You Heard it on the Radio – how not to bore in online meetings

The key to communication in an age of too much information is to remember how folks used to do things in the old






This is what Susan Fisher and David Lavenda call   “looking back to look forward”  in their series of Fast Company articles.

Take online meetings and conference calls – or rather don’t take them because you will be on mute. This article explains what we can learn about doing it better from the old masters of talking to people who are not there – the past stars of radio.


“Sorry, I was on mute. What did you say?”

If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard this in conference calls, you’d likely have retired years ago.

Online meetings are excruciatingly painful, riddled with bridges that don’t work, dropped calls, and people talking over one another.

So how can we do it better?

The answer might come from a century-old technology.

The need to connect with people who can’t see us was precisely the problem experienced by the early pioneers of radio. Radio was essentially a form of conference calling. The best radio announcers knew their audiences like friends and spoke to their audiences with charm, brought them close, and gave them a feeling of belonging. They were “reaching out” years before the term became fashionable.

Radio networks were not slow to realize the power of the radio, and they harnessed that power in the words, in the cadence, and in the music of speech.

That is just precisely the way we should run our online meetings. Here are six techniques taken from the world of radio that are guaranteed to improve the ratings of your online meetings:


Prepare to talk about things that interest your audience and address them as individuals. Think about your audience and talk to them in a way that takes into account their place (culture), personality, and preferences. Also, like a good call-in radio program, ask questions and make the call interactive.


Take the advice of the U.K.’s most popular mainstream radio broadcaster, Terry Wogan: “We’re not talking to an audience. You’re talking to one person and they’re only half-listening. It’s a mistake to think that everybody’s clinging to your every word.” Single out people on the call by name to keep them engaged.


Since you can’t see important gestures and body language on calls, all you have to go on is voice. Bring people close with your voice. Alistair Cooke had the knack for this. The veteran reporter presented “Letter from America,” his 15-minute radio broadcast, every week for 58 years between 1946 and 2004. Sir Harold Evans said of Cooke, “He unfailingly read his words into a microphone in such a beguiling manner it was as if you and he had just struck up a friendly conversation.”

The big secret is to treat people as if they are in the room with you; for example, talk about the weather, celebrate birthdays, or chat about real life. Speak with a smile in your voice; people will feel it.


A club’s collective memory, past experience, and shared rituals is what keeps its members coming back. This was one of the secrets that made people tune in to serialized radio programs week after week.

For today’s online meeting, create the feeling of a club by announcing who is present at the beginning of the call, welcome each member, introduce them, and add a few words about what each participant brings to the meeting. Create shared rituals, such as starting and finishing with a round of “greet and go.” Introduce weekly features to help build culture and common values. The best sign that this is working is shared laughter and a busy chat window.


Your job is to skillfully entertain, inform, and involve an audience you may never meet in person and convince them that you care. Garrison Keillor, presenter of the long running, much syndicated Prairie Home Companion, said “I feel obligated to do something for [my audience], just as you would be obligated to clean your house and make food if you had friends coming over.”

Compensate for not being able to see their body language, habits, and mood by listening hard. Remember the 1-2-3 rule for talking about tricky situations; namely, for every fact you mention, you should talk twice as much about the solution and three times as much about the relationship.


Remember, there is a huge gap between your colleagues putting you on mute and the total audience immersion of FDR, about whom Halberstam wrote, “If he was going to speak, the idea of doing something else was unthinkable.” Somewhere in that vast ether you can find your radio voice. And then, people may listen.


Managing Good ( ish ) Virtual Team Meetings

People don’t really like virtual team meetings.  The runaway success of this video makes that clear and the criticism has been a long time coming.

There are things you can do though and they are all connected to how real people like to communicate.

1.   Set ground rules for how your meetings are going to run.

2.  Ban the mute button at times when you want to get a real discussion going. You cannot hear laughter if everyone is on mute!

3.  Start and finish important weekly meetings with a “Greet and Go” ritual where you check in with everyone.

4. Accept that different timezones mean that people may be working from home. It does not matter if you can hear the kids
playing in the background. That’s life as much as work is.

Check out this advice and more from a Harvard Business Review blog article on the subject..

How To : Great Online Meetings

 How To: Great Online Meetings

The day to day reality of global cooperation, virtual teams and remote management is the online meeting. Just the pinging of the “has joined the meeting” chorus is enough to drive anyone crazy. So what is the answer? Less is much, much more: less of these meetings and keep them as short as possible. Like most meetings you get out what you put in, but the  key is to act as if people really are sitting in the room ……..

  • Start in the way that sets a good mood in the room.

  • Act as you would if they were in the room:  chat about real life, talk about the weather, ask people how they are – GIVE OF YOURSELF!

  • Show rather than tell  – use interesting slides, infographics and pictures.

  • Compensate for not being able to see everyone’s body language, habits and mood by listening hard and asking questions.

  • Let people know on chat a couple of minutes before you call on them to speak.

  • Remember the 1:2:3 FACT: FIX: FEEL rule for  online meetings where there is a challenge or conflict to discuss.

         For all the facts you mention, spend twice as long talking about the fix and     three times as long talking about how people feel about it .

  • Stand up if you are running the meeting. Your higher energy levels will be felt.

Online Meeting Coaching

The best way to improve your online meeting technique – particularly if you  have to present or lead these meetings – is to get some online coaching in the subject. Sessions are One-to-One Sessions of one and half hours each SIGN UP FOR A FREE HALF HOUR TASTER SESSION BELOW!!

Sign Up

Sign Up for a free half hour taster session!


We use Skype, Google + or Webex. All you need is a computer and/or phone.

( Not Another ) Online Meeting

The day to day reality of global cooperation, virtual teams and remote management is the online meeting. Just the pinging of the “has joined the meeting” chorus is enough to drive anyone crazy. This video shows it all…..

Ironically, the key to having a good ( or reasonable ) meeting is to act as if people really are sitting in the room ……..

Global Working Checklist

Working in a global organisation means working across cultures.

 This checklist will make sure you are aware of the main differences in cultures in common working situations. 

It is useful to get you up to speed quickly when you work with a new culture for the first time or anytime!

Your Culture

New Culture

1. Do people use first names or last names when they first meet?
2. How important is punctuality? Does everything start exactly on time?
3. How important is the tone of the emails people write?
4. Do people work well together  before developing personal relationships?
5. How important is socialising and hospitality?
6.Would you expect jokes and humour in working situations?
7. Do people use laptops, check or answer their phones etc. in meetings?
8. Do the most important conversations take place in or out of meetings?
9. Is the style of speaking direct or indirect?
10. Does everyone-contribute equally or does the boss dominate?
11. Do people know much about your colleagues’ families?

How Culture Influences Us At Work 4: People Interacting

The roles of men and how they should behave.

The roles of women and how they should behave.

The importance of harmony.

The importance of competition.

Social class system.

Hierarchy in business relationships.

The use of a third party.

Interaction between strangers.

How to interact with people in authority.

Crowd or audience behaviour.

The amount of socialising.

The role of the individual.

How decisions are taken.

How Culture Influences Us At Work 3: Communication

The language we speak.                    

What should be said, what should be left unsaid. 

What is appropriate “small talk”.

Whom we should speak to, whom we should not speak to.

Whether communication should be direct or indirect.

How much emotion should be expressed.

Whether conversation should be formal or informal – and where.

The meaning of facial expressions.

The meaning of hand gestures.

The meaning of nonverbal communication.

How often we smile, whom we smile at, and the meaning of a smile.

Negotiation styles.