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  • Writer's pictureESAE

Lessons from A Virtual World – Meetings and Events

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

by Dr. Madeleine de Hauke

What we’ve gained from using virtual meetings during the COVID pandemic, will shape the future of meetings both online and in person. But we’ve also lost out on connections and co-creativity. To make the most of new ways of working, we need to learn to run better virtual meetings.

The Future of Meetings

News about the end in sight of the covid19 pandemic have brought hope, but the ‘old normal’ is never coming back: telework is here to stay in some form. So, what have we learnt from this global experiment in online working?

When sending participants to virtual breakout rooms during my keynote, I asked them to imagine they travelled ten years into the future. It’s a technique I often use when facilitating strategic brainstorms for clients because it’s a great way to tap into collective creativity, gain direction in the midst of mayhem and rise above the “noise” of present stress.

In our imagined 2030, COVID was a distant memory and everything had been resolved for the best. But we had learnt a lot from our time trapped in virtual work.

The participants came up with some fascinating insights, shown in the left column: these can help you prepare for recovery. In the right column, I’ve added tips you can put into action right now to run better virtual meetings starting today:

Making Virtual Meetings More Engaging

By making online meetings more engaging and focused, people stop multitasking and start participating.

It is not surprising that studies of work during the pandemic have shown productivity improving on individual tasks but slumping on collaborative activities. Even the OECD is worried about the risks for innovation that telework brings. Senior leaders I speak to are seeing it too: “it’s hard to build or evaluate projects, brainstorm and innovate when everyone’s remote”.

To overcome this in your online meetings, here are 3 things to try:

1. Bond before Business: include human-to-human connection in the first five minutes: smile, say hello and call them out by name: Hi John, glad to have you with us” and remind them of the purpose of the meeting. You can say: “tell me what you want to get out of this meeting: write your answers in the chat” to get them interacting from the get go.

2. Ask, Don’t Tell: Asking questions like the one above is a powerful way to focus any meeting. Questions can also be used in the Agenda to help focus the conversation. For example, compare the agenda item: “Discuss priorities” with “What are our top 3 priorities?”. The first will get you a discussion. The 2nd will get you a focused discussion, ending with a prioritised list.

3. Close on a high: I recommend asking 3 questions at the end of every meeting to develop a growth mindset of continuous incremental meeting optimisation:

I. What 3 things did we achieve in this meeting? (forces clarity and makes it easy for the note-taker to capture)

II. What went well about this meeting? (encourages and validates positive outcomes)

III. What shall we do differently next-time (demonstrates shared responsibility for meeting outcomes and raises awareness we can get better)?

Coming Back Better

Whilst we can do a lot of work connected through our computer screens, most people are finding that the “magic” of in-person connection is missing, and that’s killing creativity. We can’t afford to put innovation on hold, so we need to create a more collaborative, connected online space.

We’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons through working through COVID. One of the most important may be how critical it is to run our meetings better.


Meetings Doctor, Dr Madeleine de Hauke, helps managers and senior leaders cure their meetings syndrome. As a Leadership Coach she also helps current and future leaders find their ‘inner compass’ so they can lead from within and transition into their natural next step.

Reach out to Madeleine at /

Madeleine shared her insights with ESAE members in the context of an online session organised with the Switzerland Convention Bureau on 20 October, 2020.


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