Online meetings

Online meetings

Although teleconferencing and video-conferencing have been around for a long time, the restrictions introduced during the pandemic have meant that online meetings and events are now much more common.

Online meetings can accommodate participants numbering from just a few right up to several hundred, and offer a range of ways for people to interact with each other.

  • Time to do: ideally not more than 2 hours
  • Staff: Participants may need help to set up
  • Cost: £ (both MS Teams and Zoom are free to download and use; paid versions offer additional functionality)
  • Equipment: internet connected device such as a smartphone, tablet or computer
  • individuals
  • small groups
  • large groups
  • at a distance

Number of participants: Zoom allows a maximum of 100 participants in the free version. MS Teams can accommodate several hundred participants, depending on your license. Both apps can display up to 49 participants on screen in Gallery View if using the desktop app; the mobile and web apps have a limit of 9 participants on screen.

How to do it

  • Choose the right platform. Microsoft Teams and Zoom are the most widely-known, but there are many to choose from. Many are very similar, so pick the platform that has the access and features that best suits you and your audience.
  • One key part of meeting preparation is creating an agenda. This will help everyone come to the meeting on the same page and keep participants focused on priorities.
  • Keep online meetings and events as short as possible, ideally no more than 2 hours. You should also factor in regular comfort and coffee breaks when planning the agenda and share these timings with the participants. Think about using ice breaker activities to help people get more comfortable.
  • Ask participants well before the event if there is anything that would make the meeting more accessible for them, such as having the presentations sent in advance or a doing practice call. At the start of the call, tell participants about the available accessibility features – for example interpretation, live captions or accessible documents.
  • Before the meeting, find a quiet environment where you can limit distractions. Use headphones to minimize background noise and prevent audio feedback.
  • If you’re working with new conferencing software, do a test run beforehand.
  • Keep the pace of your online meeting a bit slower than in-person meetings as there can be a 2- to 3-second delay for most systems to communicate.
  • If you’re not sharing your screen and need to describe something remote participants can’t see, try to be extra descriptive. This will help you communicate clearly and effectively.
  • Take great notes. Good note-taking is something all meetings can benefit from. If you want to take shared notes during an in-person meeting, a virtual whiteboard is a useful tool.
  • Offer as many ways to interact as you can. Explore what functionality your platform allows, such as polls, chat, whiteboards, raising a hand and so on. Regular interactions throughout a call ensures participants can have a say and helps to maintain their interest.
  • Before the end of the meeting, ask everyone to recap the action items that they are responsible for. This is a way to make sure nothing was missed and ensure accountability. The extra clarity is especially helpful when you can’t see facial expressions or body language.
  • Save any debrief for a different call. You don’t want remote attendees to overhear something you didn’t mean to share because they hadn’t left the online meeting.
  • Share notes, actions, links, presentations and recordings with participants as soon as possible after the call ends
  • Ask for feedback. Online polls and chat boxes are great for gathering quick feedback and can help you improve future meetings.

Be prepared

The number one tip for successful online meetings is to be prepared – even more so that you would need to be for face-to-face meetings. Test your set-up to make sure you know how to use breakout rooms, display presentations and interact with participants.

  1. Have several people supporting the event
  2. Send out information beforehand
  3. Remind people about the meeting
  4. Be careful about inadvertently sharing data

Top tips for online meetings

1. Be prepared

The number one tip for successful online meetings is to be prepared – even more so that you would need to be for face-to-face meetings.

Test your set-up beforehand to make sure you know how to use breakout rooms, display presentations and interact with participants.

You need to have several people supporting the event.

The chair, or host, is in charge of the agenda, facilitates the meeting and gives clear instructions to participants about etiquette and how the meeting will run.

A meeting support person monitors the chat box, checks if participants wish to contribute and can act as an advocate, reading out questions or comments from participants who are not confident or comfortable taking part.

There should also be a technical support person whom participants can contact if they have any technical problems before or during the event.

Send out information beforehand

Including joining instructions and any materials for participants to look at in advance

  • If you’ll be holding a discussion, sharing the questions beforehand gives participants time to think about the topic and can help them to concentrate on what others are saying.
  • Photographs and short biographies of the people taking part will help participants recognise others in the meeting and is especially useful if people have never met in person. Information about people’s roles and why they are involved can make the meeting more welcoming for members of the public.
  • Give clear instructions about how people can take part. Should they have their microphone muted? Should they have their video turned on or off – and is it ok for them not to use video if that makes them uncomfortable? Will there be a chat box for typing comments and questions? How can participants indicate that they wish to speak?

