Covid-19 pushed businesses to change the way they do work and this includes the way we meet and collaborate. People scrambled to install online meeting applications and educated themselves on how these systems work. Two years later, people have gone through all the meeting faux pas — failing to mute, failing to unmute, echoing noise, barking dogs, crying babies and screens hanging. Name it, and we’ve all experienced it. But, these are not the only problems hounding online meetings.
Sadly, there’s a recurring pattern that prevents everyone from participating fully. Ever been in a meeting where you cannot put in a word edgewise? Chances are, the more extroverted people take up most of the airtime. Also, whoever spoke first will probably direct the flow of the conversation. Do you think this kind of behaviour will encourage more people to participate? Or will this turn them off and make them dread the next time a meeting invite finds its way in their inbox?
There are ways to improve our online meetings to make them more inclusive. Let me share some tips.
1. Ensure that there is a facilitator or host
Having someone who directs the flow of the conversation will ensure that all the participants can have enough airtime if they wish to speak. Online meeting applications provide an option to assign someone as the host. Use it.
2. Get to know your participants
Let us avoid making anyone in the meeting feel like they’re merely a name in the crowd. Encourage everyone to use which names, or nicknames, they prefer. Why not ask everyone to quickly say their names and correct pronunciations to avoid future errors and break the ice? Doing this will also allow everyone to connect the name to a face.
To make it even more inclusive, how about asking everyone to include their pronouns with their names? This move will serve as a guide on how to address everyone correctly.
3. Invite more (diverse) perspectives
Because of technology, anyone from any city, state or country can join without the hassle of a commute. As such, it’s possible to invite people that can represent different perspectives. Why guess what customers think when you can ask actual customers to speak?
Also, provide more avenues for the participants to interact with each other. Create breakout groups that allow people to discuss in a smaller number. This move could bring out more sound suggestions that can be gathered and summarized at the end of the meeting.
4. Observe everyone in the room
How can you get an idea of what everyone feels during the meeting? Online meeting applications provide an option to create polls. While some people are vocal with their opinions, others remain anonymous. Using a poll can provide a certain level of anonymity and still get everyone’s responses.
Also, meeting hosts and administrators should observe the participants’ non-verbal cues. Are they interested? Are they bored? Which topics interest them the most? Looking at how they react to specific issues makes it easier to gauge their views without speaking up.
5. Provide for everyone’s needs
Online meetings should aim for everyone to feel welcome and included. Can the session cover the needs of a wide range of disabilities? It is everyone’s responsibility that no one gets left behind. You can do this best by asking, “What do you need?” Closed captioning is an essential feature useful for online meetings. People with hearing impairments or trouble blocking out background noise will appreciate it.
Participants will also appreciate a copy of the recording and transcript of the meeting. Remember that not all participants can give a hundred per cent of their undivided attention. At some point, parenting and caregiving responsibilities will interfere, so a recording and transcript will allow them to stay in the loop. It’s vital to ask for everyone’s permission before recording a meeting.
6. Listen to feedback and keep improving the experience
No matter how hard we try, there will always be something we can improve on. Ask your participants for feedback after every meeting. Learn from the mistakes and improve and prepare for the next meeting.