10 Ways to keep people focussed in Zoom meetings


It is now a fact of life that much of our work will happen remotely over video conferencing, and perhaps this is one of the positives that will come out of the pandemic. However it can be hard to remain focussed, present and active while staring at a webcam. In the world of improv we thrive on engagement, inclusion and acceptance of ideas. Even as expert facilitators we’ve needed to hone our own skills during this intense period of online communication. Here are some tips and tricks to keep your meeting delegates on their toes and actively participating.

1. Allow everyone a small amount of time to ‘check in’.

two people sat talking

It is important that everyone in the online meeting has said something and been listened to. People are intimidated by talking online for good reason so by giving them just a minute or so to say how they are, or what they have been up to that day makes them feel validated, listened to and appreciated. It will mean that later in the meeting they are more likely to speak up and also listen when others are speaking. It also gives the facilitator a chance to make sure that everyone’s microphones and webcams are functioning well enough to be heard.

2. Make sure everyone knows the system you are using.

It is definitely worth the time to go through any technical issues up top of your meeting or online event so that you do not get tripped up half way through trying to teach someone how to unmute themselves.  Every platform uses slightly different shortcuts etc. so make sure you know what they are, and which ones you will want people to use in advance.  Give participants an opportunity to let you know if they have any accessibility issues and find ways to enable them to have the best experience they can. For instance, can you use visual and aural aids to relay information?  Are there any documents that can be sent to attendees beforehand that might give them more time to digest the information? Can you warn participants if there will be chaotic moments or loud noises?

3. Pass me the conch.

It is so much more difficult to know when to speak online due to the lack of non-verbal communication, and the audio lag. There are many ways to keep track of whose turn it is to speak. Hands up, messages in the chat, onscreen icons. Whichever method you choose to use, make sure you walk everyone through it and stick to it during the meeting. If you have someone chairing the meeting or facilitating the event then make sure they are keeping an eye on this too. Nothing worse than the under-confident participant being ignored because they didn’t want to keep their hand up. (by the way, the conch reference is from Lord of the Flies in case you missed that bit in your English class).

4. Yes and.

the word yes in lights

This one is borrowed directly from improv training and is highly relevant to online meetings. ‘Say yes’ to people’s ideas. This does not mean you have to go along with and agree with them, it is more that you let them know that you have heard them and validate their point of view. A simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘good point’ is enough to empower people to contribute more.

5.  Breakout rooms.

a compfortable table and chairs

If your platform allows sending people into breakout rooms, this is an excellent way of keeping things interesting for participants. Devise a section where people go and chat in twos or threes and then come back to present their conclusions or discussions to the rest of the group. This is far more powerful than I would have thought and really keeps people engaged. Do set very clear instructions though, to avoid groups wandering off course.

6. Use the chat

text chat on a screen

If you have the capability then make use of the group text chat function. It is a great way of allowing person to person comments, allowing people to agree or disagree without disrupting the flow of the conversation and letting people know about upcoming breaks, timings or other information.

7. Take breaks

bench in the countryside

take a break

We all know that screen fatigue is real and that people need breaks in order to stay focussed. Factor in your breaks and let people know when they are. That way you will not have people sneak off to the loo with their webcams off. As facilitator you should always be the last to leave and the first back from a break to allow for chatting or other issues to be discussed.

Some of the best engagement takes place when people feel they are in off-duty mode. We often find the conversations springing up towards the end of the break as everyone re-joins are amongst the most authentic. Try and keep that vibe going as you pick up the agenda again.

8. Use screen share or file share for your resources

music editing software on a screen

If you have graphs, lists or other printed resources then use the screenshare or file-share functionality so that everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time. It is hopeless to try to get everyone to watch the same video on their own devices and it will disengage the group. Try to keep everyone in the online space participating in what is happening and do not give them reasons to look at a different screen or use a different app

9. Look into your webcam

a webcam

Eye contact is so important when trying to keep people’s attention.  While it may be counter-intuitive, try to look directly into your webcam when addressing people online.  You can look at them when they are talking.  This takes some practise as in real life meetings we can look at people and talk to them! Even if your webcam is embedded in your screen, try to find out where to look to be most convincing.  Ask a friend to experiment with you beforehand to see where your most powerful gaze is for holding people’s attention.

10. Organise an Improv session before your meeting!

woman looking at computer screen

Of course I would say this being an improv zealot, but genuinely it takes time and a series of varying interactions for people to become comfortable online and feel they believe the reality of the situation. Improv games are a superb way of bonding and actively engaging a group of people online. At the very least, as facilitator you can have people begin with an improv-flavoured energiser. But for those big cross-continent meetings of significance, a one hour online improv session will get your group buzzing, laughing and engaged, ready for whatever you need them to pay attention to. These sessions double as a bit of fun and together time too.

If you would like to join in with our online improv sessions or book one of our expert facilitators to really engage your group then get in touch.


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