Make Your Virtual Meetings Sensory-Friendly

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Work from home and virtual workspaces are now common. Many small and large businesses and organizations have adopted remote work. Did you know that hosting sensory-friendly virtual meetings helps your remote workforce? Especially employees with sensory sensitivities. The same is true for personal online gatherings or meetings. Hosting a sensory-friendly virtual meeting helps everyone on the team or in the group.

A sensory-friendly environment is important to create online, just like you would in person. The following tips are simple to implement. They help make a productive, positive workspace for everyone on your team and an enjoyable experience for everyone in your personal group.

Infographic about ways to make a sensory-friendly virtual meeting.

Provide information about the meetings in advance

A simple way to make your next virtual meeting more sensory-friendly is to provide basic information about the meeting in advance. By doing this, participants know what to expect. This is particularly helpful to reduce people’s anxiety.

This includes letting people know:

  • How long the meeting is expected to take.
  • What virtual platform will you use to deliver the meeting.
  • The topic of discussion.
  • Who will be presenting and when.
  • Everyone’s expected role in the meeting.
  • What is in your slide deck, if you have one. Share it in advance where possible.
  • Finally, if you are going to be using additional technical features.

For instance, send out an email out with this information at least a day before the scheduled meeting. Give people time to review it.

Use a headset

Ever been in a virtual meeting with poor quality audio? Everyone is frustrated when you cannot properly hear the person speaking. This is especially true for any participant with sensory sensitivity. An easy way to ensure you have better quality sound during your meetings is to wear a headset. This simple solution helps make your virtual meeting sensory-friendly.

Young asian woman sitting at desk in front of computer wearing a headset.

Audio and video on or off

Give participants the choice to have audio and video on or off. A common source of anxiety is a requirement to have the video and audio on throughout and non-stop during a virtual meeting. Give everyone a break.

For example, choose a platform that allows for virtual backgrounds. Many people feel stressed about the idea of people looking at their personal space. Ultimately, this may lead to people being distracted during the meeting, too.

Adjust your expectations accordioning. Make your virtual meetings sensory-friendly by giving people options. Let people turn off their cameras and mute themselves for portions of the meeting. However, it is challenging for the presenter to gauge the response of a presentation without visual feedback, auditory responses and non-verbal cues seen on video and with audio on. So have participants take turns being on video and/or having the sound on.

Try closed-captions

Another way to create a sensory-friendly virtual meeting is to use closed-captioning. While your audio learners like to hear information, your visual learners like to read it. Closed captioning also helps anyone on your team with even a little bit of hearing loss. And finally, closed captioning help participants for whom the meeting is being held in a second language.

Additionally, many online meeting platforms have the option to turn on live and system-automated, closed-captions.

Create a sensory-friendly presentation

There are many ways that you can make a presentation in your meeting sensory-friendly. Find more in-depth examples of sensory-friendly presentation features.

For now, the most important feature to make a sensory-friendly presentation is to include slides or something to look at on screen other than faces. Slides help the visual learners on your team. Think about conveying information via words, number and pictures. Avoid too much text on one slide. Avoid too much information of any type on one slide. Follow the adage, “less is more.” Break up information into smaller chunks. Use bullet points. Avoid full sentences on a slide unless it is a quote.

Another effective way to make your presentation sensory-friendly is to include something participants have to do with their hands. A tactile activity. This can be something as simple as asking participants to write down a list of words in response to a question. Another example is to ask the group to draw something. Have fun and create a group drawing with an online whiteboard. A tactile activity helps your team absorb the information and stay engaged.

Lastly, send meeting notes out at the end of the presentation for work. That gives the team the opportunity to review all the material and learn more from your presentation.

Include bio breaks

In online learning spaces, a lot of presenters forget to give breaks during their meetings for people to stretch, get water, eat or just step away from their screen momentarily. Always include breaks in presentations longer than 60 minutes.

For personal meetings, people may feel equally uncomfortable taking breaks. Set some ground rules that allow people to come and go for longer meetings.

During this break, you should encourage participants to stand up and stretch if needed. It is important to break up long periods of sitting. You could even consider running a quick moving exercise during your meeting. For example, have everyone do a seated yoga pose. Alternatively, have everyone stand and stretch together.

Additionally, let your team know they can take breaks to get a drink, use the bathroom, or the like. Your team may feel reluctant to leave a meeting if they are not told they can do so. Let them know when a scheduled break is coming and stick to it! Feeling hunger, thirst or having the urge to use the bathroom can lead to sensory overload. On a work call, create an expectation whereby participants can send the team leader a direct message that they are taking a personal bio break.

Provide adequate time for questions

At the end of every work meeting, be sure to include time for questions. Many times presenters include a short, 30-second pause asking for questions. And then move on too quickly. However, many adult learner take longer to process information and frame a response. Give a 3 minute or more, “thinking time” break before asking for answers to be shared.

In addition, ensure your team is given different ways to ask questions. For example, will you have a audio and video “on” section at the end for questions? Will you allow your team to raise their hands to ask questions throughout? Do you want them to use the chat feature to pose questions? Throughout the meeting? Or, just at the end? Are questions anonymous or will the person asking them be identified? Give options.

Offer sensory-friendly virtual meetings at work and in your personal life and everyone will enjoy!

More sensory-friendly help at work

Find more sensory-friendly tips to help your remote workers.

Employers, employees and business owners, check out other blog posts:

Illustration of group of people. Ages ranges from babies to seniors. Some people are in wheelchair or scooter, pushing a baby stroller, have a prostetic limb or wear a hijab. All designed in a blue and orange colour pallet.

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