There’s a misconception that people are bored with Zoom.  I’ve heard countless times that “People have had enough of online meetings and events.”

That’s not been my experience. My experience has been that people are fed up of boring events and meetings that fail to engage them. What has happened in many cases is that boring meetings or trainings have migrated online without any thought being given to re-designing them for the new environment. For years people have got away with uninspiring presentations because they’ve had a captive audience. You simply can’t get away with this online. Attendees look like they’re engaged, but engaged with what? Are the enthralled by your presentation, or are they surfing the net researching their next holiday?

What I find exciting is that this situation presents us with a real opportunity to up our engagement game for the online world, and then we can apply the same principles offline to our personal IRL (In Real Life) interactions and give them an engagement turbo-boost. 

The people I work with always create engaging experiences. How do we do this? Simply, we put engagement at the heart of designing our sessions, and work the content around some basic principles. We can apply these equally online or off.

So here are a few pointers to help you towards creating you own engaging online experiences:

Engage right from the start!

How many times have you arrived on a Zoom call and there’s been 5 minutes of waiting around in silence to get started? A real tumbleweed experience, and definitely not the best way to create a first impression! One of the basic principles at play here is that of primacy and recency, or firsts and lasts. That’s what people always remember. Ideally they’ll remember the in-between bits as well, but we’ll come to that later.  For now:

Start with a WOW!

Either engage the audience in conversation (being sure to include everyone, and not just talk to your mates while excluding everyone else) or/and have some music to help set the tone for the event. We started a session last week with songs from The Little Mermaid – everyone loved it!

Another basic starting off principle is getting everyone involved and out of passive ‘receive’ mode. 

In a large group, there are very few situations where I wouldn’t put people into breakout rooms to have a warm up chat. Get people talking and animated.  A favourite of mine is to turn it into a competition and ask them in pairs to try to come up with the most bizarre or unlikely connection between them. Not only can this be fun, but it gets them into asking probing questions and opens up their sense of curiosity.

For smaller groups, have a check-in round where each individual gets to speak. I like getting them to ‘pass the baton’ to someone else when they’ve finished to avoid either awkward silences (and time wasting) when no-one wants to speak, or the host having to nominate people. The latter situation is to be avoided as it creates a power dynamic where the host is seen as the boss and others then step back, killing both engagement and the potential rich seam of ideas and thinking that’s available in the room.

Don’t present!

Unless it adds something, do NOT use the presentation function! It can be a brilliant resource if used sparingly and appropriately, but too often it is used as a crutch for the presenter, just like in all those boring meetings you so hate IRL.

I was on a call where the speaker was in present mode throughout their presentation and then actually showed a slide saying “Q&A” during the Q&A.  Absolutely no engagement with the people asking the questions!

Of course, things are constantly changing and evolving, and the latest meeting software includes little tricks like being able to have a presentation screen appearing in your background behind you. But don’t let this draw you back into old ways. Think instead of how you can use such tools to add engagement and excitement, not how to make your own life easier.

Keep engaging

When I first started on a speaking career, my public speaking coach told me that people’s attention span when listening to one person was limited to seven minutes and, within that, you should also check in with your audience by regularly asking questions: Does this make sense? Are you still with me? etc.

So if you have longer content, break it up. Turn a presentation into a conversation by having someone ask questions at least every seven minutes. That introduces a change of voice and also creates a different rhythm. Nothing worse than someone droning on with great content, while all the time your eyelids are drooping!

If I have guest speakers, I usually work with them to break down their content, often introducing group breakouts to discuss content as we go, rather than having just one feedback session at the end. This helps to embed learning and retention of key points, as well as helping everyone re-focus regularly.

Plan a break

We may be used to having back-to-back meetings at work, but we must remember that in the online environment people are sitting in front of their computer screens and need to have a break at least once an hour. I personally might stretch this to 1-1/4 hours on occasion, but anything more should absolutely have a break planned in.

Sometimes I’ll give them a question to ponder over the break and then we’ll get started again by inviting sharing. And don’t forget to put on some music so they don’t come back to more tumbleweed!

End on a high

This is so important. Too often, calls just fizzle out at the end leaving participants feeling a bit flat and with a sense of the session having been a bit inconclusive.

Think about how you want people to feel after the call and have a plan to make that happen.  But don’t stick to the plan if something better comes up. Maybe someone says something brilliantly insightful during the call that you can include as part of your parting shot.

Something I feel strongly about is that, if people are in the right place there will be a specific outcome that will benefit them. It may be new knowledge or insights, or they may have come to a decision about something. Whatever it may be, it’s always good to share some feedback on the value people have got from the session.

Personally, I want my sessions to be action-provoking rather than merely thought-provoking. I like to end by asking people what actions they intend to take forward that will make a difference in their life or work. I then congratulate them on their actions and thank them for their contribution to making the session a success.

Make it fun!

Perhaps this should be tip #1 😉

People learn best when they are relaxed, and there’s nothing like having a sense of fun and play to achieve this.

My experience in business has always been that people take it – and themselves – far too seriously. I’m not saying we should put fun above doing a great job, I’m just saying we can have fun whilst doing a great job. Fun and professionalism are not mutually exclusive.

So, in a nutshell: start by planning how to engage and work the content around that.

Engage; Engage; Engage – Beginning; Middle and End. 

The end!

Author: Brett Sadler – Leadership Consultant and EFS Strategic Advisor

Photo credit: Magnet.me on Unsplash

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