“I’ll keep this short…”: What not to say in virtual meetings

We’ve been doing this working from home thing for almost a whole year now, and consequently, we all have a lot of experience of virtual meetings.

We’ve generally all got the hang of basic etiquette; muting ourselves on entry, making sure we’re not still in pyjamas, bribing children with cake and television to keep them quiet, that sort of thing.

However, there are a few common phrases and things people say particular to online meetings that really need to be nipped in the bud right now, before we enter our second year online. And here, in no particular order, they are…

“I’m going to keep this short”
A very common one. And once you’ve said it, however short you are planning on keeping the meeting, for your attendees it cannot be short enough. You have advertised the fact that you don’t have much to say, and people are now simply waiting for you to stop talking – and planning what they’re going to do with all that lovely free time they’ve suddenly found in their schedule.

Of course what usually happens whenever anyone says this is that people suddenly start finding other things to talk about, thus extending the meeting and upsetting literally everyone. Ever heard of overpromising and underdelivering? By promising brevity, you’re just setting yourself up to fail.

“Come on, put your camera on!”
Asking people in a meeting to put their cameras on: absolutely fine. Personally calling out those who don’t have their cameras on: absolutely not.

There are a thousand and one explanations for why someone might have chosen not to put their camera on; some good, some bad, some terrible. But if you’re met with a sea of blank screens, the best thing to do is to remind everyone it would be preferable to have their camera on and if people still don’t, then trust there is a good reason for it.

“You’re on mute”
A controversial one this, as the need to point out that someone is on mute is extremely strong.

However, here’s my thinking. If all the people who forget to unmute before talking are immediately told that they’re on mute by fellow meeting attendees, where is the incentive for them to learn to unmute? They’ll carry on doing it forever, safe in the knowledge that someone will sort them out.

Whereas if we don’t tell them they’re on mute and leave them talking into the void for minutes at a time, while we sit there chuckling at them, they will very quickly remember to unmute the next time they’re in a meeting. Et voila! They will have learned something!

“No, you go first”

You know when someone interrupts you, apologises for interrupting – and then carries on talking over you anyway? Don’t let them do that. Don’t say “No, you go first”; instead, go full Mastermind on them and insist “I’ve started, so I’ll finish.”

Of course, this is a problem in the real world as well, but the glitchiness and distance of virtual meetings makes it so much easier for an interrupter to ride roughshod over their victims.

If this isn’t ringing any bells with you, it’s probably because you are the interrupter. And you must be stopped. So, while I’ve got you, remember this: next time you want to speak in a meeting raise a hand or wait for the person to finish talking. If someone else begins to talk, express your desire to contribute after they’ve finished. If this sounds difficult to you, grow up.

Anything at all without checking if you’re on mute first

So you know that one meeting each week that you absolutely dread? The one on a Monday morning with Sam leading the meeting? Sam is awful. Here’s Sam now. “Shut up, Sam!” you say to the screen, because it’s Monday morning and you just got up and and then Sam replies “Sorry, what was that?” and you realise that you are not on mute and instead of saying “shut up” you actually said something far more offensive and oh no oh no oh no.

Basically, don’t slag off senior management unless you’re absolutely positive that they can’t hear you, it’s not rocket science.

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