In a virtual meeting, both psychological and technical barriers are in play that can keep people from contributing to the conversation. You can fix this by introducing a little structure and by counting to 10.


You’re speaking in or moderating a virtual meeting. You want to have a discussion, but attention span, A/V quality and the pace of the meeting keep people from contributing. A typical symptom is that only a few people lead a conversation while others doze off and leave the meeting feeling unsatisfied.

Your expectation was that each participant would leave well informed, with a gratifying feeling that their voices have been heard.


In a typical group discussion, power dynamics and authority leave some people cautious of contribution. As the facilitator, it’s first and foremost your responsibility to invite only people who should be on the call to be there. The harder part is then making sure that these fellow collaborators feel comfortable enough to contribute to the discussion or to speak up if they have any questions.

A virtual meeting also comes with trivial technical hurdles. Take for example the un-muting of microphones when a group is sitting together at one location1, working with a conference room set-up without individual headsets. In a setup like this, just to avoid disrupting the flow of the conversation, you find yourself treading on eggshells. This can ultimately keep people from contributing.

But even worse, if technical issues affect the call (which is usually the case), the odds are that others will fail to comprehend what you’re saying. Not only this, but as long as the technical problem reigns supreme, they cant even be heard to say they can’t hear you!

If the pace of the meeting does not allow for someone to speak up, the meeting will be very one-sided and you won’t get everyone on the same page.


Whenever you ask a question and no one seems to speak up immediately, silently count to 10.

Do you have any questions left about $YYY?
Alright, then we’ll continue with $ZZZ

But don’t stop there. If someone has already spoken up, once they finish, restart your count to 10 to ensure everyone in the group the chance to respond.

Thanks $PERSON. Anyone else would like to add something?
Alright, then we’ll continue with $ZZZ

This might seem awkward at first, but people will quickly notice that you’re merely providing space for other participants to chime in.

Related to A/V issues, it helps tremendously to account for technical difficulties right from the start:

Please tell me if the connection is bad. I’ll happily repeat whatever I said so you can hear me. Feel free to interrupt me if you find yourself being distracted for any reason.

This will frame the meeting in a way that not only makes people feel welcome, but also encourages them to speak up if they have they have difficulties understanding you - be it technical issues or you failing to bring across your point 😜.

While I found this pattern to work really well in virtual meetings, Embracing Awkward Silence can be a powerful pattern for framing face-to-face meetings or workshops as well.

From the Toolbox is a compilation of small practices, tools and life-hacks I collected over the years.

  1. A single remotee is usually less affected by this, as they can usually quickly mute and un-mute themselves.