How To
19 min

How to Make Virtual Meetings More Interactive and Productive

Soniya Jain
November 20, 2022

What you'll learn

What you'll need

Virtual meetings keep remote teams connected, yet they can be overwhelming and sometimes feel unproductive. This guide will help to give you some tips you can use to conduct productive and interactive virtual meetings like a boss.

Ever sat in a Zoom call thinking, "This could have been an email?"

Well, you are not alone.

Virtual meetings have become an important part of our daily lives. It's a great way to get everyone together, but sometimes it's not as productive as it should be.

According to research, 67% of executives consider meetings unproductive. Virtual meetings are often called the death of productivity, but it doesn't have to be that way.

We will discuss different ways in which you can make your virtual meetings more productive and engaging.

Key reasons behind unproductive meetings

Meetings are a standard part of the workplace and can be an effective way to get things done. However, meetings can be frustrating and unproductive when they don't go well.

Here are some reasons why your meetings are unproductive.

Meetings go on too long

When leaders don't have a clear agenda or objective in mind, they drift from topic to topic without a plan for getting from point A to point B. This often leads to long, rambling discussions that go nowhere—and leave everyone unprepared and unmotivated.

Attendees aren't empowered to contribute

It happens when the leader has an agenda and cut-off points for each agenda item, but isn't open to other ideas or suggestions from attendees. Or maybe they steer the discussion toward what they want rather than what's important for the team or organization. In either case, no one gets heard; everyone leaves feeling frustrated.

Meetings lack cohesiveness and focus

A meeting can become derailed when the leader doesn't have a plan or structure. Or maybe they don't know what questions to ask or what information is important to share with attendees. In any case, meetings become long and rambling—with no clear direction or action items.

Nobody's in charge

When leading a group with conflicting opinions and objectives, someone must take responsibility for making decisions and keeping the meeting on track. Otherwise, every new topic can result in some arguing and others tuning out as they wait for their turn to speak.

The actual costs of unproductive meetings

Source: Coretech

Alt text - Cost of unproductive meetings

Meetings can cost your organization lots of money and time if they are poorly planned, attended, or run. Here are some hidden costs associated with unproductive meetings.

Employee burnout

Meetings that don't accomplish anything can lead to employee burnout.

According to research, 37% of employees waste 2-5 hours per week in meetings where little or no progress was made towards the meeting's goal.

They could spend time on other tasks, like working on projects or coming up with new ideas.

That's why big companies have introduced "no-meeting zones" where employees can get away from unnecessary meetings and focus on getting stuff done instead.

Low accomplishment

Meetings are a great way to get things done. However, many meetings are unproductive if they don’t have a clear agenda or purpose, or the attendees may not be prepared for the meeting. This can lead to low accomplishment and wasted time.

Task switching

It takes a lot of effort to mentally prepare to attend a meeting and even more to prepare for the task mentally. An unnecessary remote meeting can force people to switch their focus, which is a cognitively demanding process.

Switching between tasks can cause an overall decline in productivity and performance. It's not just the time spent in meetings that can drain your mental resources, but also the process of getting to them.

Shallow work

According to research, it takes an average of 25 minutes for people to become entirely focused after being interrupted, making unproductive meetings not only frustrating, but can also lead to poor productivity levels. People spend less time focusing on their core responsibilities and more time attending useless meetings.

11 tips to make your virtual meeting productive and interactive

Meetings are often the most dreaded aspect of office life. It's no wonder—they're often long, tedious, and unproductive. But they don't have to be. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your online meetings.

1. Utilize reliable tools for remote collaboration

You can quickly and easily share your screen with other participants using a remote collaboration tool like Zoom. This lets people see what's on the screen and talk about it in real-time.

It also allows them to collaborate, comment, and make decisions together, even when they're not in the same room. As a result, virtual meetings have become more productive and engaging than ever.

5 ways virtual collaboration tools can improve your online meeting 

  1. They allow for rapid feedback and discussion between team members.

  1. They promote team members to work together on projects without being physically present.

  1. They allow you to share files between multiple people without repeatedly exchanging email attachments or zip files.

  1. They help keep everyone focused on the task by eliminating distractions caused by technology problems or poor bandwidth conditions (e.g., laggy video streaming or audio issues).

