The painful way to open online meetings – and how to avoid it

It’s 2pm and some of your workmates are at a project meeting in their pyjamas.

One person has just been involved in tricky negotiations with a 2 year old while another’s been queuing at the supermarket since 6am.

At Work B.C. (Before Corona), when you called a meeting in an office, people would join from only a very few contexts.

They may have been in the canteen or be piling in from another office. Their focus is still pretty likely to be on work.

Since working from home and remotely that’s all changed.

When you call a meeting, people are at diverse starting points.

Having everyone focussed on the matter in hand therefore becomes more of a challenge than usual.

This, is in addition to all the issues with connectivity and logging on when they do arrive.

Given this background, it’s really important to have people in a focused mindset.

All this, without making other people feel that they’re being penalised for any hold-ups.

The way to solve this before a meeting is to have two openings.

The first is a soft opening, for your on-time audience, who are waiting for everyone else to sort themselves out. Then you have a hard opening when everyone else is on.

Soft openings:

These should be interesting, relevant but not vital to the audience’s understanding of the topic.

You can have a wordcloud in something like Mentimeter, the free app. People can post their answers to a question you pose within the app. Alternatively, you can display questions on a whiteboard within your virtual conferencing software and have the participants chat about the answers while waiting for the others.

Here are some examples of Soft Openings:

Zoom has it’s own polls built in on Premium but you can use Mentimeter to do that -and so much more.

(It’s free and I’m not paid to mention them. It’s just extremely useful and incredibly easy to use).

Questions for Polls:

“What’s Kanban?”

·       The latest South Korean Dance Craze;

·       Urban slang for someone who thinks they can do anything;

·       A project management system


“If you had to describe how you’re feeling today as an amusement park ride, what ride are you on?”


“On a scale of not likely at all to very likely, rate what you’ll be doing this week”

·       Binge watching TV

·       Buying something online

·       Exercising for more than an hour at least one day

Daresay has some fun questions you can use here on their Check In Generator

Hard openings:

A Hard Opening should introduce the importance of the topic and have everyone focused on the points for discussion.

Here are some examples you could put to the group:

1.     What’s something from the past week (or under a category for discussion) that you considered to be a win?

2.    What is your biggest challenge this week / on the agenda.

3.    What’s the one thing that would make today’s meeting worthwhile for you?

For more openings have a look at Slido’s blog over here

By using the two types of openings, you avoid that awkward waiting at the beginning that dampens the introduction of the topic as well as the energy that goes with it.

No matter what your team has been doing before the meeting, you’ll be able to have them in a more harmonious and productive state of mind during the session.

Of course, that’s as long as Amazon isn’t knocking on the door while the dog’s chewing the cables.

Your Action:

  1. Think about the next online work meeting you’re hosting;
  2. Now choose one soft opening and a hard opening for that meeting.

…you’re good to go ?

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