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Inclusive online sessions: involve all participants

Online sessions are often more accessible than on-site meetings. For example, you don't have travel time and costs, and there are many digital tools to help you collaborate effectively online. But, just as with offline sessions, it's important to make sure all participants can actively participate and you engage everyone in your session. What's the best way to do that live online? In a series of three articles, we'll discuss how to make the inclusiveness of your online session. We kick off the series with the most important tips and tricks for getting everyone involved in your session.

Make expectations clear

Many people like to know what your session will look like. Make sure it is clear to your participants what is expected of them during the session. If necessary, share the agenda prior to the session so that people who want to can prepare, and present it at the beginning of the session.

A warm welcome

A good start is half the battle! Involve all participants from the beginning and start with a check-in or interactive assignment. Previously, we gave 5 ideas for surprising live online introductions. Another tip: call your participants by name to help ensure that everyone feels seen and heard.

Don't lose sight of anyone

We connect more easily with participants who have their cameras on and are actively participating. But don't forget to give equal attention to the participants who don't (or can't) use their camera or who are quiet. For hybrid meetings, this applies to both offline and online participants.

Give everyone equal space

Make sure that the focus is not just on the fastest and most extroverted opinion or the 'HIPPO' (highest paid person's opinion). Deliberately make room for input from participants who are more introverted or shy, for example, and make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak. For larger groups, keep a list of names and peal who has spoken so you can include or name those who haven't spoken much yet. If the distribution is very uneven, you may also decide to keep track of speaking time.

Communication preferences

Take into account different communication preferences. Some people need time to prepare a comment, others prefer to write rather than speak, or want to contribute anonymously. Schedule times for questions and emphasize that participants can always raise their virtual hand with a question or comment. By naming different options for participation - for example, speaking through the microphone, a public chat message, or a private message - you can promote the diversity of the exchange.

Deploy digital tools for greater inclusion

Online sessions can be more inclusive and democratic than face-to-face meetings because there are ways and applications to allow all participants to give input at the same time. Instead of having room for only a few participants to verbally share their responses, online everyone can submit a response at the same time in chat or on a whiteboard. After everyone has responded, you may want to pick out one or more answers and ask the participant(s) to provide an explanation.

You can also involve the absentees

You can give the people who can't attend at the time of your live online session the option to contribute in advance. You can also record the session for those who are absent, or send a summary around after the meeting.


There are many reasons why a participant cannot (properly) participate in your online session. This article is part of a triptych: in the following articles we will discuss engaging participants with technical difficulties or sensory impairments.

Want to learn more about successful and inclusive online sessions? Learning Connected has a wide range to trainings on online and hybrid collaboration. If you're looking for more information on promoting diversity and inclusion in your organization, check out the trainings from Study2Go.