  1. They give you access to tools like screen sharing, which are essential for remote teams.

It is easy to use remote collaboration tools as all you need to do is download them on your device or computer and start using them immediately, without any complicated technical settings.

2. Consider everyone's time zone

When you're having an online meeting with a team or a client, it's important to consider everyone's time zones. You should always schedule your online meetings when most team members are available. This way, you can have better communication throughout the meeting and make sure that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions or voice their opinion.

Make sure that all participants know what time zone others are in and why it matters for scheduling purposes. For example, if someone says "3 pm," does that mean 3 pm Eastern or Central Time? If you don't know which time zone someone is in (or if you're unsure), ask them directly before scheduling the meeting.

Be aware of holidays and religious observances. If your team members live in different countries, be mindful of religious holidays and national observances that may affect their availability for meetings (and other work). For example, if someone is Jewish, don't schedule meetings during Yom Kippur or another major Jewish holiday (if possible).

If you don't consider these things when planning a virtual meeting, someone might miss out on important information or feel like they are being left out entirely.

3. Review who is expected to attend

When considering the list of attendees for a meeting, ask yourself, "Who needs to be there?" The more people you include in a meeting, the longer it may take.

According to research by Harvard Business School, the number of people invited to each meeting rose by 14%, or two additional people on average, when more employees started working remotely in 2020.

It's easy to think that inviting everyone on your remote team to online meetings is a harmless practice. However, it can be counterproductive and hamper productivity. It's important to remember that the goal of a meeting is to get things done. It's not an opportunity for people to socialize or catch up on gossip.

Your list should include only people who have a real stake in the outcome or will be affected by the decision being made in the meeting.

So, the next time you plan a meeting, think about who you need there. If there are people who don't have anything to contribute, drop them from the list. This will make it easier for everyone involved to focus on what needs to be accomplished during the online meeting—and it will help improve productivity.

4. Have a clear meeting agenda

Source: Hypercontext

Alt text - Meeting agenda

A meeting agenda is a list of topics to be discussed during your remote meeting and the order in which they will be addressed. It can also include a list of attendees, their titles and affiliations, and an approximate time frame for each topic.

Meeting agendas organize your thoughts and help everyone stay focused on the most critical topics. It ensures that all attendees are prepared for what will happen during the online meeting so that no one gets left behind or confused about what's supposed to happen next.

According to The Muse, unproductive meetings waste more than $37 billion annually. A meeting agenda can help your team to stay on track and prevent this waste.

What should be included in a good meeting agenda?

  • The date, time, and location of the meeting.
  • The name and contact information for the person leading the meeting.
  • The subject matter of the meeting and why it's important to attend.
  • The objectives for the meeting—what will happen during each part?
  • A list of topics to cover during each part of the meeting.
  • Any actions that everyone will take at the end of the meeting.

Agendas are often created in advance of meetings, but you can also use one during a meeting by distributing it before the event starts. Either way, it's helpful for all participants to know what's on the agenda so they can prepare for the meeting accordingly.

5. Minimize distractions

Distractions are inevitable in any meeting, virtual or in-person.

In a virtual meeting, however, they are more likely to get in your way and derail your presentation. 

Most common distractions in a virtual meeting

  1. Telephones are ringing or people talking.
  2. People checking email, text messages, social media accounts, and other forms of communication.
  3. People look at their computers instead of listening to you talk.
  4. People multitask (checking email or surfing the internet while talking).
  5. Individuals who don't know how to properly use their microphones or headphones.

How to handle distractions in a virtual meeting

  • Set ground rules with your colleagues before the meeting starts. For example, say, "Hey everyone, let's keep our conversations focused on this topic. If anyone needs help with something else or wants to discuss something unrelated to this topic, please do so after we're done here."

  • If someone does get distracted during the meeting, try saying something like, "If anyone has any questions about this topic, feel free to ask them now. Otherwise, let's get back on track." This can be effective because it addresses the issue without putting anyone on the spot or making them feel bad about themselves.

  • If you have a particularly bad meeting where everyone is getting distracted, try taking the discussion offline and finding out what's going wrong. This can help you address specific issues in future meetings.

  • Encourage participants to mute their microphones when they're not speaking or discussing something relevant to the discussion at hand. This helps cut down on background noise from other participants' laptops or smartphones—and it makes them feel more comfortable knowing that others won't hear them if they have an emergency call or text message come through while they're speaking.

