5 tips to turn around dead-silent virtual meetings

Siim Sutrop, Learning & Development Architect, February 1, 2021

I have noticed a recurring challenge in the recent remote-heavy world: Meetings, where the majority has their cameras off, mics on mute, and on average 1 person speaks and presents 99% of the meeting. There is no real interaction going on. It does not sound like the most productive, fun, and useful meeting, right? Frankly, it is tedious for everyone involved, and I decided to share a list of best practices to tackle the challenge.

So, what can be done to foster an active participation in the meetings if you facilitate or organize it?

Here are my 5 tips:

1. I would say right at the beginning, with a smile or joke,”Hey, everyone! Welcome! By the way, I can’t see your faces and lovely smiles. Can you please turn your camera on, so I can see if what I tell you today makes sense or if you’ve fallen asleep.”

    • It creates a good tone and anticipation. And most will turn on their camera or apologize if they are not presentable, etc. At least then you know.
    • Of course, it is polite to respect people who cannot or do not want to turn on their cameras, for example because of their corporate policy.

2. In the introduction, I state my expectation in terms of communication, i.e., whether I will take questions during the conference, take them at the end, or maybe only via chat.

    • Again, people then know when it’s okay to interject.

3. One trick to get people to participate, for example, is to ask everyone at the beginning to state their expectation: ”Before we begin, I’d like to hear very briefly from everybody about your expectations and what you want to take away from today’s meeting.”

    • Once everyone has participated at the beginning of the meeting, they are much more likely to speak later.
    • In addition, it’s always helpful to know up front what participants expect from the meeting – you do not want to deliver beer if the client secretly wishes for wine.
    • This works better for smaller groups of up to six people. For larger groups you could ask everyone to type their answer in the chat. And maybe ask 1-3 people by name to elaborate a little bit further.

4. When I present, I check in every five minutes or so with questions like: ”Is this understandable?” / ”Does this make sense?” / ”What do you think about this?”

    • And then, I pause with a smile until someone says something.
    • The pause also gives people time to unmute themselves.
    • Once I silently count to ten and no one answers, and the pause becomes uncomfortable, then I say: ”If you don’t say anything, then I assume you all disagree with me.” It is a funny and yet effective twist.

5. If you have a smaller group, it’s also an option to call on people directly by name, e.g., ”Siim, does this make sense to you?” / ”Mary, I’m curious how you see yourself using this approach?” / “John, how do you like what I’m presenting so far – I’m curious about your feedback.”

    • People will certainly speak up if they are called upon. If not, then you have a totally different situation on your hands!

And here is a bonus tip

Since you are so invested in improving your skills:

6. It would make sense to talk to that silent person directly after the meeting in private and give them feedback. Something like, ”Hey, I noticed you didn’t ask any questions or voice your opinion during our meeting. This means we don’t get to hear your ideas, and the whole team is poorer for it. Plus, I don’t know if what I was talking about was valuable to you or a waste of time. What are your thoughts?”


The truth is, the facilitator can do a lot to make the meeting more interactive and meaningful for everyone. Don’t be afraid to test different styles.

And to wrap up this topic, here are a couple of suggestions for supporting a purposeful meeting if you are the one participating:

  1. Turn on your camera
  2. Turn off all other distractions to be fully present
  3. Ask questions
  4. Take notes
  5. Share your thoughts

For further reading, here you can find more tips on how to run effective meetings, both online and offline.

Siim Sutrop

Siim Sutrop

Siim Sutrop, Learning & Development Architect at Nortal, has a mission to support people in their journey of growth. Having worked for years as a system analyst, Sutrop recently took on a new challenge to craft better learning and development opportunities for Nortal’s staff. Find...

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