In face-to-face meetings we may have a few awkward moments when two people try to talk at once. In remote meetings, it happens all the time. This frustrating outcome can be prevented by using these strategies.
Turn the Cameras On
The reason we don’t have as many problems during in-person meetings is because we can see each other.
We give each other non-verbal cues that we want to or are about to speak. And even when we miss the cues, we quickly resolve the conflict with a gesture or some other form of body language.
Video isn’t perfect, but it’s still much better than no visuals at all.
People often resist turning on their cameras. They’re worried about their appearance or a mess in the background. They might also want to multi-task and can’t if the cameras are on.
Conversational effectiveness should be reason enough to use video whenever you can.
Have a Strong Leader
Make a single person responsible for managing the conversation. Think of the person as a discussion traffic cop.
Nobody speaks until this person has granted them permission.
If there’s video, the leader looks for who wants to speak. You may establish a rule that you need to raise your hand and be recognized prior to speaking.
For audio-only meetings, you can use a virtual hand-raise if your conferencing application has it. Another option is to say your name when there’s a pause, “This is Tom,” and then wait until the leader grants permission to speak, “Go ahead Tom.”
You may also want the leader to call on people based on:
- Who hasn’t spoken in a while (the leader needs a tracking system)
- Who the leader believes is the best person to chime in on a question.
While this might feel a little heavy-handed, it’s an excellent way to turn chaos into order, and with a little luck that order becomes productivity.
Establish a Speaking Order
This works best for small meetings. The leader establishes a list of meeting participants, perhaps in alpha order:
When a new discussion question is put to the group, the leader first asks Beth for her thoughts and then moves to Charlie, and so on.
If the person has nothing, they quickly reply “Pass.”
On the next question, Charlie gets the first response, and Beth is last.
Establish a Simple Protocol
Ask your group to operate by these rules:
- When you want to speak, you begin by saying your name, “This is Tom,” and then share your comments.
- When you are ready to give up the control. You say, “I’m finished.” You could also use cool walkie-talkie language, “Over.”
- The next person who wants to speak says their name. And here’s the trick, the first person to speak up should keep going and everyone else backs off.
There might be a tie, but usually it’s clear who was first. This strange little dance takes some getting used to, but your group will eventually master it.
Embrace the Pause
Without the visual cues, video and audio-only meetings just need to be slightly less rapid-fire.
Have a little patience. Want to jump in? Just wait a second. Maybe you establish a rule that everyone counts “two bananas” before trying to take control of the conversation. This simple practice will eliminate most of the ties.
Remote meetings are little harder, but they can have big pay-offs, like saving travel time.
Instead of seeing the problems, see the difficulties as interesting challenges that you and your teammates can overcome.
If you have other practices that work for your group, share them in the comments.