Although it's impossible to eliminate all distractions from virtual meetings, you can reduce them by handling the most troublesome immediately.

6. Follow up on your meeting 

Follow-up is a crucial part of any productive meeting. It's not just about ensuring everyone has shared their thoughts and ideas, but also about getting everyone on the same page.

Following up on your meeting also allows you to reiterate points made during the meeting and keep them top of mind for your team.

Benefits of following up after a virtual team meeting

  • Encourage employees to share knowledge and information more freely.
  • Increase employee engagement through job satisfaction.
  • Allow employees to ask questions they may have had after the meeting.

You can even create a few follow-up message templates for different types of meetings. Here are some effective meeting follow-up examples.

A thank you message after a staff meeting

Thank you for attending our staff meeting this morning. It was great to see everyone, and I appreciate the time you took out of your day to be here.

I hope you found today's discussion helpful, and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Again, thank you for joining.

A reminder message after a training session

Dear [Name],

Thanks for attending the training session [Title] today.

To help you get the most out of your learning experience, we've created some helpful resources to follow up on what you learned. These include:

[Link to post-training checklist]

[Link to post-training video]

We hope these resources will help you apply what you've learned in real-world situations. And if there is anything else we can do for you, please don't hesitate to reach out!

An update message after an off-site meeting

Thank you for joining us at our off-site virtual meeting last week. As we discussed, we have come up with several ideas we need to take action on.

We will be implementing some of the changes immediately, but there are others we will need to plan for in the coming months.

I have included a list below of all the items we discussed. Please let me know if there are any questions or concerns about these changes.

A survey message after a brainstorming session

Dear team members,

I would like to thank you for participating in our brainstorming session. The ideas that have been shared are a great start. As promised, I am sending you this follow-up survey so we can get more detailed feedback from you.

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the topics discussed.

The survey will be open until [Date] at [Time]. Please take the time to answer all questions carefully, including the optional ones.

Thank you again for taking part in our brainstorming session!

If you are looking for a simple way to create such templates without wasting time and effort, try out It's an AI-powered copywriting tool that lets you generate follow-up messages in just a few minutes. Using this tool, you can save time and increase the efficiency of your work—all while making it easier for your team to create and send personalized messages.

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7. Increase the number of breakout groups

The idea of breakout groups (or breakout rooms) is to get people to talk about the topic. When done well, it can be a great way to generate ideas, solve problems and build relationships.

Tips for making breakout groups more productive

  1. Involve everyone in choosing who goes to each breakout group.

  1. Ask for volunteers for each breakout room.

  1. Make sure all the participants know what they're supposed to accomplish during their breakout session to ensure that each group has been allotted the right amount of time.

  1. Ask the participants to take notes during the breakout session.

  1. Have a debriefing session after each breakout group meeting, in which all participants share what they learned from their discussions.

Breakout groups are a great way to get people talking and working together. It also helps you reach a consensus on a decision and allows everyone to contribute.

8. Appoint a meeting moderator

A meeting moderator is a great way to ensure your next remote meeting is productive, engaging, and on time.

A moderator is someone who helps guide and facilitates a meeting but does not participate in the discussion. This person may be appointed by the meeting organizer or chosen by participants.

A moderator has the power to end discussions that go off-topic or get out of hand, make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, and conduct polls and surveys, if needed.

A meeting moderator can help ensure your online meeting runs smoothly and everyone involved is engaged and working towards the same goals. 

Benefits of having a moderator for effective virtual meetings

Weigh the balance of the cost of having a meeting moderator to these benefits they bring to making virtual meetings more productive.

Focus on business outcomes

A moderator ensures that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the conversation and focus on the strategic objectives of the meeting.

Encourage open communication

The moderator acts as a facilitator, helping team members share ideas and suggestions openly.

Reduce conflict and confrontation

A good moderator will ensure that everyone has a chance to speak their minds without fear of being interrupted or criticized by other participants. In addition, they may be able to prevent conflicts from escalating into arguments by gently guiding the conversation back on track when needed.

Employees will feel heard when given a chance to contribute. That's why it's so crucial for leaders to invest in hiring a professional moderator for company-wide meetings or retreats—and encourage their employees' input!

9. Set time limits

The problem with virtual meetings is that they're usually not as efficient as in-person ones. That's because sometimes people don't always know how long their meeting will last, and they end up going on longer than they should.

