Meetings Going Nowhere

Has it really been eight months since we shifted to a different way of working?  Somehow…it has!   In fact, it’s been long enough that email tags have shifted from “working from home” to “back at work,” “in and out of the office” and “still at home.”

We’ve talked to people through the different iterations of virtual work, and some interesting trends have emerged around how people work and communicate with each other.

In March, the early response we heard was: “This really works!” “This is great.” “We got this.” “We’re much more effective than we thought we would be.”

At the time, we assumed virtual work was going well because people knew the work they needed to do.  Big initiatives were already in place for 2020.  Most people were in a phase of execution, and once home, they focused on the things they had to do.

Fast forward six months, and the insights have shifted significantly.  Now we hear:

  • “This is really hard to do.”
  • “It’s impossible to get the input you need.”
  • “I feel like I’m missing direction.”
  • “I’m so sick of working alone.”

People hear about others going back to work and seem envious. They say they want to go back to the office.  I think they really want to go back to working with each other. Because one consistent theme we’re heard all along is: virtual communication is harder.

People say:

  • “There’s just no response when you lead a meeting.”
  • “I can’t get people to participate.”
  • “It takes twice as long to get a decision.”
  • “I’m always misunderstood.”

And it’s why we’ve dubbed this a trend: meetings going nowhere.

Virtual meetings aren’t as effective as they need to be.  In fact, they seem a little chaotic when you ask people what’s going wrong.

  • “There are too many people talking.”
  • “Agendas aren’t clear.”
  • “No one seems sure what the point of the meeting is.”
  • “There are too many people in the meeting.”
  • “No one seems to be in charge.”

A virtual meeting is different than an in-person meeting.  It can be run effectively, but it takes a lot more work to get it organized.  And even though it’s been eight months, few people have built a skill set for leading virtual meetings well. They’re relying on skills they’ve used for years, and from a listener’s perspective, they don’t translate well.

Here’s the root cause: while the “work from home” setting made everything about communication feel more impromptu and casual, it’s actually the opposite. An effective virtual meeting requires more structure to keep a group focused and on task. The discussion itself may be informal, but it takes work to get a group involved.


Here are a few of the differences that we’re helping managers and leaders consider.


This is the hardest format to transfer to a virtual setting.  Hard to believe, because most people love these meetings! They start with a few concepts and quickly build to some great ideas.  It’s the strength of an in-person discussion, and it works because people are 100% focused on being in the room, and they build off of energy and enthusiasm of others. People are very visible, and they work hard to contribute. In fact, they feel a little pressure to show up well.

Virtually, it’s much harder to build on ideas and attach to someone else’s energy. Instead, we tend to stay wedded to our own thought and we just reinforce it when we have an opportunity to speak. And reflection time is dead time in a virtual meeting. If you tell a group to take 10 minutes to write down their thoughts, they’re more likely to take ten minutes and get a snack.

A virtual discussion has to have guardrails and direction to be productive. A virtual group does better with choices of concepts and focused work on supporting a recommendation for a choice versus trying to come up with the broader concepts.

We learned this ourselves as we transitioned to virtual workshops. We gave groups one of  our standard exercises and quickly saw they did very little with it. When we modified the scope of the exercise to making a choice between options, they were able to collaborate better. They needed defined roles and specific instructions of what to do. Their input was very good, but they got there differently.

The same may be true of your discussion sessions.


Do more of this for virtual meetings. Everyone seems exhausted and overworked, but people miss connection. And it will simplify your discussion if you have people work together prior to the meeting instead of in the meeting.

Plan ahead and assign partners to discuss prework together. It’s a benefit from both perspectives. This makes the large meeting discussion easier on the leader because you have reduced the input by half. And, it ensures everyone feels heard because they shared perspective with a partner prior to the larger meeting.


It’s the routine meetings that people dislike the most. The feedback is lack of structure, lack of direction and just no real takeaways. If you’re leading standing meetings, you owe it to a group to improve the takeaways.

Meetings have become more transactional in a virtual setting, but people still want to feel as if their attendance mattered.  It takes more formality and structure to help it run well.

Our rule of thumb is cover less. Simplicity over complexity. These virtual meetings are a hybrid of conference calls and in-person meetings. There’s still a lot of clunkiness in how we experience each other online. So, keep it simple.

Agree on a flow of an agenda and stick to it in every meeting. A consistent structure makes it easier to follow a meeting and easier to hear what’s being said. Agree on how to participate. It’s like learning a new game. Give everybody the rules, and they’ll get a little better each time you hold a meeting.


Companies may have sent the wrong message about the video early on. It was with the best of intentions because they knew that people were dealing with a lot in their homes. But the camera is a signal of focus. It says, “I’m here and focused on this conversation.”

No camera or darkness around someone’s name, says the person isn’t fully there.

And it changes the very essence of communication: Connection. No matter what your role is in a meeting, turn the video on and be fully there as a communicator.


We aren’t as chaotic as we were eight months ago. We’re working differently and we’ve learned a lot from our experiences. If your company is headed into another six months or more of virtual meetings, then learning to lead a meeting that’s going somewhere will be an important skill in 2021.

