Mute when you’re not talking

1 Apr 2020 | Remote

Mute your microphone if you don’t want to talk.

This was one of the instructions to facilitate a half-moon formation, but remotely.

Here is a photo and text about the face-to-face formation (copied from the Lean Inception Facilitation Techniques article):

The half-moon formation provides two aspects: (1) everyone faces each other, avoiding cross conversations and “back conversations”, when someone speaks with his/her back to someone else; and (2) someone is at a central pint of attention.

This formation reinforces the central point of attention (person in the center of the half-moon). In many occasions, the facilitator of the meeting or the workshop wants to either be at the center, or identify a person to be in the center.

But how to facilitate a remote half moon formation? How do you get one person to stay in the spotlight while others listen? How to facilitate this type of dynamic, remotely?

Solution: Instruct all participants to keep their microphones on the mute if they do not want to speak.


Some days ago, I was on a video call with some colleagues from Thoughtworks Spain. And we did a half moon formation, but remotely: One person was in the spotlight, speaking. Everyone listened (microphones on mute). If someone wanted to speak, he/she would turn on the microphone, indicating the intention to speak. Then, that person would go to the center of attention, and speak to all participants.

Another important facilitation tip. You must ask everyone to use the gallery mode of the video call application. This way, everyone can see each other.

At other remote meetings, I have instructed the participants to wave their hands when they wanted to talk… but this time, I realized that the microphone mute / unmute option was much more effective. As you can see in the image above, some people had the video off (to save bandwidt), so the transition of the microphone from mute to unmute clearly signalled the intention to speak.

Martin Fowler shared an excellent article on how to be effective in video calls. The article has great tips on how to behave in video call meetings.

Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books about Lean Strategy and Delivery). He's also the creator of , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here .
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