Have you ever led an online meeting or teleconference and had trouble getting input from participants? Does it feel like nobody is responding or participating? I’m going to guess that the problem isn’t whether you are asking for questions and feedback, it’s how you’re asking.

Most of us honestly try to engage our audience and give them a chance to participate. We often ask, “so, any questions?” Then we are met with a lot of nothing until we give up and move on. There are a few simple things you can do, not just to get participation, but to get the right participation on calls, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here are three scenarios and ways to maximize your attendee engagement.

For the love of all that’s holy, somebody say something.

This is the most common situation we find ourselves in. We legitimately offer people the chance to participate, and then nobody does. We ask, “Any questions?” There are a couple of things you can do to improve your responses here, including:

  • Set the expectation at the start of the online meeting. “We want your input and we’ll be asking for it, so be ready.”
  • Take questions throughout the meeting or presentation, not just at the end. Q and A often fails because people do the math and realize if they don’t ask questions the meeting will be over and they can move on to something more important.
  • There’s a fear you will hear from the same person or people. I call those people “the lawyers.” They’re the people who take it upon themselves to speak if nobody else will. Sometimes it’s to spare the group, sometimes it’s to help you out so you don’t look lonely. The problem is that’s often not the person you want to hear from. When you ask for “anyone,” that’s who you’ll hear from.

This person was full of questions before the meeting, what happened?

Calling on people can be stressful. For the meeting leader. It’s one more thing to have to worry about while staying on track, showing the slides, watching the clock and taking notes. Why don’t people just pipe up when they should? Why do people shut down and not speak up on meetings? Here are a couple of tips:

  • When you call on people by name, say the name first then state the question. Even the best-intentioned people sometimes mentally stray, and you don’t want to “bust” people, or make them feel unprepared. When you say the name first, people re-engage and are ready for the question.
  • Tell people why you’re calling on a specific person. “Josie, you were at that meeting and I know you had an idea, can you share it with everyone…”
  • Send chat messages to prepare people. “Hey, Bob, I’m going to ask you about that client, get ready” so that people are prepared when you call on them.
  • Again, set expectations then help people be accountable.

Okay, let’s hear from anyone but him…

Whether it’s someone intent on dominating the discussion, someone who enjoys sounding like the expert, or a well-meaning “lawyer,” sometimes we need to hear from more than just one person. But you don’t want to shut that person down or make them feel bad.

  • Try to position your request so it’s not an insult to the over-contributor. “Let’s hear from someone we haven’t heard from yet,” puts the onus on those who’ve been silent to step up.
  • Position why you want to hear from specific people. “That group in Dallas has been awfully quiet. This impacts you the most…”

When thinking about your online meeting, it’s important to consider how you’ll take questions and input as part of the planning process.  By mixing up the way you ask for engagement, you enhance the chances of actually getting it.

What are some of your best practices for better Q and A in meetings?

If you want to become the wizard of leading online meetings, check out our on demand course, Leading Effective Virtual Meetings.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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