Richard Torrenzano
Richard Torrenzano

As we kick off 2024 and reflect on previous years, one undeniable truth surfaces – we’ve all been drowning in virtual meetings.

Nevertheless, these digital gatherings have significantly cut travel costs and time … and that is indeed positive.

Surprisingly, 11 million virtual meetings are held every day in the United States: translating to 55 million meetings every week and more than 1 billion in 2023, according to Notta transcription services.

Many meeting encounters resemble an untamed frontier. Some are well planned. Others are more like a stumble in the dark. Everyone has viewed the good, the bad and the outright awkward or uncomfortable.

You would think all would have mastered virtual meeting protocols by now. Nevertheless, based on participating in hundreds of calls this past year, that assumption is debatable.

Following are five brief, cautionary and humorous observations about virtual calls that may be helpful insights.

When walls trade whispers

Virtual calls may not be as private as you think.

Be cautious about sharing sensitive information, what you say can end up in tweets, media or in court.

In the past, closing the conference room door provided a level of confidentiality. Not so today. Some calls could be susceptible to eavesdropping.

Calls can be hacked, recorded with a handheld device by someone on the call, or even someone off camera.

Audio or video content can be shared, repurposed, forwarded and posted online at digital warp speed, especially by characters with unknown affiliations, disgruntled employees, their friends or advocacy groups. This problem emerged and led to substantial changes for multiple clients the past two years.

My co-authored book, Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks, revealed how the Internet is used to destroy brands, reputations … even lives. It exposes strategies digital assassins deploy and defines ways to turn the tables on their deception and skullduggery.

Leadership converts conversation in tangible outcomes

Create structure by providing an agenda before each meeting, stating purpose, identifying everyone on the call – keep all on point – and on schedule.

Engage participants who are quiet, ask specifically for their thoughts.

Take notes. Following the call send a summary, noting action items with deliverable dates and responsibilities.

Astonishing costs of executive time in meetings

Professional services firms master the art of budgeting and managing executives’ time. Unfortunately, many corporations and organizations often overlook cost associated with meetings.

Have you noticed the expanded participants in virtual calls keeps growing? It’s called ‘engagement stealth.’ Unnecessary invitations and attendance contribute to this issue.

Identify who will contribute meaningfully to the discussion and allocate ample time for that Determine who will add to the discussion and schedule appropriate time for the subject …. others can read the summary.

If discussion bogs down, suggest a separate conversation on that issue with necessary folks.

Dress for success

Just before the holiday, I dressed in a solid navy business suit matched with colorful Christmas tie for a virtual board presentation. Everyone smiled, commented … and the presentation kicked off on a jolly seasonal note.

While a suit and tie are surely not necessary for most meetings, do look professional … especially for early morning calls. Bedhead looks worse on screen and sticks to your reputation like stubborn hair spray.

On a virtual call for a Florida court a few years ago, one male lawyer appeared shirtless … and on another call, a female attorney dialed in straight from in bed, under the covers. Judges were not amused.

Last year, the HR head of a large public company was caught putting on a beach cover-up to hide a bathing suit while poolside, for a regularly scheduled weekly call.

Working from home, unexpected cameos by children or pets can be adorable. Wardrobe failures not so much. Digital calls continue to deliver embarrassing, as well as humorous moments.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

On an audio conference call, you can look anywhere. No one can see you.

I coach leaders for media interviews, presentations, speeches and testimony. The basic skill set for virtual meetings is similar.

On a video call, sit or stand looking directly into the camera with your head and shoulders centered. Speak clearly into the microphone. Be relaxed, you know the subject.

Look down only to take notes. Please keep your hands away from ‘all parts’ of your face!

It is also important for people on the call to ‘see’ you are interested in what they are saying. Continually looking away screams disinterest, distraction or multitasking -- all creditability killers.

Try not to speak over others talking … not always easy to do.

Being prepared, like a scout, before a call, can take you a mighty long way!


Richard Torrenzano is CEO of The Torrenzano Group which helps organizations take control of how they are perceived™. For nearly eight decade, he was a member of the New York Stock Exchange Management (policy) and Executive (operations) Committees. Richard is a sought-after expert and leading commentator on artificial intelligence and cyber-attacks, financial markets, brands, crisis, media and reputation.