You're leading a virtual meeting, and you have a nagging feeling that some people aren't paying attention. Let's get real: you're absolutely certain that some people aren't paying attention. You even have some good guesses about who is and who isn't. Here's the really scary part — some of the people who you believe are paying attention actually aren't.
Virtual meetings are complicated. A telephone meeting is different from a videoconference, even though both are virtual. For concreteness, let's say that many of the attendees are connected to the meeting by telephone.
As a meeting lead, knowing who isn't fully attentive is valuable information, because it's important to know when corrective action is required. Relying on a sixth sense isn't good enough. Here are some indicators of inattentiveness.
- Uncharacteristic reticence
- Absence of comments from people who typically do comment on the topic at hand can indicate inattentiveness. To check this, ask directly, "Scott, what do you think about this?"
- Delayed responses
- When an attendee is addressed directly, by the meeting lead or by another attendee, a delay before response can indicate inattentiveness. Some people can mentally replay the last few seconds of conversation, and the delay is just the time this takes. Track these delays to detect the pattern.
- Introductory word salad
- When an attendee is addressed directly, a response consisting of "word salad" for the first few seconds can suggest disorientation. People who use this technique can be tripped up by a simple "Excuse me, what does that mean?" during the salad course.
- Key clicking
- Because typing can be meeting-related, the meaning of key clicking is ambiguous. If the typist is not known to take notes, inattentiveness is a possible explanation.
- Food wrapper crinkling
- Unwrapping food Ambient sounds can suggest
attentiveness challenges —
babies crying, dinnerware
clatter, and transportation
sounds are all signs
of troublecan be a noisy operation that can indicate inattentiveness. Eating and attentiveness to the proceedings are not compatible.
- Key phrases
- Key phrases that could indicate inattentiveness:
- "Would you please repeat that?"
- "Sorry, I had it muted."
- "I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Say more."
- "Pardon me, I just stepped away. What did I miss?"
- Ambient sounds
- Ambient sounds can suggest attentiveness challenges. Examples: babies crying, dinnerware clatter, other conversations, and transportation sounds (airport, rail, auto, bus). Ambient sounds can indicate that attendees couldn't control their whereabouts at the time of the meeting, or that they planned attendance during a commute or other activity. Investigation is essential.
- Biological sounds
- The sound of a finishing swallow, mastication, and other activities we cannot mention here indicate problematic behavior. Address the issue privately.
For many connection types, you can't determine the identity of the source. But some connections offer selective muting of individual attendees. If you have that capability, you can flash-mute an individual to determine the sound source. But ask someone else to do it. You don't want to be inattentive yourself. Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Twelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: I
- Virtual presentations are like face-to-face presentations, in that one (or a few) people present a program
to an audience. But the similarity ends there. In the virtual environment, we have to adapt if we want
to deliver a message effectively. We must learn to be captivating.
- Preventing Meeting Hijacking
- Meeting leads, meeting chairs, and facilitators must be prepared to deal with meeting hijackers. Hesitation,
or any ineffectual action, enhances the hijacker's chances of success. Here are suggestions for preventing
- Naming Ideas
- Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's
name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is
- The Major Annoyance of Mini-Digressions
- Digressions are expensive. They limit progress in meetings. They're most noticeable when they deflect
the entire meeting from its stated purpose. There is another kind of digression that's less noticeable,
more common, and just as costly.
See also Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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