How To Turn Lurkers Into Participants In Your Online Meeting

In most online communities, 90% of users are “lurkers” who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

But as leaders of real, live online meetings – meetings that involve building relationships between human beings as a well as passing on information – we need active participation.

Critically, we need people to speak: to ask questions, share ideas, offer feedback and so on, as well as fully-engaged listening, from people who can be seen to be listening.

One of the things about “lurkers” in an online community is that you don’t know they are there. That’s profoundly disruptive to psychological safety.

So, how might we turn lurkers into participants in a live online meeting? A quick brainstorm generated these ideas:

  • Don’t call it a “meeting” or a “webinar”, label it differently. For example: “Conversation to decide X”
  • Make participation explicit in the invitation. For example, “You will be expected to actively participate.”
  • Ensure everyone knows why they, specifically, are there
  • Ensure everyone knows how (technical/etiquette) to participate
  • Where relevant, use asynchronous social media to get participants introduced and connected beforehand
  • Use video!
  • Use warm-up and introductory activities
  • Actively invite participation throughout the call. This may mean inviting individuals to speak, by name.
  • Actively track participation. (One colleague makes a list of all participants in her notebook and places a tick alongside their name whenever they speak.)
  • Reward (don’t punish!) participation
  • Thank participants afterwards, giving specific feedback about what each person did that was helpful.

And, there’s a something to add from the science of persuasion. As Michael Pantalon points out in Instant Influence, one of the most compelling ingredients of  persuasion is to reinforce someone’s autonomy – the fact that nobody has to do anything, the choice is always theirs. 

He suggests making strong statements that reinforce personal autonomy. “You’re free to do whatever you want,” or “Only you can decide what you want to do. Of course, your choice will have consequences. But it’s still your choice to make—and your consequences to choose.”

These could be included in the invitation, and within the call. They could be made an explicit part of the set-up: for example, “People will sometimes be invited, by name, to speak. If that happens you prefer not to speak, feel free to say “Pass” and we’ll move on to someone else.”

Which of these ideas work for you? What other approaches have you tried? Please comment below. 

3 thoughts on “How To Turn Lurkers Into Participants In Your Online Meeting”

  1. Charmaine Barber

    Interesting post. I have a group of professional ladies on FB who have been through childhood emotional trauma which can range from having lost a parent or sibling to illness, to rape and incest. I have become disengaged from the group because I never got any feedback and they are all lurkers, I have 50 approximately now in the group. I have actually coached some of them before they became members.

    Any suggestions on how to approach a situation like this? I struggle myself with posting in the group because of it now. Also, it is such a serious topic that I feel unable to be myself in some ways, rather, I feel I need to be serious all the time. I come from a family where my mother became an alcoholic but feel relatively unscathed now after having worked through things.

    I keep thinking that maybe I should be coming at it from a different perspective.



  2. Great tips Judy!. I’m going to try this a couple bullet points at a time for my next few meetings. Starting off by renaming them to something other than ‘meetings’. We’ll see how it goes…

  3. @Charmaine I don’t set myself up as an expert in text-based interaction, which Facebook mostly is, but I have had lots of experience of getting these groups buzzing. Because of the 90-9-1 rule, they need to be quite large to have any chance of active conversation.

    The main group I lead, which is a private group for my students, has over 500 members. In order to provoke activity, I set up the course certification process so that involved posting in the group. People also use the group to find practice partners, and to ask me questions. It’s quiet, but it ticks along.

    With something as personal as trauma, it’s just going to be hard to get people posting actively. And of course Facebook’s mysterious algorithms mean that most members will never see your posts unless they actively go looking for them. So unless you have a very powerful reason for wanting your group to come alive, I’d just let it go.

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