3 Virtual Meeting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When we see outtakes from movies or TV shows, where someone says something they shouldn’t and everybody on the set breaks up, we laugh too. After all, it’s hilarious to watch someone else screw up. The problem comes when we screw up — and virtual meeting mistakes turn into a minor professional disaster.

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With more and more of us working remotely, it’s a lot easier to make that kind of faux pas on the job than ever before. When you’re sitting in your home office all by your lonesome, you lose the day-to-day personal contact with your fellow employees — and that disconnect can cause your inner filter to falter. The next thing you know, you’re making a joke you shouldn’t.

Build your ideal virtual meeting and avoid saying — or typing — something you shouldn’t.

Too Much Small Talk


There’s invariably some small talk that happens, either on a Zoom meeting or just a plain phone call, before everyone gets down to business. It’s a human need, to establish a friendly bond before you dive into the issue at hand, so you set the stage for positive interaction.

I believe in trying to limit that small talk to around three minutes, depending on the size of the group and here’s why — when you prattle on longer than that, it starts to create issues.

The first issue is a practical one. When there’s too much small talk at the start of a virtual meeting, people will begin logging on later and later, because they know nobody will get down to business very quickly. It’s like getting to a movie late because you know they’re going to show 30 trailers and commercials beforehand.

But the other issue is you could easily end up saying something you shouldn’t in that kind of free-flowing conversation — for example, a gentle slam against an absent boss. If they’re absent, what’s the big deal? Well, you (and everyone else) must keep in mind that almost all of these calls are recorded — and the boss might just take a listen to check in on what everybody’s up to. You could also accidentally share something about yourself (“Hey, I’m looking for a new job, because this one really sucks!”) that maybe you shouldn’t. So keep the small talk short and your convo on the safe side.

Losing Track of Messaging

With more and more of us working remotely, it’s a lot easier to make that kind of faux pas on the job than ever before.

A friend of mine, in the early days of faxing from personal computers, used a border of “WingDings” on their fax cover sheet. He thought he was being funny when he spelled out various obscenities with the WingDings font—after all, even though you use letters on the keyboard to type them, they appear on screen and paper as abstract symbols. Ha, ha, right? Well, what my friend didn’t know was that all fonts were converted to a single default font when the computer sent the fax … meaning his client saw a whole line of swear words at the top of the fax.

That’s a big whoopsie. And they can occur anywhere you're communicating.

Virtual meeting platforms often have an area to chat and drop links for the group, but issues can arise when a message meant for that one buddy, gets sent to everyone. When you fool around, the joke could be on you, even when you write something that you think is obviously meant to be funny.  This is why the smiley face emoji was invented and people still type LOL after a (presumably) witty remark — those things may seem grating to some, but they serve a purpose. They signal to the reader that it’s all in fun and remove all ambiguity about intent.

A way to save yourself from all of this? Consider if your message content could withstand an accidental reveal mid-meeting - which can sometimes include stakeholders. No? Then stick to business. It's always less of a gamble.

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Misunderstanding Remote Limitations

Telecommute-Happy-businessman-working-at-h-68941201Context, normally gleaned by facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language, can be completely lost in an online message. A remark that when delivered face-to-face, might be construed as friendly feedback or a humorous comment might sound harsh and serious when sent in a message. Any of these could start a downward spiral into a Twitterverse-like hell that is incredibly difficult to emerge from.

So, make a point of putting a positive spin on whatever you’re writing. Lower the attitude if you’re pointing out problems and be more encouraging than discouraging. And for your side, try not to take anything too personally. If you sense hostility, find a nice or funny way to address it. And again, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk it out with someone if you feel the air needs to be cleared.

Even if remote calls aren't new to you in our post-COVID world, we all make mistakes. Setting up, optimizing, and managing virtual meetings is what we do. Our how to guide, The Complete Guide to Virtual Meetings, can show you everything you need to know. 

If you're struggling with any of these issues, let us help. Reach out and set up a call. 

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