Failing Your Virtual Meetings? 5 Reasons You Are Struggling

“Nope, it’s just not working for me.”

When COVID moved us online, it’s not rare for meeting leaders new to the virtual setup to feel overwhelmed by virtual meetings. 

We get it. If we don’t have everyone in the same physical room, the meetings can be tough to run, right? 

Think about it… there’s no small talk, the ambiance is a virtual box, communication is a ton of “your voice is breaking up” and “I can’t hear you,” …

Collaboration is barely encouraged, and video silences loom large.

Collaboration is barely encouraged
Multiethnic Group of People Planning Ideas

The question in my head – why isn’t the experience improving?

What makes virtual meetings so tricky? How can we make them better?

Even before the pandemic hit, we at Toasty wanted to solve the “collaboration puzzle” for virtual meetings, and so my team and I spoke to the people in the game to search for answers.

After intense conversations with the 200+ experts, here are the top 5 struggles that are hindering virtual meetings. And we are going to talk about how you can overcome them!  

Problem 1: Multiple Platforms/Tools = Overwhelmed Participants 📳📲💻 =😵

Zoom, Mural, Miro, Google Slides, JamBoard, the tools that we all use to engage people online.

We can’t live without them… And we can’t live with them? Ummm… Kind of

Multiple Platforms/Tools = Overwhelmed Participants

While these tools are essential to virtual setups, the problem is using many of them at the same time.

In our conversations, these experts said that to level up online engagements, meeting hosts tend to use multiple platforms and tools.

using different tools can be useful and engaging

And we know that – using different tools can be useful and engaging, but … let me tell you the truth. 

It’s tough on both you, the meeting leader, and your participants. Most of them are trying this new platform/tool for the first time, and you have to give them time out of your meeting to learn.

And more time spent on technical issues? Definitely expect it.

The Solution: Mix it Right

Experts Say

“Don’t overload them with information. It’s your job as a facilitator to point out the features that they will need, not do a demo of everything the software can do.”

Amr Khalifeh, Product Research Lead at AJ&Smart 

What Amr suggests here is critical. There are plenty of options out there, and are you able to pick a solution that is optimized to meet all (or most of) your requirements?

Most meeting leaders use video conferencing platforms and tools like whiteboards, Q&A and polling, and sticky notes etc. Go ahead and pick a platform that integrates these features in one place to make your life and your participant’s lives easier.

Problem 2: One Person, Many Roles 🤹‍♀️🤦‍♂️

“I am great at multitasking,” most capable people would say that.

But in the virtual meeting world, multitasking can be a nightmare.

One Person, Many Roles

Let me paint you a picture.

Walk into a room, plug in the laptop, and start the meeting; this is a familiar scene in an office setup. 

Everything is in the room so you’re in control – yeah!

But in a remote setup, you are a one-man shop. From running technical checks to curating ideas, keeping meeting logs to facilitating the actual session, there’s always something else to do.

The problem with that? Meeting leaders are supposed to be leading the meeting, not doing technical support.

The Solution: List and Document Your Virtual Meetings

I suggest starting with making a list. Think of all the challenges that you (the meeting host) or the participants can face. Then ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I introducing too many things at once?
  • Does this group of participants need a lot of technical support?
  • Can I automate something?

Experts Say

“The goal is to introduce fewer tools to get to the greatest outcome.”

Someone in a physical meeting always takes the meeting minutes.

We know that having a meeting log virtually can go a long way for sure, to make sure everyone has the information they need, even the late joiners!

But, who is going to take notes?

“By making documentation and transparency a part of your meeting workflow and culture, you will know what everyone is up to and have more information than ever before.“

Conor Dewey, Growth Marketer at Hugo

For things that happen in the virtual meeting, it’d be great if the platform can auto-generate a summary for you. That’s also how we think about it at Toasty, we want you to worry less about capturing information and put your focus on guiding people.

As for the audio conversation, I suggest using an AI assistant to transcribe the meeting. In the last few months, I’ve heard good things about Fireflies as they can instantly record sessions across any web-conferencing platform.

Problem 3: Unoptimized Breakout Room Experiences in Virtual Meetings 👩‍💻👨‍💻🙍‍♀️🙅‍♂️

Breakout rooms are great! Hurray for them.

But … the experience isn’t the best.

