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Surviving Remote Meetings: How to Communicate Effectively in English

We’ve all been there. Sat in a remote meeting and then it happens. You miss what a colleague just said, but all your colleagues are already nodding and moving on to the next point. Being misunderstood is a common problem for non-native English speakers, and the problem is even worse in remote meetings, as sound and video quality are often poorer, and it can also be harder to read body language.

This quick Talaera guide will offer some vocabulary and strategies to improve your online meeting skills. Once you’re comfortable with the tips in this post, check out the 14 tips that will make you a better communicator. Let’s go!

Common Online Meeting Problems

Let’s start by looking at some of the most common problems you might face in online meetings. Have you ever experienced any of these?

  • You misunderstand someone else
  • Someone misunderstands you
  • You feel anxious about asking people to repeat things
  • You find it harder to make your points than some other colleagues

Firstly, don’t worry if you face some or all of these problems. They are much more common than you think. Fortunately, there are some easy strategies to overcome them that can help boost your confidence. 

Remote Meeting Language Strategies

Here are some simple strategies that can help you in remote meetings:

  • Be conscious of your weaknesses – do you have a general feeling of anxiety? Or are there specific things you struggle with? Try making a small list of the points you would like to improve on. Often, knowing what it is you are finding difficult, and breaking it down into smaller parts, will help you overcome it!
  • Learn phrases to ask someone to repeat something – repetition is the primary tool we have when we don’t understand something. In fact, if you actively listen in your next meeting, you will be amazed how often speakers ask each other to repeat things. But they usually do it in a more subtle way called paraphrasing.
  • When you are misunderstood try paraphrasing your idea – paraphrasing just means saying the same thing in different words. You can learn phrases that explain your idea in a different way and this greatly increases your chance of being understood.
  • Build rapport with small talk – if you feel like you are a bit anxious in meetings, or that maybe your colleagues don’t listen to you, try using some small talk at the beginning of a meeting. This can help you bond with colleagues and get them to listen more.

Essential Remote Meeting Vocabulary

Here are some phrases ranging from simple to idiomatic. How many of these phrases do you recognize from your meetings?

Online Meeting Problems

If you encounter a problem, stay calm and try to communicate as clearly as possible. The following phrases relate to common problems that occur during online meetings: 

  • I am having trouble hearing you.
  • I think I may have a problem with the connection
  • Do you have an audio problem?
  • Are you on mute? (mute = no sound)
  • I can hear you but I can’t see you.
  • Has Jason joined the meeting yet?

Phrases for Starting a Meeting

These phrases are commonly used when beginning a meeting. Try using a few of the idiomatic phrases yourself at the beginning of one of your next meetings:

  • Who would like to kick things off? (kick off = begin)
  • I would now like to hand over to Julia. (hand over to = give control to)
  • Jane is going to walk us through the sales figures (walk through = show, talk about)
  • Let’s get the ball rolling (get the ball rolling = begin)
  • Today, we are going to start off by looking at (start off by = begin by)
  • Top of the agenda is ….
  • The goal of this meeting is….

Repetition Phrases

Repetition is the main tool we have in order to understand something. Try some of the phrases below in order to get your colleagues to repeat something. Notice that you don’t always have to ask a question, you can use a direct statement.

  • Could you repeat that, please?
  • Could we circle back to that? (circle back = return)
  • Let’s take another look at that.
  • Let’s take a closer look at that.
  • I am not sure I fully understood that the first time around. (the first time around = on the first occasion)
  • Would you mind repeating that?

Phrases for Arranging Next Steps

Before you finish a meeting, it is important that the next steps are clear. 

  • What are the next steps?
  • So we’ve decided to…
  • So, Jana, could you take the lead on that?  (take the lead on = be responsible for)
  • Let’s pencil in another meeting for next Tuesday.  (pencil something in = arrange something)

Top tip:  when asking for the cooperation of action from colleagues, using “could” and “would” make your questions sound more polite!

Phrases for Concluding a Meeting

Finally, the meeting is over! Use these phrases to wrap things up:

  • I think we can leave this here for today.
  • I think this is a good place to leave things today.
  • We can pick this up again tomorrow/next week/on Tuesday.

Small Talk Phrases

Using a little small talk is a great way of building rapport with your colleagues and also add a little fun to the meeting:

  • How was your weekend?
  • What did everybody get up to at the weekend? (get up to =  be involved in – BrEn informal)
  • Did anyone cook anything tasty for dinner last night?
  • Did anyone read the funny news story about… ? (make sure topics you share are appropriate for the workplace)

Remember, with small talk you need to have an understanding of what is ok to share in your workplace and what is not. Each workplace is different, even each team is different, with some teams sharing lots and some not so much. Gauge the situation and try to add a little fun to your meetings to bond with your team.

Paraphrasing ideas

Paraphrasing means repeating something with other words. This is great for two things 1) repeating what you said so others understand; 2) repeating what others say to check you understood it. These phrases can help you paraphrase: 

  • I just want to make sure I fully understand, so what you are saying is…
  • So you are saying that (Q3 sales figures will be lower)… is that correct?
  • Have I understood that correctly?
  • Basically, the idea/concept in a nutshell is…. (in a nutshell = in a few words, summarizing)
  • In other words, what I wanted to say is…
  • In other words, what you are saying is…
  • The bottom line is that… (bottom line = most important point)

Looking for ways to effectively improve your professional English?

The strategies outlined above and the phrases in this guide are a great starting place for building language confidence in remote meetings. If it’s time for you to feel fully confident in meetings in English, we can help you with that. Work with our expert teachers in 1:1 online sessions and learn with a course tailored to your specific needs. Learn more about our online training here

    Talaera Business English Individual Sessions vTalaera Business English Training Group Courses a-1Talaera Business English Company Webinars v-1

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