The Slice

12 Tips to Reduce Awkwardness in Your Video Meetings

November 4, 2022

At this point, we've all been through it– the awkward video meeting. Whether it's tech problems, a lack of agenda, or a bunch of uncomfortable participants, virtual conference calls without a good flow can be a real bummer. The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are several things you can do to help reduce awkwardness in your video meetings, both during the meeting and outside of work hours.

At this point, we've all been through it– the awkward video meeting. Whether it's tech problems, a lack of agenda, or a bunch of uncomfortable participants, virtual conference calls without a good flow can be a real bummer.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are several things you can do to help reduce awkwardness in your video meetings, both during the meeting and outside of work hours.

Before you start applying some of these tips to your next team meeting, you might step back and audit why it is you think that your meetings aren't going as well as they should be. After all, applying tech solutions to issues that are ultimately interpersonal (or vice versa) won't be much help.

1. Allow Some Time For Socializing

If you were holding a meeting in the office, there's a good chance the first few minutes would be dedicated to casual small talk. This is something you'll want to recreate in video calls to help reduce awkwardness, as research has found that teams work better together when they know more about each other personally.

Setting aside a few minutes to talk about what everyone did over the weekend or a team member's return from maternity leave can be a great way to start a meeting off on the right foot. If you're looking to create a good flow in your meeting and help boost team performance, allowing some time for socializing at the start is well worth the time it takes away from the main focus of the meeting.

2. Ask Specific Questions to Specific People

When you're meeting in person, there are a lot of social and visual cues people use to get a sense of who should be talking and when. This is difficult to recreate online, as it isn't easy to be certain of who is being addressed and whether you'll interrupt someone else if you start talking. The result is usually a long awkward silence, with a handful of people all deciding to speak at the same time once a few quiet moments have passed.

To deal with this issue when hosting a video call with a big group, consider asking specific questions to specific people. This can avoid the "no, please, you go ahead… no you!" situation that is an all-too-common occurrence in virtual meetings.

When you're asking questions to a specific person, address them by their name so there is no confusion about who you are talking to.

3. Make Sure Everyone's Equipment Is Up to Par

Depending on the structure of your company and the budget allotted to equipping your remote team, buying everyone high-quality equipment might not be possible. However, a primary cause of awkwardness on video calls is tech problems. After all, nothing disrupts the flow of a meeting more than audio cutting out or a person constantly having to ask the speaker to repeat themselves.

You might consider doing a quick "tech check" at the beginning of every meeting, so you can identify any issues right at the start rather than realizing that one team member has missed half of the meeting trying to troubleshoot tech problems.

Relatedly, there are differing opinions on whether using mute helps reduce awkwardness or contributes to it. Even when everyone on your team has an excellent internet connection, there is usually a slight delay between the moment a person speaks and when the rest of the team hears what they're saying. If someone is slow to unmute themselves or starts speaking without remembering to unmute themselves, this can create more delays, leading to unwanted, awkward moments throughout the meeting.

On the other hand, encouraging people to use the mute button when they aren't speaking can help ensure that other distracting noises aren't constantly inserting themselves into your meeting. You might try it both ways a few times to see what seems to have a better impact on the flow of the conversation before making a hard and fast rule about using the mute feature of your conferencing platform.

4. Have an Agenda and Share It Ahead of Time

Perhaps the most effective thing you can do to help reduce awkwardness in your video meetings is to have a plan and share it with all of your attendees before you virtually get together.

When no one knows what is happening next or who should be talking, you'll find that there are a lot of awkward silences. Having an agenda you share with all meeting participants ahead of time can help everyone be on the same page about the topic and what to expect next.

If you don't have an agenda for your meeting, it's easy to start floundering. Consider allotting a specific amount of time to each item to help create a clear sense of when it's time to move on to the next topic.

Another useful tip is to allow meeting participants to contribute ideas for the meeting agenda before it is finalized. This way, everyone can know that the issue they believe is most important will be touched upon during the meeting.

5. Feed the People

When your team is anxious, there's a good chance your meeting will be more awkward than if everyone feels confident and comfortable. Of course, there are a lot of things that can cause anxiety, but one of them is hunger.

If you want to bring everyone together and help them feel comfortable even though you're in a wide variety of geographic locations, consider giving the gift of satiation. You can easily send your whole team piping hot, fresh pizza with the help of PizzaTime. Not only will this ensure that your meeting isn't suffering from a bad case of hangry employees, but it can also offer a feeling of togetherness that is often sorely needed when your team is remote.


6. Encourage Team Building

When we're talking to a group of people we feel we know well, we are practically entirely different than when we're discussing with people who are more strangers than friends. If your meetings have been awkward and you're wondering how to overcome this, one of the best things you can do is engage in team-building activities that create shared experiences and encourage everyone to get to know each other better.

Team building exercises can be short and sweet or long and engaged– you might find that it's worth sprinkling some of both into your management strategy when you lead a remote team.

