After a recent workshop, one of the participants gave me a lovely compliment: “At the start of our training, you instantly made us feel comfortable and welcome. How can we do that during our own meetings?”

What wonderful feedback to hear! And a great question.

How do we make our meeting participants feel comfortable in a virtual setting?

  • Greet people by name.
    During the training, while we were waiting for people to log in and connect, I called on people whose videos were on: I welcomed them by name, asked where they were calling in from, and made a comment about their location. Maybe it was funny, “From Last Vegas? Never heard of it!” or meaningful, “You’re joining us from India? What time is it? Feel free to have dinner if you need to eat during our program.” You could do the same exercise using chat, but some companies block the chat function so we had to do this by voice.
  • Be patient when people have connection issues.
    I like to talk through connection challenges so people know it happens to all of us. For instance, for meetings where people have to connect with both their computers and phones, I’ll say something like, “Hi Steve! Steve? Oh, Steve has that ‘dialing into WebEx’ expression so I’ll come back to him.” Being patient and nonplussed when technical issues arise shows others that it’s normal and gives everyone time to deal with it.
  • Recognize your energy and enthusiasm sets the tone.
    When I’m leading a meeting or teaching a virtual training, I know that participants will take their energy cues from me. I start with my best, most enthusiastic self – in a way that’s authentic to me – and in doing so, I am able to raise the energy level of the virtual room. Even after a long day of meetings, I need to find and share that energy because I know the people on the other end of the camera deserve it and will be more engaged as a result.

Pay careful attention to time when using these techniques. If your meeting is running late, that’s not the time to make small talk. Ending a meeting on time is one of the best ways to respect people’s time. And if a participant is having persistent technical issues, delegate someone to help them offline so that you can continue with the meeting or program.

Even as people return to the office, we will be in a hybrid environment of both virtual and in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. Use these tips to keep everyone engaged and present, regardless of location.