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When you were younger, you were probably taught by parents, teachers, and friends not to interrupt when other people are speaking. And for the most part, that's advice worth following -- except when it comes to meetings.
We've all been part of a meeting at work where you can't get in any ideas or feedback of your own because the conversation is being dominated by one or two people in the room. This dynamic can be avoided by designating a meeting facilitator, who's responsible for following the meeting agenda and engaging other participants in the conversation.
For your remote team members who are participating in meetings via video conferencing software, it can be even more challenging to find a moment to join the conversation. Between side chatter taking place in the conference room and unsteady WiFi, interruptions are inevitable in order for remote meeting participants to join the conversation.
In this post, we'll offer strategies for politely interrupting a meeting to bring your ideas to the table -- without disrupting the flow of the conversation -- as well as meeting facilitation suggestions that make conversations more inclusive in the first place.
The best way to make sure interruptions don't derail a meeting is to prevent the need for interrupting at all. A meeting facilitator should always be named for meetings with remote participants, and/or meetings with three or more participants, to prevent people from talking over each other, or from one or two people monopolizing the discussion. The meeting facilitator should be responsible for running the meeting agenda in a timely manner and engaging participants they see trying to jump in by asking them to speak. Meeting facilitators help meetings run more efficiently and keep the conversation focused on goals and next steps.
If the meeting you're holding is large -- with 10 or more participants, multiple of whom are tuning into the meeting remotely -- in addition to a facilitator, you may need an "on-call" participant in the room who can flag any issues remote participants are experiencing to the rest of the room. That way, remote participants can immediately get in touch if they're unable to hear or see speakers in the room, or if they need to get in a word edgewise. The in-room advocate can simply say "Sophia on the Zoom call has something to add here," whenever a lull in conversation occurs -- something that's tougher to perceive remotely than it is in-person.
Many video conferencing software have features that allow remote participants to virtually raise their hands in the conference room. Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToWebinar, and BlueJeans all offer ways for virtual participants to "raise their hand" and indicate to the host that they're ready to speak.
If you have to interrupt during a meeting, do so in a way that doesn't derail someone else's train of thought. Wait until you hear or see a signal that the topic of conversation is about to shift, and politely say, "Before we go in a different direction, I have something to add." Your idea will be better-received in-the-moment than 10 minutes later, when the conversation has moved onto a different subject, and interrupting transition phrases is more polite than interrupting anything of greater substance.
To ensure that the meeting allows remote participants or quieter folks to get their two cents in, build a meeting agenda that provides for time at the end for unstructured contributions and additional ideas. That way, nobody will have to interrupt the conversation at all, and time will be set aside specifically for those who haven't had time to speak much thus far in the meeting.=
Additionally, remote participants can use physical gestures to indicate that they're ready to speak to attract in-room participants' attention. You can kick things old school -- literally -- by raising your hand to be called on by someone in the room when there's a pause in conversation.
To help with this, Owl Labs has created Meeting Cue Cards that remote participants in the U.S. can hold up to their webcam that will reflect on the TV screens or computers in the conference room. You can pick up a deck for $5 and gift them to your remote team members so they can politely -- and silently -- interrupt your next video meeting:
To learn more, read about the cost of meetings next.