The 7 things employees want most from large virtual meetings

How to respond to feedback to design more effective experiences

In 2020, large, in-person employee meetings — like town halls, sales summits and leader conferences — disappeared. Companies adjusted, replacing traditional get-togethers with virtual experiences.

While some in-person gatherings will return this year, organizations now see the value in bringing employees together without leaving their remote workspaces. In addition to obvious cost savings, virtual meetings can be an effective way to share information and provide opportunities for collaboration.

But virtual meetings aren’t easy to get right. When Davis & Company analyzed feedback from more than 3,000 people who had attended 10 large meetings, employees had many requests. Here are the seven most common suggestions with advice on how you can use this feedback to deliver a great digital meeting experience.

“I wish I had more time to connect with people.”

When large meetings take place in person, employees love the informal conversations that happen in the hallway, during breaks, over dinner or at the bar. It gives employees a chance to reconnect and relax with colleagues they haven’t seen in a while.

Advice: When creating an agenda for a virtual meeting, build time for informal conversations and activities. Use breakout rooms for small group conversations, add in icebreakers or networking games and encourage participants to connect with each other during breaks.

“The technology problems were too distracting to ignore.”

We’ve all been there: someone’s Wi-Fi crashes, the video freezes or a presenter’s audio doesn’t work. Glitches can and will happen, but when the glitches are numerous, they become more memorable than the meeting itself.

Advice: In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” The keys to avoiding too many glitches?

· First, practice, practice, practice. Run through each part of the agenda with presenters using the technology at least twice before the meeting.

· Second, have a back-up plan. For example, planning to show a video but the technology crashes? Have a leader prepared to share some stills from the video and talk to the content.

“Transitions from one part to another were confusing.”

When employees meet in person, they have printed agendas, maps of the facility and hallway signage guiding them where to go next. But when they’re floating through cyberspace, employees may not have the agenda in front of them, so they can be confused as the meeting moves from one topic to another.

Advice: Designate a meeting emcee. You can’t always rely on presenters to remember to announce what’s next. An emcee is responsible for announcing what’s next on the agenda, how much time employees have for a break and what is expected during a breakout session. That ensures a smooth flow throughout the meeting.

“I would have liked more time to ask questions.”

You build in a good 20 minutes for Q&A. Great job! But then…your first presenter speaks for five extra minutes and the break runs a few minutes too long and there are great discussions during a breakout session that you don’t want to cut short. So what’s the first thing to get eliminated from the agenda? Q&A.

Advice: Prioritize answering employees’ questions. Instead of designating a “Q&A time,” encourage employees to submit questions throughout the entire meeting via chat or anonymously through your meeting platform. Capture any questions not answered live and answer them in follow-up communication.

“The meeting was too long.”

Employees are willing to sit in comfortable hotel banquet halls for hours as long as they have frequent breaks, delicious snacks and unlimited Diet Coke. When it comes to screen time, your audience’s attention span is about 90 minutes. After that, participants begin to lose interest and will tune out.

Advice: Do not try to recreate your three-day meeting online. Instead, break it up into 90-minute chunks spread out over a few days. Be sure to give participants a break from watching the screen the whole time.

“Speakers were too scripted; it felt impersonal.”

Speakers have talking points they need to cover, so they write them down. In a virtual environment, it’s easy for presenters to read from their notes. But the impersonal tone makes employees feel disconnected and lose interest.

Advice: Create an agenda that is less presentation-focused and more about encouraging dialogue. Coach presenters to share key points and then ask for feedback from attendees along the way. In addition, set up rehearsals with each presenter and provide constructive criticism if they sound too scripted.

“It would be nice to participate more, not just listen to leaders speak.”

Virtual meetings are easy to tune out. Attendees want to get involved in the discussion, not just sit on the sidelines and watch. If they aren’t engaged, employees will minimize the meeting screen, multitask and miss important information.

Advice: Participation drives engagement. Give attendees ample ways to play a role, such as responding to questions, providing comments and sharing their perspectives via an online poll. As with in-person meetings, the most dynamic participation technique is to facilitate breakout sessions. When employees have the opportunity to solve a problem or generate ideas, they feel that they’re really contributing most to the meeting.

While we all hope to be back in person enjoying a cocktail and conversation with colleagues, virtual meetings are a great employee engagement tool to keep in your communication arsenal. With a smart agenda, good preparation and a lot of practice, you can be certain employees will walk away feeling great about their experience.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit https://www.davisandco.com to know more.