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Your Virtual Meetings Are Killing Collaboration: How to Reach Everyone Who Attends

Jul 30, 2021

By Lynne Franklin

It is one of our biggest fears. “What if I held a virtual meeting and no one came?” Or just as awful: “What if their bodies showed up and their brains did not?”

You are right to be concerned. A recent poll of 4,600 professionals (on the anonymous network Blind) offered these sobering statistics on those who come to virtual meetings:

  • Twenty percent are “actively listening and providing live feedback.”
  • Twenty-six percent are “doing other stuff” during the meeting and “simply listening for their name” to be called.
  • Twenty-seven percent are “trying to pay attention, but often zoning out.”

Some of this is sheer volume. According to the Harvard Business School, the number of meetings that workers attend has increased every year since 2008. Plus, during the coronavirus pandemic, this figure grew 13.5%.

All you can control is how you design and lead your virtual meetings. That means using techniques that elevate your gatherings in your people’s minds, so they arrive interested and prepared—and stay that way.

Consider one approach few leaders use. First, understand how people’s brains work. Second, organize your virtual meetings to leverage this.

Here is one example: I call it the Rule of 20. We can only hold about 20 minutes of content in our short-term memories (in the hippocampus) before our brains are full.

Remember those one-hour college lectures you used to sit (and squirm) through? Now you know why. The professor kept sharing more ideas. These started piling up, well past the point that you could incorporate them. Then you would get anxious, annoyed and distracted.

People are doing the same thing in meetings. Attendees move beyond their capacity to understand and process information. Then they get frustrated and tune out.

If you are the one who is leading the session, this can be hard for you to see. Maybe you are busy trying to stare at the camera so that participants will feel like you are looking at and connecting with them. This means it is difficult for you to see who is checking his email or sending her text. And even if you could notice this, what would you do: call them out in front of everyone else?

This session will give you a better understanding of how people’s brains function. It will then focus on specific strategies and tactics you can use to 1) work within your participants’ attention spans, 2) keep them “in the room” or bring them back if they wander, and 3) create meetings they want to attend.

Then you will reap the benefits: getting more done in less time, creating a happier working environment, and earning the reputation for getting things done in an engaging way.

Don’t miss Lynne Franklin’s session, Virtual Meetings Are Killing Collaboration: How to Reach Everyone Who Attends, and check out all the sessions on the AFP 2021 SESSION EXPLORER. Register for the conference HERE.