CEO & Executive Coach Rasheryl McCreary led a Citrix Webinar with loads of helpful tips to revitalize your virtual meetings and increase your virtual audience engagement levels via revamping your virtual presence. Many of her ideas translate to in-person meetings as well.
McCreary defines virtual presence as the ability to create authenticity in a virtual environment through engaging, inspiring, and motivating others.
A few of the primary challenges to leading virtual meetings are you can’t see the audience, they can’t see you, but the one thing you can count on is: they’re distracted.
A group of professionals were asked, “what else are you doing on a conference call?” The answers may surprise you, and ranged from: other work; sending emails; eating/making food; going to the restroom; texting; checking social media; playing video games; online shopping; exercising; and taking another call. It’s no news to anyone that we live in a distracted world, and this poll really cuts to the heart of that.
These challenges trip up even those who are excellent communicators in other areas of their lives. Presenters commonly feel as if they’re speaking into a void, which makes them feel uncharacteristically self-conscious and nerve-racked. Most of us are not at our best when we’re nervous.
A Citrix poll asked professionals, “what engages you in a virtual meeting?” The most common answers were:
- Interesting and relevant content (38%)
- A passionate, high-energy speaker (32%)
- Visual slides (15%)
- Interaction with the presenter or attendees (15%)
A good deal of engagement relies on the speaker. McCreary offers 7 techniques to engage and make virtual meetings more interactive. Here they are!
1. Know your audience
This is the first rule to every form of communication, and it’s definitely true here. McCreary recommends putting yourself in your audience’s shoes before getting on the call. What do they have to gain on the call? What do they have to lose? What is their environment? From there, answer the question: How do I increase my energy, or presence, to pull my audience away from their distractions and into the meeting?
Focusing on your audience can also help to calm nerves. Shifting your viewpoint from what you’re nervous about, to focusing on your purpose: to make your audience understands your message/material, no matter the cost, is a strategy recommended by many communication coaches to turn down nerves before a presentation.
2. Conduct a Virtual Check-in
Ask each person to provide a brief status update, share a piece of personal information, or bring up a challenge they’re currently facing. In a small group, McCreary recommends using the chat to ask questions, or even emailing all of the participants. In a large group, she says it’s absolutely necessary to have a moderator fielding the responses so the presenter is free to focus on presenting the material.
Virtual check-ins allow individuals to share positive updates or challenges and foster authentic engagement and support, bringing a watercooler-meeting feel to the sometimes impersonal virtual environment. It also builds relationships and negates the transactional feel meetings tend to have, and it doesn’t take much time!
3. Create a Virtual Hot Seat
This is easiest to do in a smaller meeting, and it’s a great way to provide real-time feedback and engage the group. You can put someone in the virtual hot seat by selecting an individual or a team to share a challenge or question. You can then provide real-time feedback as the presenter, or crowdsource solutions with the entire group. This is a great way to engage the entire group in a meaningful, interactive teaching moment.
4. Pechakucha (Japanese for Chit-chat)
Pechakucha is a presentation style that uses 20 slides, and limits presenters to spending 20 seconds per slide. This ultimately constrains their entire talk to 6:40, and forces presenters to be clear, concise, fast-paced, and inevitably, energized.
This is a great style to use when asking a group to learn something and feed it back to the group, provide project reviews, and many other contexts.
5. Guided Body Break
Research shows that brief breaks while focusing on one task help boost focus, creativity, and productivity. A guided body break can consist of presenter-led yoga, breathing, or dancing to music. McCreary recommends inserting a break at the 18 to 20-minute mark of your next meeting to refresh and reinvigorate your virtual audience.
Any time you can make something into a game, especially one with a little competition, people are likely to pay more attention. If you’re in a corporate environment that requires many virtual trainings, consider adding a point system to your trainings system, and keeping a leaderboard that shows off who’s gathered the most points. Rewards can be as small as a Starbucks gift card.
Scientifically speaking, games release dopamine in the brain. Aka: Humans like games. If you can find a way to successfully insert them into your meetings, you’re bound to win some extra engagement.
7. Flipped Meeting Model
The flipped meeting model requires participants to review instructional content prior to the meeting, reserving the meeting for action items. In this model, meetings are experiential, where participants put learned concepts into action. Not only does this peer-to-peer learning and interaction create a stronger sense of community, but it boosts engagement and motivation.
This model also shifts some of the responsibility of engagement and interaction to the audience. It also sets you up, as the presenter, to make a deal with your participants. “If you show up fully-prepared, this hour-long meeting will be a 45-minute meeting.”
When putting the flipped meeting model into practice, be specific in your expectations of participants, and your goals for the meeting!
How do you capture the attention and engagement of a distracted virtual audience? We’d love to hear the tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way!
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