The 3 WORST online meeting mistakes (and how to avoid them)

What is the state of the online meetings world? What are the 3 worst online meeting mistakes? In this article, I will answer those questions and share my accumulated knowledge after more than 108,000 minutes (1800 hours) of online hosting experience. I will also provide a PRO TIP for each mistake.

The current state of Online Meetings!

Here are some stats from our web-conferencing tool of choice at AWA, Zoom, as of January 2023:

  • Zoom has 300 million users in meetings daily.
  • 45 billion minutes of webinars are hosted on the Zoom platform yearly.
  • 89% of zoom users use it for work meetings.
  • That contributes to around 3.3 trillion minutes of video conferencing per year.

Yep, you’ve read it right, 3.3 TRILLION minutes!

This of course was mainly due to the huge transformation that work has undergone because of the COVID Pandemic! Nevertheless, it’s impressive… and scary at the same time. 😨

Another reason also contributed to the number of online meetings breaking through the roof, making a lot of us extremely overbooked, stressed, and reaching historically high numbers of burn-out cases in the workforce! So what was that reason?

Well, in the online world, there is NO physical limitation of meeting rooms!

This means that everyone can run a meeting any time, and at the same time as everyone else. There is no PHYSICAL impossibility to create and host meetings, even if they are not at all necessary. Back in the pre-covid world, we would need to check for the availability of rooms on top of the availability of the participants to be able to schedule one… nowadays, that does not happen, putting extreme burden onto everyone.

Having said that, if those 3.3 trillion minutes are not EFFECTIVELY and EFFICIENTLY hosted, then we are contributing more and more to the overall misery of humankind. It almost feels like we are actively putting people through torture… Online Meeting Torture!

Mistake #1: Not looking or sounding professional

When we host in person, we influence the energy of the group with our mere presence. This is done by the way we look, the way we sound, where we are in the room, our body language, if we sit or stand, our energy. Humans have a lot of senses that are active in this exchange. 

In the online world, people will be influenced by your digital presence, that tiny rectangle where they see you, and how they hear you in their speakers or headphones.

You may have the most profound presence and powerful voice ever… but… if the way you set up your camera and your microphone does not convey that, all of your talents go to waste.

Anyone entering your room (whether physical or digital) should be able to quickly identify who is the host.

💡 PRO TIP: Get feedback on your online image (and sound)

One way to check the impact you are having is to ask someone to give feedback about it. Here at AWA, many of our online sessions are hosted with 2 co-facilitators/trainers. Having someone taking care of your “back” (or in this case, your front) while you are presenting something is a LIFE saver! One of you is focused on the group and presenting, while the other may:

  • Take care of technical tasks, 
  • Share the screen or links to the group, 
  • Keep an eye on the chat for incoming questions, or 
  • Let you know if your microphone is muted, if there is background audio, or if your camera is out of focus, can let you know 😀.

Having said that, not everyone is lucky enough to have a co-facilitator/co-trainer with them in their sessions. When that happens to me, I use a second device, a phone or a tablet, and connect it to the online session I’m hosting. I place this device on mute, with a different headphone plugged in, to avoid adding an audio loop/echo to the call. This at least shows me what my students see and hear from me, and provides me with instant feedback on what reaches the other end of the line.

Mistake #2: Not entertaining

What happens when you are zapping through the TV channels (or nowadays, the enormous library of streaming services), and you finally choose to watch something, and suddenly you realise that it is super… BORING?

You either change the channel… or you find something else to watch!

I like to think of hosting an online session like hosting a game show on TV. If it’s not entertaining, people will change the channel. I even coined the term: Online EnterTrainer™, because for me, online training must be entertaining! Online hosting needs to be a PERFORMANCE ACT, otherwise, we lose our audience.

💡 PRO TIP: Start by splitting your session into 3 key moments!

More specifically:

  1. The beginning (opening)
  2. The middle
  3. And the end (closing)

For each, here are some examples of what to start doing differently:

For openings:

  • A short game
  • A curious trivia where you leave the question open (curiosity drives engagement)
  • An interactive check-in
  • Asking for people to share one small thing about themselves

For middles:

  • Break into smaller sections
  • Create a flow with different rhythms between sessions (switch between high/low paced, presentation, exercise, etc…)
  • INCLUDE BREAKS! Even if it’s a 1 minute short breathing/stretching break, add some time

For closes:

  • A reflection exercise based on what they’ve learned
  • A celebration or acknowledgment of what has been achieved
  • A quick feedback exercise where they either anonymously post/write somewhere, or give a visual response like the “Fist of Five”

Our brain primarily remembers the beginning and the end more than the middle. So invest in giving a really strong and engaging Opening, and a concise and to the point Close. This can be a challenge especially if you just leave the Close to the few remaining minutes (or seconds) you have left in the session. Plan for and allocate proper time to close.

