The 3 meeting attendees you don’t want to meet online

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Online meetings and conferences tend to be less formal than conventional ones. Perhaps because we are aware of the distance, or because of the relaxed atmosphere, especially for those calling from home, we tend to be more casual, even laid-back.

But things can go too far sometimes. I’ve attended a conference where an attendee kept popping up and disappearing several times throughout the session (sound was on), and another where somebody was clipping their nails (the person was on mute but forgot to turn off their video)!

Have you attended a virtual meeting with people like these? Here are three other characters you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a meeting with:

  1. The Interrupter

    The Interrupter is someone who talks over anyone who is speaking. This is distracting because when two or more people talk at the same time on a call, everyone just hears noise. This doesn’t stop the Interrupter. They’ll just continue to speak, sometimes even louder. Another form of Interrupter is the attendee who doesn’t put their mic on mute. As a result, everyone can hear them shuffling paper, clicking their mouse, or sipping coffee. You can also expect to hear a dog barking, water running, and other background noises from time to time.

    How we see the Interrupter: This person will be labelled rude even if it is not their intention. Anyone can be an Interrupter and not know it. The lack of visual cues on a call can make it hard to know when to chime in. Also, poor internet connection can be a factor. It can cause your audio or video feed to lag so there’s a delay or overlap when you respond.

    How not to be the Interrupter:

    • Wait for the current speaker to be done before you comment or ask a question.
    • If you really need to comment right away, consider using the chat box.
    • If you must say something, preface it by saying “Excuse me” or “Sorry to interrupt”. Pause before talking to give the speaker time to finish their sentence or to stop. This way, you won’t be talking over each other.
    • Put your mic on mute when not talking.
  2. The Jack or Jill-of-all-Trades

    The Jack or Jill-of-all-trades is the person who is distracted because they’re multi-tasking. They will be there but they’ll be typing, reading or watching other material on the computer. Others may be yawning, stretching, or talking to other people beyond the screen. You’ll see them look at the camera only when someone speaks directly to them or if the topic is about them or their work.

    How we see the Jack or Jill-of-all-trades: They don’t want to be there and they’re not interested. They are sending the message that they’re too busy. They have better things to do than attending the meeting.

    How not to be the Jack or Jill-of-All-Trades:

    • Check the agenda before attending. Ask to be exempted if there are no items that concern you or have an impact on your job responsibilities.
    • Don’t go to the meeting if you have the option not to attend.
    • If you’re required to attend, do your best to stay focused. You might learn something new or be able to suggest a good idea.
    • Look at the camera, not the screen. Show that you are engaged in the discussion by nodding, smiling or reacting.
  3. The Storyteller

    The Storyteller likes to dominate the discussion. This is the person who shares long-winded and often pointless stories. They talk about items beyond the agenda or topic. The Storyteller also has the tendency to repeat whatever has been said. This stretches the meeting beyond the time necessary.

    How we see the Storyteller: Storytellers love to talk! We love them for being bubbly and cheerful but only up to a point. It can be exasperating when they take up too much time or if they prevent everyone from achieving the meeting goals (or going back to work).

    How not to be The Storyteller:

    • Small talk is a great opportunity to catch up with each other and start the meeting on a positive note. It can also ease the feeling of isolation when teams work from home. However, know when it is time to get down to business.
    • Remember that time is precious. Be mindful of the agenda.
    • Participating is great but give everyone an equal opportunity to speak.
    • Consider having a separate video call if you have more stories to share with your co-workers.
    • The most interesting people are those who are brief and concise when they speak. Remember this when you’re speaking whether online or in-person.

Want to know more online meeting etiquette? Read Virtual meeting etiquette every professional should know and practice.
Sources: 7 blunders to avoid in virtual meetings, Greg Nathan, Franchise Business Executive; and The do’s and don’ts of video conferencing etiquette, Anita George, ABC News. Accessed July 29, 2020.

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