If you’d like a little help resetting your annual planning session or your team’s routine  meetings, we can help you transition to an effective virtual model.

Call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson

Bringing Impact through Compelling Communication

Original post: Sally Williamson & Associates is the proud recipient of Top Leadership Development Training/Coaching Provider 2020

A leader or a manager may be highly qualified and skilled in his chosen field, but his abilities become irrelevant without competent communication skills. At Sally Williamson & Associates (SW&A), Sally Williamson and her team help rising leaders at all levels strengthen communication influence and impact across their organization. The company undertakes training programs and executive presence coaching, to teach the fundamentals and finer nuances of effective communication, and create better leaders.

In an interview with CIO Application, Sally Williamson, President and founder of SW&A shares her insights on effective communication, and how  their training programs  and coaching can improve communication strategies. As a leading resource for improving the impact of spoken communications, Williamson has been coaching leaders for more than thirty years. Her team specializes in executive coaching and developing custom programs for groups across company verticals. By working with professionals to better understand their listener’s expectations, SW&A can coach  a communicator to influence people with a compelling storyline and personal style that drives engagement.

What spurred the conception of SW&A?

I founded SW&A when I realized the gap between training and coaching in the marketplace. We are one of the few firms in the training industry that combines both concepts to not only introduce skills but to help a person adapt skills to their communication situations. Communication is a durable skill that all organizations look for, and it is an essential skill of leadership.

In the early stages of a person’s career, if someone can express their ideas with confidence, they move up the career ladder quickly. For mid-level managers, clarity of communication is essential to manage people and processes. And for senior leaders, the expectations of communication increase significantly as employees and customers expect a compelling leader who can build trust, understanding and conviction behind ideas.

What are some of the recent trends that you have witnessed in the leadership development space?

The trend we see is urgency. Companies need leaders ready to lead, and new managers ready to manage right now. The skills haven’t changed; it’s the timing that has intensified in terms of having someone ready to step into a role. And, it’s why we have two delivery models: executive coaching and group workshops. Through workshops, we teach the foundational skills for future leaders and through coaching, we strengthen consistency and impact for someone who is already leading.

Tell us more about the services you offer and how do you deliver the same?

We deliver our services through group workshops, and one-on-one coaching programs.

When you work on communication skills, it comes down to content development, what someone plans to say, and personal delivery skills, how someone comes across when they say it.

We teach foundational skills for creating content and building personal confidence, and then we support that foundation with a number of situational tools to help someone apply the fundamentals in many different ways.

What sets us apart in the marketplace is a deep bench of expertise. Our coaches share the intent of communication rather than just the techniques.  And that means that we bring  knowledge from our research and our insights on what it takes to drive impact with listeners. While we often focus on communication in a classroom format, no one on our team started their career as an instructor. Instead, we were in roles that required clarity and influence and we have leveraged that experience into our coaching relationships.

Historically, our workshops run one-two days, and our coaching engagements are tailored to the needs of the coachee.  In 2020, many of our programs shifted  to a virtual format, and we now have the capability to deliver all of our services as a series of sessions with small group breakouts and coaching circles.

How do you measure the outcomes of your programs?

We start with the rating of the workshop by participants. We capture a self-assessment of skills at the start of the program and the completion of the program. We also have an online practice tool that allows us to track frequency of practice and the tools being leveraged by an individual. In our custom programs, we provide managers with tools for ongoing coaching and support. And if we’ve worked with a group on messaging as well as personal delivery, we can also design a customer survey to measure effectiveness of content and style.

Could you narrate an instance that highlights the benefits brought to one of your clients, through your coaching program?

One of our clients was a specialized group of technologists. They were the most senior technical team within the organization and a quiet resource to a top leader. With an abrupt shift in leadership, the senior sponsor was gone and the group had no visibility and no executive support. The technical leader feared that her team would be dissolved.

She sought help to build the storyline that elevated their role and their results within the organization. She knew they had to resell their value to the leadership team and build greater awareness across the organization. We worked with the team to build a story that highlighted their expertise and raised awareness of their impact. We built a strategy with their communications team to raise their visibility among colleagues and we helped each technologist gain confidence in sharing that story in multiple settings.

Within about six months, the group had established visibility within the company and had begun to establish value with the leadership team. Within a year, the group had doubled in size and was managing three times the amount of work for the full leadership team.

What is SW&As future roadmap and how do you stay ahead of the competition?

We always align ourselves with our client’s priorities and pain points. We learn a lot through relationships and discussions about expectations. One client may lead us to their priorities, and over a period of time, we begin to see a trend developing across a number of clients.

We’re able to share commonalities and bring conversations together as we position our response to a trend.

A great example was the pandemic. No one really understood the nuances of virtual communication and the balance of similarities and differences. We quickly pulled our learnings together and created a Virtual Communicator course to help our clients navigate the new normal.

We’re also underway with our fourth book on career disruption. The trends that we see are more frequent shifts in careers and roles.  So, whether you create your own disruption or are impacted by a company’s disruption, we believe professional development and skills of influence are ingredients that people need to take ownership for themselves. The book sets up the research to validate the trend and provides our insight and coaching on how to reset your personal brand and your professional career.