Leading virtual meetings – top tips

This content relates to the following topics:

Part of Leading through Covid-19

Leading through Covid-19

Leading virtually can seem challenging, but a few basic technical and human skills will help you to engage with colleagues and ensure your virtual meetings are productive. Here are some hints and tips on working virtually adapted from Zoom and from the research of Ghislaine Caulat (2012).

The technical things for large meetings (more than 10–15 people)

  1. Make sure everyone has the link for the meeting in good time.
  2. Give people clear instructions about joining. Here’s an example.
  3. Make any presentations short and digestible. People only listen for about 5–10 minutes. Keep slides very simple.
  4. Build in a process for engaging people early on using questions. Some packages allow attendees to raise a hand, others offer a chat function. In a big meeting ask someone else – a chair or facilitator – to monitor the questions. It is distracting for the speaker to try to keep track of these.
  5. If you are using a platform with break-out rooms, use them. People can connect in smaller groups, talking freely without using the mute button, or write on their own white board. All this helps people stay connected. 
  6. A large group meeting typically lasts no more than an hour.

The technical things for small meetings (typically 5–10 people)

  1. For smaller meetings, many of the same guidelines apply when joining a meeting, but smaller meetings give an opportunity to create more trust and intimacy.
  2. Don’t use the mute button. Encourage people to speak spontaneously. A small group can quickly learn to recognise each other’s voices if they regularly work together virtually. It is okay if people talk over each other and participants soon get used to it.
  3. Try to avoid having some virtual and some face-to-face participants. So, don’t have part of the group gathered around a speaker phone in one room and others dialing in individually. This can create an ‘inner group’ with eye contact and side jokes, which does not help overall engagement or build trust across the group.
  4. Small meetings are more interactive and may last longer. If they are longer than 1.5 hours do build in short breaks – listening and watching a screen are tiring.

The human things

  1. A virtual space is exposing – like being in a goldfish bowl. People listen more intensively; think about how you say things – your tone and gestures.
  2. Emotions get amplified too. You can be surprised by peoples’ responses which can seem stronger than you might expect; allow for this, check out what they mean and don’t overreact in response. 
  3. Relearn the basics of actively listening (see below). 
  4. Don’t be afraid of silence. People are probably just thinking.
  5. Remember the virtual nod. If people can’t see you, you need to say something or make a noise to acknowledge a comment or so people know you’re there. 
  6. Incorporate the informal. Don’t be totally task or agenda led. Allow time for people to share news, chat about parts of the meeting that spark interest, etc. You can’t have a virtual coffee, but you can have coffee virtually!


How do you actively listen?

Active listening: facts - listen to the facts, data and the specific details that people share
Active listening: feelings - listen to the feelings expressed or implied through the tone of voice or pace of delivery
Active listing: intention - Listen to what the speaker intends to do, their commitment to any intended actions. Listen for any unconscious intention (listening for what else people are telling you, by reading between the lines.

Reference: Caulat G (2012). Virtual leadership: learning to lead differently. Faringdon: Libri Publishing

More from Leading through Covid-19


rachael clarke

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust
Comment date
07 June 2021

really interesting information, particularly the human things section, but could include more such as the emojis we can use on teams to participate, such as the clapping hands or the wave , really useful for those who do not like to speak out. Also the chat function can be very distracting when in meetings, so how to manage this alongside the conversations being held can be a challenge.

Esther Cassettari

Project Manager,
Comment date
26 March 2021

No mention of how to make meetings inclusive. Those with hearing loss for example ... neurodiversities. I am working on a SOP in my organisation to think inclusively. Lighting, use of transcription. Also many other factors. Use of 'hand' when wanting to talk. REcording of meetings and information governance implications.... this list goes on

Suzy O'Callaghan

Director of Nursing,
St Wilfrid's Hospice, Chichester
Comment date
02 May 2020

We are interested in any tips on how to lead specialist and community palliative care teams through the reality of having to change how we engage with patients and their loved ones both physically and emotionally in an uncertain COVID environment. All too often we hear 'when this is over we can return to how it was'

Michelle Parrott

AHP Training lead,
Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
Comment date
14 April 2020

I am interested in anything which enables us to help our AHP staff who are moving roles and teams and enabling them to stay connected with; tarining, CPD & reflective practice.

Add your comment