keep a list of attendees and use hash marks to make sure we balance input and that the technology doesn’t prevent contribution (or allow someone to hide who we need to hear.)

9. Intentionally Engage

When people are new to the technology, it helps to be directive in how you engage the team. Use everyone’s name frequently. Invite them to share their perspective (this is even more important when you have a hybrid meeting with some attendees in-person and some remotely). Vary the interactions. Use waterfalls, polls, and text chats to provide group feedback and engage whoever isn’t speaking at the moment.

One engagement tool that leaders often under-use is a good strategic story. In 2-4 minutes can you share a brief story about a customer or employee that relates to the meeting’s purpose–something that puts the computerized meeting in a human context.

Every Meeting, Every Time

Whether you’re meeting in person, remotely, or both, never forget these five fundamentals of effective meetings.

10. Have a Clear Purpose

Before anyone arrives to a meeting, they need to know the purpose of the meeting. Is this a meeting to choose where you are going or how you will get there? Clarify the purpose and stick to it.

11. Invite the Right People to Make the Best Decision

You want your meeting to be the most productive use of time for everyone who attends. Generally, invite the least number of people that will allow the group to make the best decision. Then add in people who can attend developmentally.

12. Clarify Who Owns the Decision

At the beginning of the meeting, clarify how the decision will be made. There are three ways to make business decisions: a single person decides; the team votes; or the team chooses by consensus. Those are your options. Be clear who owns the decisions so everyone knows how to share and how to think about what they hear.

13. Stay Focused

While you lead the meeting and participate in the discussion, stay focused on the original purpose. When you drift into other topics, make a decision: are you going to change the purpose of the meeting to discuss the new topic (rarely a good idea, but sometimes warranted) or call everyone back to the topic at hand? Use a parking lot and assign “parked” ideas an owner for follow up.

14. End with the Magic Meeting Formula for Results

To turn your meeting into action, wrap up with a focused check-for-understanding:  Who is Doing What by When and How Will We Know? Finish strong and ensure everyone clearly knows who is accountable for what activity.

online trainingYour Turn

We believe in the power of remote meetings and their ability to create human connections and achieve breakthrough results. Karin and I have built friendships and working relationships with people around the world through remote collaboration and our live-online leadership training programs – and you can too.

We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for running a fantastic remote meeting.