In the UK, a recent study found that people's average attention span is 14 minutes, so if you want to keep people engaged and on track during a virtual meeting, set time limits.

Benefits of setting time limits for online video meetings

  • It helps keep everyone focused on the task at hand, which allows them to get back on schedule if they run over the allotted time.

  • It prevents situations where one person dominates or monopolizes the conversation and prevents others from having an opportunity to speak.

  • It encourages people to think about what they're saying—which means fewer tangents and distractions during the meeting.

  • It helps people avoid feeling trapped in a conversation that's gone on too long and keeps them from losing interest in the topic.

  • It prevents projects from getting swept under the rug. As long as you keep the meeting short, it's easy for people to get back on track after taking care of urgent tasks (like answering emails) or discussing something else that needs attention (like a proposal).

Virtual meetings can be highly effective when used correctly. However, if you don't set time limits, these meetings can turn into an hour-long discussion on a topic that could be solved in less than ten minutes with live interaction.

10. Conclude with specific action items

Concluding a virtual meeting is similar to concluding any other type of meeting. You want to wrap up the session by thanking everyone for their participation, reminding them of any action items, and encouraging them to continue the conversation outside the meeting.

Ways to conclude a virtual meeting

  • Thank everyone for their contributions during the discussion and remind them of any action items identified during the agenda item.

  • Encourage people to discuss ideas outside the formal agenda items via chat or email.

  • Repeat action items from each agenda item. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and no one leaves with any unanswered questions or concerns. Include an email with all the action items so participants can refer back to them later.

  • After each person has signed off on their assigned tasks, send them an email confirming what they're supposed to do, along with any additional details or instructions they might need before starting their work.

  • Set follow-up dates based on action items assigned during your meeting (e.g., "I'll have an update by Friday afternoon"). Make sure everyone knows when these deadlines are and how they can access documentation related to these assignments if needed.

The best way to conclude a virtual meeting is to share the main points of the discussion and summarize what was decided. If there are any action items or follow-up tasks, be sure to list them. This will help ensure that everyone understands what they need to do next.

11. Share meeting notes

One way to improve communication during a virtual meeting is by taking notes during the session. Not only does this help you keep track of what's happening, but it also allows you to share important information with others unable to attend the meeting.

Benefits of sharing meeting notes after a virtual meeting

  • It helps everyone stay on track with their daily or weekly goals.

  • It saves time by eliminating the need for multiple email exchanges or phone calls between participants.

  • It reduces confusion among those who weren't able to attend.

  • With shared notes in place, you can reference them when it comes time to assign tasks or communicate the next steps with team members outside the meeting room.

Sharing meeting notes after a virtual meeting will also help ensure that nothing gets lost in translation when it comes to communicating with other employees across various departments within your organization.

Basic etiquette rules for productive virtual meetings

Virtual meetings can be an efficient way to conduct business, but they don't come without their own set of etiquette rules.

Etiquette tips for making virtual meetings more effective

  • Mute your microphone when you're not speaking.

  • Avoid checking your email or researching a topic during the meeting. Stay focused on everyone who is there with you.

  • Introduce new participants to the group by name first—then allow time for others present to introduce themselves.

  • Make sure you have all the necessary equipment in advance.

  • Ensure your microphone and camera are on and working properly before the meeting begins, and do not be late.

  • Check that there is enough light behind you, so your face is visible to others.

  • Communicate clearly and concisely—speak loudly enough for people to hear you.

  • Make sure your computer has no viruses or malware that could disrupt the meeting.

  • Ensure that you have a backup plan if there is a power failure or other problem with technology or Wi-Fi.

  • If you use slides or other visual aids, ensure they are up-to-date and relevant before the meeting begins.

  • Avoid using a lot of jargon or technical terms and make sure everyone knows what you mean.

  • Dress appropriately—your clothes should be clean, pressed, and professional.

Final thoughts on making virtual meetings more productive

Meetings are a necessary part of a business, but they can also be a massive waste of time. If you're not careful, they can quickly turn into an unproductive exercise that accomplishes nothing but wastes your time and that of your employees.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can make your meetings more productive. By following the tips above, you'll be able to cut down on wasted time and get more out of each online meeting.

Finally, remember that these tips and best practices are only a starting point. To make your virtual meetings more productive, you must experiment with different strategies and see what works best for you and your team.

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