I love the plusses of virtual meetings – the fact that we don’t have to find a venue or incur costs booking a venue and arranging refreshments, the fact that we don’t have to travel to meetings, that we can appear very professional without wearing high heels, that we can attend to other things (like lunch cooking on the stove or a delivery needing a signature) while the meeting is in progress. The fact that we can switch our video off while others are talking, and catch up on emails, or post a few Twitter or Facebook posts.

But, of course, giving in to the temptation of distractions is not ok. The draw of distractions is high. We aren’t visible to the degree that we are in a physical meeting, so we can get away with it. Mostly, though, few meetings manage to generate the energy of a face-to-face meeting, and we don’t often feel fully focussed. We aren’t often fully involved.

I attended an hour-long virtual training session yesterday, and was most intrigued at some the methods used by the host to ensure our focus.

She told us, at the beginning of the session, that she required our full attention – that she would be sharing nuggets, gold dust, and that we would miss out on the full value if we didn’t concentrate fully.

She told (not asked) us to put our cell phones aside, and she asked numerous times during the session whether we’d given in to the distraction temptation yet. She even did a pop-up poll asking how we rate ourselves with respect to being distracted during virtual interactions, from highly distracted to highly focussed.

Most surprising of all, she indicated that she would turn our video feed on if we turned it off so that she could see what we were doing. (I actually questioned whether this was not pushing the boundaries of respect, whether it wasn’t invasive in fact. She replied that she was setting the rules of engagement, and we could choose to continue as part of the session or not.)

Amazingly, the host managed to be as firm as she was about the need for focus without being patronising or sounding dictatorial. She came across as genuine, warm and friendly, and as truly concerned that we should obtain maximum value from the hour we were spending with her. She was confident of her offering.

And NOBODY switched off their video feed, or was seen to be distracted. We all maintained our focus on what really was an excellent session. And I suppose this was the real reason, ultimately, why none of us minded the reminders to focus – because the host delivered fully on her promise to be engaging and to provide value for our time and effort.

How do you manage this aspect of virtual interactions? As a participant? As a host? It’s one of the toughest aspects to control (for both host and participant) once you’ve mastered the tech. I am certainly going to follow yesterday’s example (in a friendly, warm way, of course!)