Good Practices for Virtual Meeting Engagement 

Date: Jun 30 2020

Mindy Kalinowski Earley, CMP, CFBA Chief Learning Officer, FOX Family Learning Center​, Family Office Exchange

In our May 12 FOX Member Exchange, we asked a live polling question “Describe the best meeting you’ve been to. What made it great.” The responses varied but what continually stood out, and was a recurring theme throughout the presentation, showing up in the chat box and in member questions. ENGAGEMENT. We know engagement was a struggle in the pre-COVID world. In today’s current experiment we are now trying to create relational connection, maintain forward momentum, get through a large agenda in 1/3 of the time, and make all of that ENGAGING. No small feat.   

Your family retreat, while quite different than the board meeting (and all other versions of meetings in between) now all share the same virtual space. How do you differentiate each meeting, make them successful, and ensure they are a positive experience that family members care to attend again?  

At FOX we have blended our years of experience with what we are hearing from members, to share what we call good practices. This new frontier is an ever-changing landscape, and we are implementing new and better ways of operating and working with families each day. Best is always our goal, but today amid a pandemic we’re also embracing innovation, new ways of meeting and modeling a can-do entrepreneurial spirit that so many of our member families represent each day. The moment we stop learning and adapting is the moment we stop growing.  

“Becoming is better than being.”  - Carol Dweck, author of Growth Mindset 

Meetings advance goals. Gatherings create cohesion at a time we feel very disconnected. This topic matters because it is not just about the meeting itself, but what happens at them. The business. The voting. The laughs. The invitation for next generation members to speak their voice.  


  • Break the ice! Maybe a meme or a photo of a puppy does not belong in your investment meeting deck, but can you add slide formally inducting all the newest fluffy family members to the family assembly, as you kick off your family meeting? We are all humans, going through tough times, seeking to laugh and connect. Find new ways to “break the ice.”  
  • Lay the foundation. Video meetings are not new. Doing all our work with colleagues, the family, the family office OVER VIDEO, is. Moving family retreats virtual - definitely new. Meetings are important – treat them as such. The condensed time is precious, use it wisely. Start your meeting off with basic ground rules that allow your group of 5 or 30 to get through an agenda without background noise, poor wi-fi causing delays, or everyone talking over one another. Sit comfortably, do not move around. Face your camera, straight and nicely balanced in your screen view. It is important to maintain the professionalism that you had before.  
  • You are warmed up, now get to work. Keep participants engaged. Switch visuals so you are not only talking heads. Use video, online polling features, slide decks, something to read. Do not let attendees fall into a passive role. With less verbal cues you need to pause more for reactions and questions. Give people something to react to, something to spark the discussion. We have found that breaking out into smaller groups helps conversation and decision making.  

According to Harvard Business Review “the biggest engagement threat in virtual meetings is allowing team members to unconsciously take the role of observer. To counter this implicit decision, create an experience of shared responsibility early on.” 

  • Assign roles. Have a facilitator that remains constant through the meeting, a notetaker, a timekeeper. Delegate roles so people have meaningful jobs and remain engaged.  
  • Learn from the littles. Just like elementary school, raise your hand if you have a question. For less pressing issues, put comments in the chat function so you do not disrupt the meeting flow.  
  • Make friends with technology. Hold a practice session for anyone not familiar with the technology. Only takes one person to disrupt a meeting. Prepare your presenters to ensure a smooth meeting. Hold practice sessions to get comfortable and run through the entire show. Lastly, enable some of the new security features, private links for meetings, requiring passcodes, and having someone monitor attendees who dial in by phone or do not have a name in their handle.   


Attendance can be higher now that travel is limited. It is easy to sign on to meetings and gatherings from home. It is a much easier commute than flying or driving! For your social gatherings, keep the cocktail period, have live music, send champagne flutes to everyone. Maintain tradition and the ability to celebrate and come together. Send a meal kit box to everyone and cook a meal together. Host a kids talent show, do an art project together. Do not be afraid of trying new things.  

If you have had to cancel the family meeting, while unfortunate, you are now saving on lodging, flights, meals. What can you do with those funds to engage the family in a new way? Be sure to differentiate this from all the other video meetings. Ship swag bags with matching, monogrammed apparel, something fun to wear, dinner conversation cards, bottles of wine. Use the money to secure a speaker you otherwise would not. Pictionary on live whiteboard/zoom. Find the silver lining.  

Still hoping to gather in person soon? Perhaps this means more private aviation, villa rentals or resort buy-outs. Privacy and cleanliness are no longer a nonessential privilege.  


  • Break meetings up into smaller segments. Don’t tire people out. Utilize breakout room features. Create task forces and work groups by generation or topic.  
  • Zoom fatigue is real. Break up your meeting into condensed time frames, for both attention span issues, or to work around kids schooling/nap times and other commitments. 


We recently talked with member family that had a disaster plan in place. When COVID hit they could follow the plan when minds were clear. This freed up mental space knowing they had done work to prepare for disruption. This allowed them to focus on the most important task at hand, moving the spring meeting to a virtual format when everyone wanted to keep it in the attractive tropical location. It was set up to be their best attended yet with high caliber speakers. Furthermore, the family had some big decisions to make, that were best done in person.   

They needed to pivot, ensure they were keeping major projects running, and holding their long-term strategy discussion. They decided to do the best they could, given the circumstances and focus on getting the highest quality decision making possible. They shifted focus to consider no what they could no longer do, but what was still possible. They gave up the false comparison that their meeting would not be as good as in person. The family planning committee got to work and reworked their gathering.  

Another FOX member managed to pull off a family wedding. The guests all did a drive by greeting, the family all self-quarantined leading up to the event and the family office assisted from afar with radios. An event planner was hired to create a schedule and plan out specific logistics, but was off site that day, so the family could maintain their privacy. Musicians played processional music from afar. It was not at all close to the original plan, but it was gorgeous.   


  • Remember what we did before meetings started? We caught up. How are you? How are the kids? What is new? Make time for that. Be mindful of everyone’s unique personal situation, be it working with small kids at home, or being a young single self-isolating in a small New York apartment.  
  • A FOX family that is generally very connected struggled with the inability to travel to see each other. To solve that, a rising gen family member called a Zoom meeting just to check in. They spent hours catching up and sharing stories. Don’t discount the need to connect more than ever now.  
  • Consider what leads to family cohesion? Shared values. Regular communication. Trust. Use this time, when life has slowed down for some, to become stronger & more connected.  



Mindy Kalinowski Earley, CMP, CFBA
Chief Learning Officer, FOX Family Learning CenterTM
Family Office Exchange

Mindy Earley is Chief Learning Officer for Family Office Exchange (FOX). In her role, she works to foster integrated learning programs for enterprise families and is responsible for developing the family learning community. She also provides support to the Family Learning and Experience Council and FOX Family Learning Network (FLN). Mindy is inspired by helping people learn, grow, and discover the way that they will make personal and productive contributions by using their strengths and talents. ​

Mindy has held various roles in small and large family offices and has been responsible for creating and stewarding professional learning networks in support of human and intellectual capital. She has designed learning experiences that increase the knowledge base and enhance the life path of individuals while providing personalized support and coaching to help them meet their goals. As a Certified Meeting Professional with a certificate in Family Business Advising, she enjoys helping families and rising generation members navigate the unique world of enterprise family and family relationships by understanding that responsibility and intention pave a path to personal achievement and satisfaction.​