Our ability to communicate face-to-face has been evolving for over 50,000 years. But even after all this time, misunderstandings happen regularly. With our limited experience of online meetings (Zoom, for example, was founded just 9 years ago) it’s not surprising that they are frequently so frustrating and ineffective.

The absence of any training in how to communicate well in this new environment implies that the same skills and good practices we use for in-person meetings also apply to remote meetings. This is incorrect and is why miscommunication happens so often during remote meetings.

To communicate effectively during remote meetings we require different protocols and revised expectations. We need a new way of doing things.

6S for remote meetings:


Remote meetings need a clear structure. What are the talking points? Who is expected to do what? Who is leading the meeting? What are the ground rules ….. muting? video on / off? participants can speak whenever they wish or only when invited to do so?


Online meetings should be slower. We need to speak more slowly and precisely, we need to be more deliberate, we need to give people more time to process what we’re saying. Less is more.


Online meetings need to be short; they require a high level of focus and concentration and are therefore tiring. Expect to achieve less than you would in the same amount of time during a face-to-face meeting.


Remote meetings need frequent summaries. Clarify and check understanding more often than you would in a face-to-face meeting. That may well mean ‘going around the virtual table’ to seek everyone’s input.


Using ‘screenshare’ improves engagement and understanding. It helps people to focus their concentration on one particular object.


Humans are fundamentally social animals and we work best when we have a personal relationship with our colleagues and customers. Create opportunities before / after the meeting for participants to ‘catch up’.

© SayWhatEnglish.com


  • Paul Stevens

    CEO, Mayflower College, Plymouth, UK

    Paul has been involved in English language training and testing for the past 30 years, specializing in Aviation English, Maritime English, Academic English and Business English. His latest project is SayWhatEnglish.com, looking at the communication process 'from the other side', at how native-English speakers can filter and simplify their English and have a better understanding of the challenges ESL speakers face.