As meeting facilitators and trainers, we’re taught to engage the audience. We use the Socratic Method, move around the room, and scan students’ faces to get feedback on how we’re doing. We can tell if we are going too fast, too slow, and whether our attendees have stopped paying attention.
But what about virtual meetings? Simple things like reading a quizzical look on the face of a student or gauging the overall energy in the room become much more difficult. We’ve probably all “multitasked” on a conference call (which is really just a euphemism for not paying attention), and as a facilitator it’s easy to imagine most of our attendees doing the same.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. Having everyone in front of a computer can even have advantages, such as taking a simple survey. Here are some methods I’ve found that dramatically increase engagement in virtual meetings and consequently improve the overall quality of the event.
Proactively create frequent engagement In an in person meeting or training, we might go through 10 or more PowerPoint slides before we get to a slide for questions or a quiz. This is way too long for virtual meetings. My rule of thumb is 2-3 slides of content, then an engagement prompt. Even if you have to get creative to find something to engage about, the exercise will reel back in the straying attendee and improve focus on your next topic.
Manage the audio conference with authority and confidence
Even in live sessions, posing questions to the group like “who wants to try answering question #4” don’t work well. In an audio conference they almost always result in silence because you can’t even use eye contact to identify a participant. Instead, direct your question to a specific person.
Use the right engagement tool
Virtual collaboration (VC) solutions like LiveMeeting, Webex, and Adobe Connect all have engagement tools at your disposal. Here are a few tools and recommended uses:
Surveys. VC tools allow the presenter to create simple, one-question surveys and you can even insert them between your slides if you upload your presentation first. These work great for discrete questions like, “Which of these outdoor activities do you like the best?” Pose the question, allow a few seconds for the responses to roll in, and then share the results.
Attendee status icons. LiveMeeting allows attendees to use simple icons to respond to Y/N questions, or to “raise their hand” virtually. This works great for improvised questions. For simple Y/N question, everyone can answer. For open-ended questions, note the first hand that was raised, and then call on that person to respond. (There are also icons for “Go faster (slower)” or “I’m confused” but you’ll need to prompt attendees to use them.)
Brainstorm by using a whiteboard. This can be a blank slide or a slide with a central topic or question. Make sure participants have access and know how to write comments. You’ll be able to mouse over them to see who submitted them. You can also ask them to put check marks by comments they agree with or X’s by those they don’t. Then call on a specific person to explain their comment.
Consider using a presenter webcam. Your video feed can help create a more captivating experience. However, it can also be problematic and distracting for you and your attendees. Think about whether using a wecam will add or detract from the overall experience and be sure you’ve tested it out first.
Creating engagement in a virtual meeting or training isn’t easy. But neither was leading a live training session the first time you tried! With a little practice and smart use of the tools available, you too can create amazing engagement and delighted, well-trained attendees!