Mistake #3: Not interactive

It is super easy for anyone to just sit back and disconnect if they are not actively involved in the task. Although, when you run a session in-person, it is far easier to spot if someone is distant or shutting down, because either their body language or their position in the space will tell you that, e.g. when they physically separate themselves from the working group, moving to an isolated corner, or turning to their phone constantly.

Since this behaviour is clearly spotted (by other participants, or the host), people may avoid it, especially if there are people of influence in the room. This creates an implicit “peer pressure” to join in, which may encourage participation.

Online sessions, on the other hand, are a completely different game. Participants can literally be:

  • In multiple meetings at once
  • Reading their email
  • Browsing the web
  • Cooking dinner
  • Even watching flipping Netflix 😯
  • Or… all of the above at the same time 😀

And if they do not get constantly called out to do something, you would NOT notice, even if you pay really close attention to their body language. 

Let’s face it, presenting something, focusing on how you are sharing your message, taking care of the technology, being aware of a full group of people only through tiny little rectangles… well, IF (and that is a really big if) they have their camera ON, I’m sorry to say this but you won’t be able to prevent that from happening or even spot that sometimes.

💡 PRO TIP: Get the participants to DO something!

The answer is simple: You need to involve them in the session. Be it by delegating tasks to them, or using one of my favourite ones: Breakout Rooms! Which will basically break your BIG ROOM conversation into smaller and independent rooms! This is the simplest way to:

  • Change the rhythm of the session
  • Give you some time to regroup and rethink what to do next
  • Create an opportunity for people to share and actually do something
  • Increase their engagement. 

Even the quiet and introverted ones will probably feel safer to contribute in a smaller group. If your web conferencing tool does not support Breakout Rooms, well, I wish you the best of luck because you are going to need it. As well as being my GO TO solution to increase participation, i also use them when:

  • Not remembering what the next step is
  • Feeling an urge to drink some water or lose some water 😉
  • Sensing that the group need an energy shift
  • Or even, having to regroup and adapt the plan because I’m running out of time.

What does all this mean for the present and future of Online Meetings?

Being an Online Meetings Host was not my initial plan. I love the buzz, the energy, and the dynamics of facilitating or training in-person. But like we say in Portuguese: 

“…enquanto alguns choram, outros vendem lenços…“ (…while some cry, others sell handkerchiefs…”). 

COVID was horrible in many ways, but in others, it was a huge boost to the development and practices of remote working, bringing a TON of improvements to the existing tools, and created the space to launch other players and platforms that make online hosting easier and more enjoyable.

Remote/online working is not perfect, nevertheless, in my personal experience it allowed me to meet and collaborate with some super inspiring people who it might not have been so easy to work with before. For example:

  • The AWA team who is globally distributed
  • Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, who I hosted a meetup with, where she enlightened us about her work on Neuroplasticity (which we reference in our ATC Course)
  • All the participants that attended my training and the clients I worked with.

Above all that, I was also able to spend more time with my family, even if just for 10 minutes during a session break to:

  • Play with my daughters
  • Have lunch (or a small snack) with my wife
  • Walking or cuddling the dog 🐶😊

Fixing the 3 mistakes I mentioned above won’t cost you money. They can be solved with creativity and a will to improve. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste, because, “with or without yooooouuuuu….”, sorry, I didn’t mean to sing U2 (but try to read that sentence again without hearing it with Bono’s voice in your head, I challenge you)… the point is, with or without a pandemic, remote work is here to stay and will continue to develop. Now it’s your time to decide if you will be crying about it, or improving the quality of the handkerchief you sell!

Take it to the next level!

If you would like to learn more about this topic and take your online meetings hosting skills to the NEXT LEVEL, come join me on the FREE Mastering Online Meetings Webinar, which will happen May 10th 2023, and get the chance to:

  • Deepen even more the learning about the 3 mistakes I’ve shared
  • Experience live the Pro Tips
  • And get exclusive access to our FREE Master Online Meetings Checklist

Join the webinar by clicking below…


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