If you're rolling your eyes right now after having attended way too many awkward team-building exercises– we get it. Creating a strong sense of teamwork among your employees doesn't have to feel forced, though; it doesn't have to feel like you're stuck in an endless corporate nightmare of ineffective icebreakers and activities.

Rather than putting together a hokey quiz about your company's HR policy, consider setting up a shared experience for everyone that is completely separate from their work.

For example, having everyone participate in a virtual escape room or play live trivia certainly doesn't feel like work, but it can have a huge positive impact on the overall morale and performance of your team. You'll likely find that the more opportunities you give your team to get to know each other, work together solving problems, and let down their hair a little bit, the less awkward your virtual meetings get over time.

7. Have Your Team Turn Off Notifications

Awkwardness in meetings isn't just about people feeling anxious or uncomfortable– it's also about distractions that break the flow of the discussion. Every time there is a distraction, your entire team's mind moves away from the topic at hand and onto an unrelated thing for a brief period before having to reengage. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can really add up when distractions are the norm.

According to a study from the University of California at Irvine, the average time it takes a worker to return to a task after being interrupted is about 23 minutes. Of course, this isn't going to be the case in a short fifteen-minute team meeting, but it illustrates how costly interruptions can be when they pull us away from what we're focusing on.

While most employees have probably figured out that they should try and find a workspace free from dogs barking, spouses watching TV, and other noisy distractions, phone notifications are another common interruption we often overlook.

Every time we hear a phone ding, bing, buzz, or play "Eye of the Tiger" (that's your ringtone, too, right?), it increases the amount of information that our working memory has to process (also known as our cognitive load.) When our brains hop over to acknowledge a phone sound and then switch back to what's being discussed, it can exhaust us and result in poorer quality and slower work performance.

To help overcome this issue, ask your team to turn off their ringers and notifications right at the beginning of the meeting. When someone isn't being interrupted every few minutes by a phone sound that has everyone scrambling to check to see if it's their device, your meetings will be more efficient and less awkward.

8. Send Useful Resources Ahead of Time

Another reason you might be dealing with awkwardness during meetings is that your team might be struggling to come up with the right thing to say on the spot. When asking a question, give everyone some time to order their thoughts.

If you're presenting new information, consider sharing resources ahead of time so everyone has a chance to reflect on what feedback they want to give during the meeting.

9. Speak a Little Slower

If you're a mover and a shaker, you might be in the habit of speaking quickly to get your brilliant thoughts out to the people as fast as possible. On a video call, though, this can end up leading to more lost time than if you took a breath and took it down a few notches.

Speaking slowly is even more important when you're in big meetings with many people. This helps ensure that everyone hears every word and reduces unintended interruptions. When you speak a little slower than you would IRL, it also gives everyone a chance to interject if they need to without feeling like they're speaking over you.

10. Encourage Balanced Conversation

It's common for video meetings to be a little less dynamic than in-person meetings, and you might find that a number of members of your team aren't particularly comfortable hopping in and contributing to the conversation when you're meeting remotely.

This can create a scenario where a small handful of people do most of the talking, which can mean that not everyone is as engaged as they could be. It can also make meetings feel pretty awkward, as there might be a silently understood sense that one person seems to be hogging the floor.

One way you can deal with this issue is by using a "talking stick," i.e., passing the opportunity to contribute around the group in an ordered way. This helps you make sure that everyone has the opportunity to talk during the meeting and ensures that the conversation is more balanced.

11. Watch Out For Zoom Fatigue

If you feel like your meetings are low-energy and awkward, it's possible that your team is suffering from a bad case of Zoom fatigue.

Though you might not think it's particularly exhausting to sit in your home office and talk with team members on a video conferencing platform, it can actually take a serious toll on people's mental, physical, and emotional health.

12. Recap Shared Experiences as a Team

Providing social opportunities for your team to bond is a must in most companies, but it's particularly important when your team only knows each other through the screen. You might consider hosting an optional virtual activity once a week to let everyone have the opportunity to get to know each other better outside of work.

Another benefit of hosting these events for your team is that you can start your meetings by giving everyone a chance to talk about last week's social event. Team members who are reluctant to participate in these events will likely glean that they are missing out on something fun and join in next time, while it will also get your meeting started off in the right direction by creating a sense of camaraderie. 

Destroy Awkward Meetings With the Power of Pizza

Ok, ok, we know we already mentioned this. The reality is, though, that providing sustenance for your team during the meeting can help reduce all sorts of anxieties your team might have about being on camera, and it can bring everyone together and create shared experiences. One could even argue that having a fresh slice on hand makes people more forgiving of tech issues, phone notification distractions, or other things that can contribute to awkward video meetings.

Is your team suffering from a severe case of pizza deficiency? If so, give us some details, and we'll take care of the rest.

The Pizzatime Blog

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