10 tips to help you run great virtual meetings

Jamie Hanratty
April 3, 2023

This article gives you 10 ways to improve how you run your virtual meetings. It covers topics from how to start a meeting with energy, to time-saving techniques and ways to increase participation. The tips are accompanied by real examples and free templates to use.

Tip 1. Make your agenda interactive

An agenda keeps the meeting focused, and can vary from a few bullet points to a detailed table. Whichever you choose, try making the agenda interactive. This will:

  1. encourage people to actually read the agenda.
  2. promote active participation from the start.
  3. surface hidden topics before the meeting starts.

Use a visual format and leave space for comments and edits. Let participants move things around themselves. Agreeing the agenda can even be the first icebreaker!

Example: Interactive Meeting Agenda - use free template now.

This agenda uses the OARR format (Objectives, Agenda, Rules and Responsibilities). Because anyone can edit it, the team can change it together before they start!

Lean Coffee - the alternative meeting format

Alternatively, you can try running your meeting in the Lean Coffee style. Lean Coffee meetings have no pre-set agenda, so the participants pitch each other on what to talk about. We've written a quick guide on how to run Lean Coffee meetings.

Example: Lean Coffee - use free template now.

The Lean Coffee template in action

Tip 2. Include training for meeting tools

If you’re using a collaborative tool to run your meeting, make sure everyone knows how to use it. There will be varying levels of comfort with technology across participants, and they won’t always be vocal about it either.

Include some basic training about the tool being used, or better yet - make a tutorial.

If you need inspiration, check out the interactive tutorial built in to Metro Retro (you need a Metro Retro account).

An interactive tutorial helps participants get used to the basics

Tip 3. Use an icebreaker

When someone joins your meeting, they will be carrying the mental baggage from their previous meeting or task with them. That might mean they arrive frustrated, upset, bored, over-excited, nervous, anxious, just to name a few...

To combat this, use an Icebreaker or "Energizer" activity at the start of the meeting. It’s a short and usually fun activity that acts as a mental reboot for everyone and helps improve focus.

Example - Team Mood icebreaker - use free template now

Use a Team Mood icebreaker to gauge readiness for the meeting

It doesn’t matter what type of meeting you are running, just use an exercise that gets people talking or engaging.

You can try interesting off-topic questions like “What’s the best piece of news you’ve seen this week?”

Keep up the practice. Experienced facilitators build up a list of appropriate icebreakers over time.  For ideas, take a look at our 31 unique icebreakers.

Tip 4. Use a "Ready" check to keep things moving

In a virtual workshop, how do you know when everyone has completed the current task? You could ask and wait for replies, but this gets chaotic with more than a couple of people.

Using a "Ready" check is an efficient way to make sure everyone is ready to proceed from one activity to the next.

We built a Ready Check into Metro Retro so people can indicate when they’re done. It saves valuable time, and eliminates the need to keep asking if everyone is done.

Turn on the ready check
See who is ready to move on

The ready check idea comes from online multiplayer games - where the leader of a group can ask if everyone is ready before they go fight a boss.

World of Warcraft is a famous example. Here the leader initiates a ready check to see if the party is ready to enter a dungeon:

And here you can see how each player has answered. In this instance the Healer isn’t ready, so the party will wait before proceeding:

Tip 5. Prevent discussions dragging on with the ELMO technique.

Sometimes discussions drag on and on, taking too much time. You can use the ELMO protocol to cut short time-wasting debates.

Aside from being a Sesame Street star (I might be aging myself here), ELMO stands for Enough, Let’s Move On!

How to use ELMO

Anyone can display a picture of Elmo when they think the discussion has run its course or needs to be taken out of the meeting. They can either place the Elmo picture on the board, or hold a picture up to their webcam. If they are joined by more ELMOs, perhaps it is time to move on.

Tip 6. Agree signals for "Away from keyboard"

In a virtual meeting you need people to be clear about whether they are present and focused. Together, come up with a way for people to visually indicate they are "Away From Keyboard" without having to interrupt everyone each time.

Tip 7. Designate the current speaker

One way to manage who is talking at any given time is to reproduce the in-person technique where only the person holding the "speaking ball" is allowed to talk.

To reproduce this virtually on a Metro Retro board, you can use the "Hats" feature. Whoever is wearing the "speaking hat" is the only person allowed to talk. 

How to use a Speaking Hat

The first speaker chooses to "Wear a Hat' on their avatar. This is now the speaking hat. Only they are allowed to talk.

Once they are done, they throw the hat across the board to the next person, and so on. You can give each person a certain amount of time to speak.

The designated speaker wears a hat

Watch: How to throw your hat across the board

8. Encourage active listening

To combat people switching off in a meeting, you can try implementing an active listening technique in the group, such as the "Key" method.

When one person is talking, have everyone else draw or produce a picture of a key when the speaker has said a "key" point or has written a good idea on a sticky note.

As the speaker it can be encouraging to see a round of keys flash up - it’s nice to be listened to!

How to use the ‘Key’ Point

Simple - either stamp a key emoji onto your Metro Retro board or flash up a picture of a key!

Stamp a key emoji on key points!

Tip 9. Rate my Meeting

Does everyone else think your meeting is a good use of their time?

Your team could be grudgingly attending your meetings because they feel they have to, without seeing the value in them.

Provide your participants a way to rate the meeting, you'll start to learn whether it is valuable for them.

It can be difficult to ask for this kind of information and you may discover some uncomfortable truths, but over the long term it will help you run better meetings.

Ask your participants to rate the meeting from 1-5, make it anonymous if needed, and allow them to explain their rating - but only if they want to!

Tip 10. Use Metro Retro to improve collaborative meetings

Regardless of how you run your virtual meetings, these tips will help make them an effective use of time.

All of these tips can be implemented in a Metro Retro board and adapted as needed.

Metro Retro has been designed for running effective meetings, with:

  • A real-time collaborative whiteboard, with sticky notes that feel like the real thing
  • Facilitator and meeting controls: timers, everyone to me, pointers, participant management.
  • Private writing and anonymous mode
  • Topics & themes, voting, actions.

Get started with Metro Retro

A collaborative meeting in Metro Retro