Most articles you read about virtual conferencing, whether for video conferencing or just audio conferencing, advise you to use the mute function when you’re not speaking.

If the goal is to have a meeting in which participants are just as engaged and involved as they would be when meeting in the same room, how does that make any sense?  Would you gag yourself in the boardroom?

The idea of muting yourself presupposes you are going to multi-task during your virtual meeting, and therein lies the problem.  We already know that multi-tasking is the opposite of efficient; far from getting multiple things done at once, we end up getting none of them done in a quality way because we’re simply not paying attention.  Answering email while listening to your team’s brainstorming session on an upcoming public information campaign is a sure way to make sure you have a fuzzy memory of the emails you responded to, an unclear or even incomprehensible response to those emails, and no idea what was suggested by your teammates during the call.

What about those less intellectually demanding tasks you might be doing during your meeting?  Well, yes, you might actually get some dishes washed or your office straightened while listening to that brainstorming session.  But what are you contributing to your team?  If you were in the room you would be watching facial expressions and body language, processing the nuances of people’s reaction to the ideas proposed and letting it spark further ideas of your own.  You would be truly engaged and more likely to contribute to the discussion rather than just listen to it.

So next time you’re tempted to mute yourself during a virtual meeting, ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If there’s a barking dog in the next room or a lawn mower just outside that you really can’t do anything about, then OK, you need to mute.  But otherwise, why not stay off mute and stay truly engaged?  You wouldn’t get up and wash dishes or straighten your office if you were in a meeting room with these people, so don’t do it now.  You’ll find at the end of that meeting that you’ve accomplished far more than you would have if you let yourself multi-task.

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