Reading The Virtual Room + More Tips For Successful Online Meetings

Dan Hughes
January 16, 2024

As you have heard us say before, solution architecture is primarily a facilitation activity, and facilitation requires reading the reactions of your stakeholders. More and more companies are now supporting remote working, with employees and clients spread across a range of locations. Therefore, you need to sharpen your skills at running virtual meetings and reading the virtual room!

The last situation you want is for your attendees to feel like your meeting was a waste of time. We provided assorted guidance on scheduling meetings, running meetings, and memorializing meetings in notes. Now let's "improve your game" at those virtual meetings.

Reading the Virtual Room

Some participating on a web conference and reading the virtual room

Reading the room is one of the most important elements of running a successful virtual meeting: you can't fix what you can't measure. When you are running a meeting, the action most likely to improve your meeting is for you to remind yourself that the other people in the meeting are always more important than you. Therefore, paying attention to your attendees and how they are feeling in the meeting is paramount. This is always more difficult when you are meeting with people on a virtual web conference, and you lose direct access to body language and facial expressions. Here are some techniques for reading that virtual room.

Encourage the Use of Video

The first step in gauging interest in your online meetings is to ensure everyone has their webcam turned on. Although it might seem obvious, it’s difficult to read the virtual room and pick up on certain cues through voice calls alone. You need to be aware of your company's culture around video and be understanding of people's specific situations, but seeing people can really be a game changer, so encourage video participation.

Being able to see the people you’re speaking to allows you to visually observe non-verbal cues such as gestures, posture, facial expressions, and signs of active listening. These details are important for interpreting engagement.

Having the webcam turned on also nurtures a personal connection and rapport-building. It makes your meetings more collaborative, and you’ll be able to tell if someone is paying attention or if they are distracted. You should lead the way on your end, even if others are not joining you!

Listen to People's Tone of Voice

Another key tip is to listen to people’s tone when they speak during your meetings. It’s important to tune into not only what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it too. Listen to the way their voice changes e.g. how fast they talk, how loud they are, or the pitch of their voice. 

For example, if someone's voice goes up and down a lot, they might be curious or not sure about something. A strong, steady voice usually means they get it and agree. Also, notice how long they pause or the flow of their words. If someone speaks slowly or hesitates, they might be confused or have questions. But if they're talking smoothly and quickly, it's likely they understand and are excited. 

Listening to these hints helps you figure out if your message is clear to everyone or if you need to change things up. This way, you can make sure everyone is involved and on the same page.


Focus on Facial Expressions 

For step three, focus on the facial expressions of people who are in the virtual meeting. Keep a close eye on cues like someone raising an eyebrow, this could mean they are surprised or not fully understanding what you are saying. A nod and a smile could be a good sign they agree or understand what is being discussed. 

But it's not just the obvious expressions you should look out for, like an eye roll! Pay attention to the small details too… A quick frown, a puzzled look, or even a glance away from the camera can give you real insight into what people are thinking.

By keeping an eye on these visual hints, you'll get a better feel for the mood of the meeting and how your points are landing. This helps you adapt as you go, making sure your virtual meeting is as effective and engaging as it can be.

Have A Colleague Monitor the Room


As the presenter, you may be busy and focused on what you’re doing to read teh virtual room. Therefore, it may help to have a colleague with you who can watch the room while you present. Have them monitor the feedback they’re seeing and hearing from the audience and give you tips as you go to help improve the experience for everyone. They may see or hear certain elements that you may overlook or not be aware of because you’re busy presenting the information to the group. This person can also help keep you on schedule and a timeline so you get through all the content and keep your meeting running smoothly and efficiently.

Welcome Silence

When leading a virtual meeting, don't shy away from those moments of quiet. These pauses can be golden opportunities for you to gather feedback from your audience. It's in these silent intervals that you can get a sense of how your presentation is landing and how your participants are processing the information.

Think of silence as an ally in your virtual meetings. Sure, it might feel a bit awkward at first, but, it can open up space for people to reflect on what's been said. During these times, you might notice someone starting to nod their head in agreement or gearing up to ask a question.

So, don't rush to fill every gap with words. Sometimes, the best way to read the room and gauge interest is to simply pause, watch, and listen. This quiet space can also encourage more thoughtful responses and interactions, making your virtual meetings more effective.

More Tips For Successful Online Meetings

To make your virtual meetings more impactful, engaging, and beneficial here are some additional tips to improve the overall experience for everyone moving forward. These build on the general tips we provided for running effective meetings.

  1. Ask for Feedback: Don’t hesitate to directly request feedback. Ensure everyone can hear and see you, and check if any technical issues are occurring. If using visuals, confirm their visibility or send copies in advance. Use feedback to adjust your presentation and maintain attention.
  2. Keep Meetings Interactive: Maintain engagement by asking questions and encouraging participation to keep meetings interactive. Have a list of attendees' names to address them directly and include activities like polls to keep everyone involved.
  3. Send A Survey After the Meeting: Gather feedback post-meeting to assess what went well and areas for improvement. Use responses constructively to enhance future meetings.
  4. Make It Inclusive: Ensure everyone has a chance to contribute. Be mindful of different time zones, provide materials in accessible formats, and create an environment where all feel comfortable speaking up.
  5. Adapt to Social Signals: Pay attention to cues like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Adjust your approach based on these signals to keep the meeting aligned with the participants' needs.
  6. Use Breakout Rooms: For larger meetings, consider using breakout rooms to facilitate smaller group discussions. This can encourage more participation and deeper engagement.
  7. Set Clear Objectives: Begin with a clear agenda and objectives. This sets expectations and keeps the meeting focused and productive.
  8. Incorporate Visual Aids: Use slides, videos, diagrams (our favorite), or other visual aids to enhance understanding and keep the meeting visually stimulating.
  9. Limit Meeting Duration: Keep meetings concise to maintain attention. Longer meetings should have scheduled breaks.
  10. Use a Brainstorming Board: Use of a digital whiteboard or even a shared document (or, er, diagram) can keep people engaged and encourage participation.


As the presenter and person in charge of the virtual "room," it’s up to you to ensure your meeting runs well, and to do that successfully you need to do your best to read the room and keep everyone engaged. Hopefully, these ideas will help you read the virtual room and run a successful online meeting so those involved feel pleased and satisfied with the outcome and that it was all worth everyone’s time.

Most importantly, be open, friendly, and inclusive in your meeting so the whole group feels comfortable participating and speaking up to letting you know what they need and how you’re doing.

Dan is the founder of Wittij Consulting. Prior to founding Wittij, he spent a decade in software development before moving into IT architecture, where he created an Open Group recognized architecture method and led delivery of all services for a company specializing in enterprise and solution architecture for 15 years. He is an energetic, thoughtful leader with an ability to engage and motivate people, and has been called a “force multiplier” for his ability to not only deliver great value, but also increase the value and capability of the people around him. Dan is a strong facilitator, able to understand and resolve complex disagreements with diplomacy. He comprehends and communicates clearly both at the detail level and the boardroom summary level to both business and technical audiences. His knowledge of enterprise techniques and technologies is broad and deep, and includes industry expertise in manufacturing, financial services, banking, health care, insurance, regulatory compliance, and NGOs.
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