Unoptimized Breakout Room Experiences in Virtual Meetings

When we asked experts why this was, the answer was simple. The logistics are challenging.

Often the host spends a lot of time giving instructions via chat – do you recall this from your personal experience?

This wastes the host’s time and effort and also puts a cognitive load on participants.

Then there is a lack of guidance in these smaller groups, because most platforms see breakout rooms as a plain video chat.

It is like giving some students instructions beforehand, and then usher them into a classroom and ask them to figure themselves out. Hhmm..

The Solution: Retrain and Restructure

“When the only spaces on the screen are the ones offered by most platforms, the projection we create extended into it is easily tired. But if we instead shape a much different environment, the world into which we can project ourselves becomes very different.”

Joshua Davies, Virtual Facilitator

Joshua makes a great point here.

It is all about shaping an environment for people to collaborate.

Experts say

“Design breakout rooms according to the feeling you want to create.”

I love Miro for this. You can split it up into different areas for each breakout group, write detailed instructions, and ask groups to collaborate there. Joshua, an advocate of Miro, showcases how you can do this. 

See below!

Now imagine people in the breakout rooms, they’re looking at the board for instructions and each group is working together in their specific circle (the small ones), all without your active facilitation. Amazing!

Illustrative image of a Miro map in which a physical space has been created for virtual meetings

Problem 4: Bye, Physical Rooms! Bye, Collaborative and Safe Environment!

“I miss being in a room with other people and collaborating with them.”

Illustrative image to indicate that virtual meetings can have collaborative and safe environments.

This is a sentiment most people express. 

What meeting hosts are missing is not just the collaborative and safe ambiance and the physicality of the experience, but also the spontaneity and serendipity that physical spaces allow. But let’s come back to spontaneity later.

The Solution: The Best of Both Worlds

First things first. Should we be trying to recreate the physical experience of meetings virtually at all?

What did our interviews tell us? Yes and no.

Experts say

Capture the ambiance of a physical environment and innovate, based on the strengths of a virtual meeting.

A virtual environment is actually great for independent thinking, as everyone is seated in front of their own laptop, a fair set up. And it is also harder for someone with more authority to influence others. 

Conversations aren’t just verbal now. The flexibility to communicate through text or visuals anonymously allows participants to express more, interact better, and collaborate safely.

To design a space that is both collaborative and feels safe for participants, ask yourself:

How can we use the space to permit people to collaborate? Can you have several breakout rooms for different topics, to imitate spontaneous sessions, and people can freely move around?

Problem 5: Structure ≠ Spontaneity

Okay, we’re coming back to spontaneity. The secret to great meetings I would say.

Meetings and workshops are an active place to practice,

“Control what you can; let go what you can’t.” 

The aim is to create a setting where participants discover their common goals.

In a virtual environment where intention and structure are required, experts say, some meeting hosts can do it at the cost of spontaneity.

This is a problem that I battled for a while.

Illustrative image to indicate that virtual meetings can have both structure and spontaneity

I wanted both – a structure to meet my desired goal.

And those ‘Aha!’ moments that come from impromptu conversations or unplanned brainstorming sessions.

The Solution: Encourage Collaboration

Yes, a distributed group of people can often feel like you are in an office where teammates are locked up in different rooms. But as a meeting leader, your job is to help them unlock those doors.

Experts Say

“Set up the structure for a meeting, define ground rules, determine participant roles, and state the exercise’s goals, but create an ambiance that encourages free collaboration.”

You want to magnify the different voices of the group.

A Toasty’s favorite, the book ‘Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There’ by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, expands on what meeting hosts can do. 

They say that to lead meetings that matter, you need to change the conditions under which people interact and help them discover common ground.

Learn now, not later

We’ve all discovered the beauty and efficiency of working remotely, so I believe everyone, as long as you’re leading a group of people in the virtual space, you should level up how you host your virtual meetings.

You could be managers, facilitators, teachers, events director – at the end of the day, you’re trying to get the group to have great conversations, collaborate effectively, and get to your goals.

So in our interview with experts, one sentiment stayed strong:

The question isn’t what’s not working;
the question is how to make it work.

🌹 Don’t let virtual or not virtual ruin your meetings. After all, there are ways you can master running the most successful virtual meetings. We at Toasty are determined to help you achieve that by providing the tools you need to drive collaborations and engage the participants. Check out more about Toasty through our website.