How to run excellent (virtual) meetings

Prof. Joseph Allen and CEO Karin Reed speak with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai, about ways to run excellent meetings in a virtual world, and what leaders and participants can do to avoid bad meetings.

Karin M. Reed
Karin M. Reed
The Agenda Podcasts

The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with former BBC World Service interviewer, Nisha Pillai. #LeadingTogether

In this podcast episode, you will hear:

Prof. Joseph Allen, psychology professor and meeting scientist, and Karin Reed, CEO of Speaker Dynamics, as they discuss good practices around meetings, and ways meeting leaders and participants can make them excellent, especially in a virtual world. In the context of the pandemics, Prof. Joseph Allen joined forces with Karin Reed, to write several books on how to manage and make remote meetings work. Although they never met in person, they successfully published two books on meetings, one titled "Suddenly Hybrid - Managing the modern meeting", and a second, titled "Suddenly Virtual - Making remote meetings work". Here are some of the topics covered in the podcast that will help you run excellent (virtual) meetings:

  • What to do to avoid one bad meeting that leads to three extra meetings
  • How to run virtual meetings and feel comfortable in front of the camera
  • The value of creating psychological safety and of democratising meetings
  • The need for meeting performance reviews for better meetings.


How to run excellent (virtual) meetings with Prof. Joseph Allen and Karin Reed

What to do to avoid one bad meeting that leads to three extra meetings

"It might sound unbelievable, but we can all imagine or have experienced meetings where you've gone to them, you've attended, you maybe even participated, and you left feeling like I'm not exactly sure what I supposed to do next, or I have no idea what just happened with my time.

You schedule one-on-one meetings or other meetings to clarify a decision that you thought could have been made or should have been made in that previous meeting. And so the data is pretty clear, that one bad meeting causes three more meetings because we just aren't very good at meetings, or not as good as we ought to be. [...]

Probably the big thing is to try the things that we've been saying we should do for the longest time and haven't been doing. [...] like having a purpose and an agenda, potentially starting and ending on time, encouraging participation. If you do those three things, you're going to have a better meeting . [...]

(on lateness in starting meetings) 50% to 70% of all meetings start late, and by late we define it as somewhere between zero and 10 minutes late. The data would suggest that from zero to five is kind of that grace period, but once you get over five minutes late, people start to get angry. [...] If you show up late to a meeting and it's a controllable reason for you being late you have to actually say I'm sorry, because if you don't, lateness actually makes the whole meeting worse."


How to run virtual meetings and feel comfortable in front of the camera

"We've improved vastly from when we were first stuck in virtual meetings, practically for eight hours a day. I think that we have gotten the hang of it more than we did initially. But I think there is still this misunderstanding that you can't have relationships built through a webcam, that you can't actually connect.

And you truly can. Joe and I have never met in person, but he is one of my closest colleagues. We've managed to write three books together and have a great working relationship that has been built solely through the webcam. [...]

The camera is the conduit to your conversation partner. And so often people just forget about that and they don't recognize it's so critical to pour your energy through the camera lens so that you can actually connect with people on the other side.

Having your camera on for those critical conversations is really crucial. You know, those would be the ones that have a lot of emotional heft, those that are complex. That is really an important part of making sure that your virtual meeting is great and that you actually accomplish your goal. [...] What you want to do is have the richest media possible through which to convey your message and you're going to have a much richer medium to convey it through. 

You can still capitalise on the best practices for, virtual presence, properly frame yourself, make sure that you are showing as much of you on the screen as possible so that you can convey that body language and those non-verbals which are so critical in how you communicate a message, make sure your face is well lit so people can read your facial expressions."


Having your camera on for critical conversations is an important part of making sure that your virtual meeting is great and that you accomplish your goal.

The value of creating psychological safety and of democratising meetings

"We talk a lot in our books about pre-meeting communication, pre-meeting talk, and what we're saying there is when you start a meeting with virtual meetings, you think 'OK, let's just jump right in'. But pause a second and ask how is everyone doing? Have a moment of humanising the situation so that way people can say 'things are going OK'. Those small talk conversations have been shown in the research to actually make the meeting more effective. 

That's because setting a more positive, more humanistic tone to your meetings allows people to be who they are. It's really important to do that before your meetings or as your meeting is getting started. That way you can set the proper tone for a good collaborative environment and get things moving. [...] It gives you the meeting leader an opportunity to engage with them one-on-one because you miss that social lubrication that appears organically whenever you are face-to-face. [...]

(on democratising meetings) One of the things that we counsel is to validate both the verbal and the nonverbal forms of participation. So that's when you're talking about leveraging chat. Chat is one of those tools that I think is a huge improvement in terms of meeting equity because it allows people a lower barrier to entry to participate. So, for example, if somebody is introverted and they really are very measured in their words that they say and they can't quite fully form their thought in real time, chat allows them the opportunity to write it out in just the way they want to say it and then hit enter.

What is also important is that if you are encouraging people to use chat as well as to speak up verbally, make sure that you look at chat and bring those comments, those questions into the dialog. [...]

If you create those ground rules, like we just described about making sure everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions about a decision that you're trying to make together, then you're going to naturally start to establish a greater level of psychological safety than maybe they experienced before. You can actually use the meeting as an environment to change your organisation or your group culture, and promote a psychologically safe environment that allows for inclusion and for equity within the meeting environment."


The need for meeting performance reviews for better meetings

"Organisations do performance appraisals every year for their employees, and they've identified certain categories for different employees, for different roles that they do, and they provide ratings of these employees, and feedback and guidance.

The problem is one of the things that we do all the time is meet, but I've yet to find an organisation that has that as part of their performance review.

You expect managers to run effective meetings and you expect them to lead their team. And that's going to be through meetings in many cases, particularly when we're in remote situations. If we don't assess them and require them to do them well, then how are they ever going to be motivated to do so? [...] 

They need to recognize that this is a major part of people's jobs and they need to hold attendees and leaders responsible for their behaviour at meetings. If they do that, they are going to unlock the potential of meetings."

Enjoying The Agenda?

Rate and review it now.



Karin M. Reed
Karin M. Reed
About the author
Karin M. Reed is the CEO and Chief Confidence Creator of Speaker Dynamics, a corporate communications training firm, featured in Forbes. She has been teaching business professionals how to be effective on-camera communicators for nearly a decade.
Prof Dr Joseph Allen, Director of the Center for Meeting Effectiveness
Joseph A. Allen
About the author
Prof. Dr. Joseph A. Allen is a Professor of Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology at the University of Utah, and the director of the CME (Center for Meeting Effectiveness). He's an established expert on workplace and safety meetings, and authored many articles and books.