Easy Ways to Increase Participation in Online Meetings

Have you noticed how big virtual meetings are a lot like high school dances?  Everybody shows up, but not everyone gets out on the dance floor.
Here are a few ideas to help your meeting attendees get their backs off the wall, and up their participation...
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Invite People that have a Stake in the Outcome.
When we have no skin in the game, our minds are more focused on our inbox than the meeting.  Conversely, if the person has a stake in the decision or direction, they'll be engaged.
Don't invite the world to every meeting; just invite people who have a purpose for attending.  Steve Jobs was notorious for asking people before the start of a meeting, why they were there.  If they had no clearly-defined contribution-based purpose, Steve wasn't shy about  ordering them to leave.
When people have a defined purpose for attending the meeting, they'll be engage.  Trying to engage attendees that have little reason to attend, is like leading that un-thirsty horse to water.  Lead, or invite thirsty horses to your meetings.
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Distribute an Agenda Before the Meeting.
We've all heard this before. But how many meetings did you attend last month without an agenda?  Agenda-less meetings are one of the greatest causes of low participation, and poor outcomes.  
Here a few best practices to follow when you create an agenda for effective meetings with high levels of engagement:
      • Seek input from attendees.  If you want your team to be engaged, be sure the agenda includes items that reflect their needs.
      • List agenda topics as questions to be answered.  When information is posed as a question, our brains are wired to think of an answer.  And thinking is the start of engaging.
      • Propose a process for addressing each agenda item.   The process will guide the attendees in how to think about each item.  Again, thinking is the start of engaging.
      • Identify who's responsible for leading each topic.  In fact, "assigning participants" is an easy way to kick-start engagement.
Kick-starting engagement brings us to our next point - creating "structured" engagement...
Create "Structured" Engagement
If you want attendees to engage, it helps to create structured opportunities for for engagement.  Build participation into the agenda.   
Specify who will present what content, and who will ask questions.  You don't need to specify the exact questions - it may be better if you don't.  This induces the designated "questioner" to pay attention, in order to formulate a decent questions.  People love to look and sound smart!
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It Never Hurts to Ask.
My freshman year in college, I had a professor who was notorious for calling on students without warning.  Out of fear of looking foolish, I paid close attention, took copious notes, and even maintained better posture, than I did in other classes. 
Knowing that I could be singled out in front of the crowd kept me fully engaged.  At the beginning of your meeting, let people know you want their input and will be calling on individuals "express their views."  
Let's Wrap this Up.
Keeping employees engaged in virtual meetings is always a challenge, with our without Covid.  But if you select attendees with a purpose, distributed a carefully-crafted agenda, identify speakers in advance and announce your intention to call on others for input, you're likely to see a higher level of engagement in every meeting. 
The results will "speak" for themselves!
Stay safe and press on - we're all in this together, and we'll get through it together!