By describing how the meeting is going to work, participants can flag up any difficulties in advance and allow these to be addressed in time.

Remind people about the meeting a day or two beforehand

When people have to travel to a meeting, they tend to plan for it – but it is easy to forget an online meeting during the daily routine.

Be careful about inadvertently sharing data

Check the security settings are correct. Be aware that email addresses may be displayed in the participant list on some platforms. Do not share meeting details on social media. Advise participants to check what can be seen in the background on video calls.

Find more tips on our website:

Involve everyone

A successful online meeting involves everyone.

  1. Log on 30 minutes early
  2. Create a welcoming environment
  3. Start with an icebreaker
  4. Give clear instructions and housekeeping information
  5. Introduce the speakers
  6. Asking questions
  7. Be strict about having breaks
  8. Keep the meeting short

Top Tips for Online Meetings

2. Involve everyone

A successful online meeting involves everyone.

Log on 30 minutes early

This gives time to test the video and audio and to upload presentations or papers. A holding slide can remind participants about meeting etiquette and display photos and biographies of the main speakers. It is a good idea to have someone there to welcome people as they log in and help with any technical issues.

Create a welcoming environment

Use the pre-meeting time as an informal space for participants to introduce themselves and get comfortable.

Start with an icebreaker

This can be done before the meeting to give people a chance to get to know each other – or at the start of the meeting. Ask people a simple question which they can answer in the chat box, or hold a quick poll.

Give clear instructions and housekeeping information

Remind people of things that will help the meeting to run smoothly. Should they put microphones on mute when not talking? Should they have their camera on or off? Are you using the chat box, “raise hand” functionality and so on?

Will presentations be shared after the meeting? Will you be recording the meeting? What will happen to the recording?

The larger the meeting, the more strict these instructions have to be.

Introduce the speakers

Ideally you will have shared photos and biographies of the speakers in advance so participants know if there will be more than one speaker. Signal changes in speaker clearly to avoid confusion.

Asking questions

A general question to all participants can result in several people talking over each other, or else an uncomfortable silence. Start the conversation with a direct question to a named individual and encourage the others to use the chat box.

Be strict about having breaks

Tell people when the breaks are going to be so that if necessary they can plan their support around these times.

Keep the meeting short

People’s attention easily wanders online. Keep meetings as short as possible and use different methods to keep people engaged – including presentations, videos, polls and breakout sessions.

Aim to have something changing on-screen every 30 seconds or so.

Find more tips on our website:

Learn from the experience

Running a successful online meeting doesn’t stop when the meeting ends.

  1. Save what you need
  2. Follow up with participants
  3. Involve everyone, especially those who were unable to take part during the meeting
  4. Ask participants how you can make it better
  5. Learn from your experiences
  6. Share your learning with us

Top Tips for Online Meetings

3. Learn from the experience

Running a successful online meeting doesn't stop when the meeting ends.

Save what you need

As the organiser, make sure you have a copy of everything you need before you close down the meeting. Have you annotated or added to any of the documents you shared? Have you saved the results of any polls? A transcript of the chat box can be useful for incorporating into meeting notes or minutes.

Follow up with participants

Remember to close the loop with everyone who attended the meeting. Send copies of presentations, document and recordings as soon as you can, and remind people of actions that were agreed.

Involve everyone

If any participants indicated that they were uncomfortable speaking out during the meeting, or unable to use the chat box, contact them individually after the meeting to gather their views and feedback.

Ask participants how you can make it better

Contact them a week later and ask for suggestions for how to improve. What would have made things easier or more engaging for them?

Learn from your experiences

Use the feedback from people to shape your meetings in the future. Tell people what has changed as a result of their contributions.

Engaging Differently

Share your learning with us. We are collecting examples of how health and care services are overcoming physical distancing restrictions and continuing to engage meaningfully with communities at a distance.

Go to to tell us your experiences and top tips.


  • Greater audience reach: experience has shown you can connect with more participants
  • Reduced barriers to participation due to geography
  • Reduced barriers to participation due to physical accessibility
  • Reduced travel time and costs
  • Reduction in carbon emissions
  • Lower operating costs such as venue hire, catering and printing
  • Greater engagement: experience has shown that delegates may be more likely to interact virtually than in person


  • Participant ability to access and use the internet, relevant technology and software.
  • Ensuring online events are inclusive and open to all, such as for individuals with sensory loss, people for whom English is not their first language and so on.

Image credit: Scottish Recovery Network

Last Updated: 30 September 2021