Like many people, I’ve spent the last few days wading through a cavalcade of potentially cancelled meetings as travel restrictions and quarantines extend around the world. Rather than out-right cancel or postpone to some indefinite point in the future, at CollaborateUp we’ve looked for ways to help our clients accomplish their goals through virtual meetings. We remain firm believers in the power of in-person meetings but also know that you can continue to progress and collaborate even when physically distant. 

Neuroscience shows that during in-person meetings our brains literally get in synch — our brainwaves modulate in synch and we achieve “neural synchronization”. That effect, unfortunately, can’t be achieved digitally. We can, though, use virtual meetings to access many of the “social chemicals” that underlie positive human interactions.

Endorphins — The “Runner’s High” Chemical

Endorphins mask pain and accentuate joy. We release endorphins when we laugh together and when we struggle together. 

Dopamine — The Goal-Achieving Chemical

Meetings help release dopamine when we check things off lists, recognize accomplishments, and track progress.

Serotonin — The Pride Chemical

Clapping releases serotonin as do other ways of bestowing public recognition on individuals and teams.

Oxytocin — The Trust Chemical

Handshakes, fist-bumps, and other forms of appropriate physical contact release oxytocin. 

Here are eight tips for tapping into these social chemicals to improve your next virtual meeting and some special tips for facilitating multi-stakeholder collaborations on virtual platforms. 

1) Maintain, not build. Relationships have three basic phases: 1) initial meeting, 2) building and forming, and 3) maintenance and growth. Think of using virtual meetings and collaboration in the same way you might for dating or personal relationships — you can maintain a relationship over distance and via e-communication but you will have difficulty building a solid relationship using virtual communication alone. You can essentially “draw down” the social capital you’ve built up as a team from past interactions that did have the kinds of physical contact that created neural synching and released oxytocin

  • Pro-tip: If you want to co-create a new multi-stakeholder partnership, use a digital platform to do the “context setting” and information sharing you would have done in plenary sessions. If available, use virtual breakout rooms for detailed planning/working sessions with groups of 10 or less. Then use in-person meetings for team building and building esprit de corps. 

2) Action = accountability. Studies show that participant attention begins to drift after 5-6 minutes during a virtual meeting. Therefore plan interactivity every 6-7 minutes. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, a small prompt  to submit a question in the chat box, or a request to answer a polling question can do the trick. Even better, call on people and draw them into conversation. 

  • Pro-tip: Set the tone from the beginning by opening the meeting with a polling or chat question. Let them know this will be a highly interactive experience.

3) Less is more. Because virtual meetings test our attention span, plan for shorter sessions. If you would have normally had an hour-long meeting, set it for 45 minutes. 

  • Pro-tip: If you planned to bring multiple partners together for a 2-day workshop, instead plan 2 virtual sessions lasting no more than 2.5 hours broken over the two days. Plan them in 45-minute sessions with breaks and breakouts. 

4) Multiple voices. Our brains prefer dialogue to monologue. If you have to present something, have multiple presenters and ask them to present in 5-6 minute bursts. 

5) Laugh a little; then laugh some more. Don’t be afraid to be a little goofy. Tell some jokes. Ask participants and presenters to tell some (appropriate and ideally relevant) jokes. While in an in-person meeting you might discourage side conversations, encourage the use of the chat function to share funny anecdotes that relate to the material being discussed. This will help get the endorphins flowing.

6) Checklists. To tap into our dopamine response, have a running checklist of the meeting’s outcomes and check them off as you go. 

  • Pro-tip: For virtual break-out groups, make sure the group knows they will need to present something back to the plenary group and give them a structure in advance for what kinds of information you want to hear from them.

7) Praise & recognition. Plan specific opportunities to recognize people for their contributions to the work to date. As an example, ask team leads to call out specific people on their teams who have done exceptional work recently. Ideally, make this part of your regular meeting cadence. This will not only immediately release serotonin in the moment, it will actually help get people wanting to come to meetings because they’ll begin craving the serotonin hit.

8) Virtual clapping. Whenever I facilitate an in-person meeting I almost always call on participants to give presenters a round of applause. Applause, laughter, and other audible and visible cues of group acknowledgement provide one of the best ways to create a sense of shared experience. All live performances include it. That’s also why many American sitcoms have laugh tracks or why people will often clap at the end of a great movie. It punctuates the shared experience. So how do you do “virtual clapping”? Some platforms have a “thumbs  up” or “clapping” feature. Encourage people to use it. If you have video, encourage people to clap, snap, or otherwise physically demonstrate approval. Without video, call on people to say something like “here here!” or similar phrases. It’s not the same level of serotonin release, but it helps.

Those are just a few ways to keep your collaboration going across time and distance.


We invite you to check out our Menu of Virtual Services! And to join one of our upcoming virtual roundtables (or listen to a recording of a past recording), which we’re holding as part of The CollaborateUp 2020 Collaboration in Crisis & COVID-19 Interactive Roundtable Series.


For more information, check out the recording of our recent roundtable: Virtual Co-Creation: Is It Possible?


Wondering if/how to host a virtual collaboration/co-creation?  We can help you make the decision.  Schedule a consultation today! https://calendly.com/beth_collaborateup

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