March 8


Keeping up attention in online meetings – stop blaming – start caring

Stop blaming.
The pandemic with all its restrictions.

That someone is not attentive.

In our training the question about attention is a frequent one: How to keep attention high throughout a meeting? It is not new, the attention span in an online meeting is smaller than in face-to-face meetings. 

We cannot make people feel motivated or engaged. But we can set up the right conditions.

Management 3.0 Newsletter

Instead of blaming anyone when attention is low, have a look under the iceberg and inquire what might be at play. 

Lately we did What, So What, Now What? in an in-house facilitation training. We uncovered some hypotheses.There are many reasons why people are not focused, attentive and engaged.

Noticing what one can see and observe is a good starting point to dig deeper. 

WHAT do we notice?

Here is the copy of a list of observations about what tends to happen in the online meetings and workshops the group members have been involved in so far?

Often text-heavy presentations.- difficult to keep track of what is being said.- Abundance of switched off webcams. – Silence and lack of interaction. – Lack of feedback. – Comments in chats rather than speaking up. – Lack of emotion. – Long monologues. – People distracted. – Fully packed meetings. – Imbalance of active roles vs. participants. – Losing focus. – Lack of informal exchanges. – Technical issues causing frustration and time loss. – Side-discussions (via chat). – If cameras are off, most people are only in listening mode/very passive. – Most meetings are quite boring. – Participants are easily distracted. – Only few participants engage actively. – Hands up functionality brings some order. – Chat function added value. – Chance to participate in more meetings that would otherwise not be accessible . – Monotonous, few speakers are dominating, not everyone is engaging, technology is sometimes a barrier for a successful completion. – People seem less prepared for online meetings. – People float off (to emails and smartphones). – Chat function can go wild

SO WHAT could this mean?

So what do these observations tell us about the approach that is lived in online collaboration? Here some hypotheses we – Corinne and Nadia – draw from these observations. 

Meeting overwhelm 

We hear it often, that people have too many meetings, often back to back without a pause. This busyness is certainly not helpful and gets in the way of full engagement and preparation. Why all those meetings? This is another question (we will come back to below).

So many of us feel a scarcity of time: we feel rushed, like there’s not enough time to do everything, always behind, never feeling like we’re doing enough. This problem is called “time scarcity,” and it’s one of the most common stresses in our society.

Leo Babauta

Content is lazy

There seems to be a gap between the often observed ‘information sharing and presentation mode’ in which meetings and workshops are run and the felt longing for connections. That people seem to like the chat function and that side-discussions apparently go wild in the chat, confirms: People like to engage! Many meetings and workshops however are not designed for interaction and engagement. What is happening instead: informing about insights observed elsewhere and decisions taken elsewhere.

When it comes to virtual meetings, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your content has to play second fiddle.

Melissa Dinwiddie

But why, we wonder, is content often playing the first fiddle? We suppose it is easier. Delivering an input is straightforward, you plan it, you deliver it, you control it. Conversation is the work. Can be hard and tough. You never know what will happen. So our assumption is, it is easier in the end to go for input and put a conversation aside. 

Fuzzy purpose and poor invitations. 

Our hypothesis is that poor meetings lead to more meetings, because the work is not done and the important questions are not discussed. Time is spent on stuff that might not be the relevant one and with people that do not exactly know why they are in the meeting.

Fuzzy purpose and poor invitations are the foundation for people being busy with other stuff and multitasking while sitting in meetings. Remember the distraction is a mouse click

A relevant question for us to raise is: Why am I invited and in which role?

During the podcast conversation with Myriam Hadnes, Jordan Bower takes a firm stance and challenges an unclear situation with a question: “Are you here because your boss told you to be here? Do I care more than you? Let’s talk about what matters to you!”


Now what can we do about all of this as online facilitators? Our most important conclusions are:

Design meetings around questions and challenges 

Do not start off your design from what you know or want to inform about. There are other means for spreading information than meetings. Design your meetings around questions and challenges and how you get your contributors to work on them.


An inviting invitation is more than letting people know when the meeting will happen. Formulate your invitation  in a way so that every single person knows why she or he needs to be there, that she/he will be a contributor and what she or he will do and get. Be it to help someone, receive help, explore, inspire…..


Create connections and design for interaction, right from the beginning of your meeting and workshop. The first minutes create the tone for the whole gathering. We love to use Liberating Structures because the interaction structures create connections throughout the whole meeting. 

“Liberating Structures help to participate and people love to participate.” 

Participant in Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop

Have at least three rows of shorter breakout sessions with remixed groups so people can interact about content with different people and relate to each other. We challenge ourselves with this minimum requirement. You create engagement by mixing groups, playing with pace and rhythm, and structuring for interaction from the beginning.

Creating engagement and attention starts in the preparation.

Upcoming opportunities

Engage & keep engagement high. A joint exploration on the art of facilitating engagement in online meetings and workshops. June 9 from 13:30 – 15:30 CEST. Join us if you agree that people meet to engage and that you – as workshop leader and facilitator – want to facilitate engagement so that the voice of each single participant can be heard? So that each single person can contribute?


creative facilitation, engagement, invitation, Liberating Structures, online facilitation

You may also like

Invite to engage. From the start. The minimum requirement for truly inviting invitations.
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}