How Do You Engage Virtual Audiences?
18 Tips to Help You Thrive OnlineBy Lou Solomon
Over the past two years, virtual meetings have become a regular staple in our business communication. But as the quantity of virtual meetings has gone up, the quality is going the way of bad conference calls.
A few years ago, virtual meetings were an exciting new way to engage with your team from anywhere. We can now connect, communicate, and collaborate with team members across the globe … but the novelty is starting to wear off.
Have you noticed that your video calls are filled with blank faces, downturned eyes that are checking phones, and — worst of all — turned off cameras? Zoom meetings have been thrown into the same pile where bad teleconference calls lie. Who can blame us for giving up?
Resignation is not the answer — virtual meetings, classes, and conferences are here to stay. To thrive in the digital environment, we have to engage our virtual audiences. It takes preparation, intention, and presence.
First things first. How do we manage over-exposure to virtual meetings? Be more intentional. We all toss out “I’ll send you a link” too easily these days.
Use tools to help manage your availability. Limit virtual meetings to 30 minutes and place buffer time between meetings with tools like Doodle and Calendly.
Mix it up. Many organizations have Slack groups where all leaders and managers are able to get together to communicate at different times throughout the day. Not everything needs to be a meeting. If a quick email or message could suffice, use those options.
Also, remember that your phone is still an option. A phone call can be a more private medium for two people, and break up a day of Zooming. As COVID restriction relax, get out and see people. Face-to-face meetings are still King when it comes to building trust and influence. Many people have gotten a bit lazy about in-person meetings; you will shine when you show up.
Now that you’re being more mindful about the number of virtual meetings you’re having, how do you make certain you’re showing up as the best version of yourself?
5 Tips to Show Up at Your Best for Virtual Meetings
- Set up your command post. Find a comfortable spot with the right lighting to look your best. Arrange your setup so that your camera is at eye level. Use a chair with lumbar support, or a standing desk if you prefer. Always sit and stand tall. It’s less fatiguing. Make a small investment in the items that bring you confidence, such as an external webcam, ring light, green screen, and so on.
- Keep your video on. If there are circumstances you can’t help, let everyone know why you can’t join by video, and that you are present and will participate in the chat, etc. Being off-camera should be the exception, not a part of your virtual reputation.
- Be mic-conscious. Having your mic unmuted is a big distraction to others. Make certain you’re not the cause of interference and background noises.
- Glance at the camera. You don’t have to stare. Find ways to cast your eyes toward the camera on a regular basis. Arrange the thumbnails of teammates at the top of your screen. Put a sticky note at the top of your screen with something like, “Look here!” Explore the purchase of a webcam mounted in a position to make eye contact simple.
- Show respect. If you have to step away or leave early, don’t just sneak out and drop the call. Send a private note to the person leading the meeting. These small acts of respect help build your image as a trusted leader.
Don’t Be Shy; Turn Your Video On
Many people take issue with the advice about leaving the video on. We hear things like, “It’s the way we do it here at (company)! No one minds if you don’t have your video on.”
What they are really saying is, “I’m too busy to focus exclusively on this meeting. I need to do other things while I listen.” All the more reason to run short, productive meetings that don’t waste anyone’s time.
But you can be a role model and keep your video on. Demonstrate that you are being intentional and committed to the team’s success. The message will come through.
If you manage people, establish a meeting culture of participation and don’t leave room for excuses. As much as possible, make sure team members have access to technology that allows them to be heard and seen: a stable Internet connection, a webcam, a microphone, or a headset with a mic.
How to Run Superior Virtual Meetings and Give Memorable Presentations
Preparation is the sign of your intention. Preparation stands next to Presence. You show up. – Leslie Odom Jr.
The way to engage virtual audiences is to take advantage of the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of online communication. Here are a few tips:
How can you tap into the team’s creativity to use video, themes, music, and light humor? If the stakes are high enough, it’s worth taking steps to delight your audience with an innovative approach.
Have a meeting producer on your team.
Instructors cannot multi-task and connect with participants at the same time. Patrick Sheehan is a talented member of our team who wears many hats. As our virtual producer, he deals with technical issues and watches out for folks who are occasionally dropped. He oversees all the interactive tools, orchestrates breakout rooms, runs video, etc., and can jump in and facilitate if the instructor loses their connection.
Create a safe space.
Having the right human being on the other end of the learning makes all the difference. In some ways, the virtual classroom is not entirely different from the in-person one.
Creating a space for people to experiment is key. If your audience doesn’t feel safe to open up, they will withdraw their participation quickly.
Be spontaneous. Be genuine.
A warm instructor can impact the environment through encouragement and coaching—and just by being a genuine person with hobbies, friends, pets, and families. Unrehearsed, human moments can lift engagement and an element of fun in the course. If you live by a script, your audience can’t connect with the real you.
Use interactive tools to build engagement.
Video platforms give you access to interactive tools. Master the use of breakout rooms, whiteboards, chat, polls, models, feedback from teammates and faculty. All help with engagement.
Talk to individuals.
Virtual mediums give you the benefit of seeing everyone’s name tag. You can use first names to personalize the overall conversation.
Telling stories is an ancient and powerful teaching tool, no matter what the format. We tell stories to make sense of our world, and this extends to business concepts as well. In-person or online, stories that illustrate the main idea behind a module will generate understanding. Stories are the most effective way of organizing information and making it stick.
Apply “in-person meeting wisdom.”
Remember what we know works for all effective meetings: send an agenda in advance; limit the number of attendees; make certain someone helps the group stay on point; keep it short and upbeat; follow up with a reminder of action items.
Virtual Chemistry is a Real Thing
We teach classes on Authentic Communication via Zoom to folks from countries in different time zones around the globe.
After each class, the Interact Studio team stays in the virtual room to share observations, including who was showing up and influencing the group’s personality.
It’s unmistakable. The people who are engaged and intentional about showing up are the very nerve center of the group. They stand out. They help make the learning experience energized and meaningful for everyone.
Bottom line, virtual meetings, presentations, and classes are a part of the business landscape now. Find your way to thrive as a communicator in the digital world.
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