Virtual Meetings People Want to Attend

As a Duarte facilitator I have had the privilege of presenting workshops on how to develop great presentations for several years now. During these workshops I am frequently asked “How do I make virtual meetings better?  How can I grab and hold my attendees attention?  How do I get interaction from the attendees?

My answer always starts with a story about my daughter about 8 weeks after she was born. Her father and I were less than impressed with her. She didn’t giggle, or look at us, or really do much of anything. It took my Mother in Law to set us straight. She said, simply, “You are boring. You have to remember she is hard of sight and hearing and can’t speak. You have to be bigger, more enthusiastic and more interesting for her to even register you are there.”  She was right (as always). We changed our approach to interacting with our daughter and she immediately started interacting with us more. (For the record – I have been Super Impressed with my daughter since then.)

What does this have to do with your business virtual meeting?  The attendees are like the baby – they can’t see or hear you as well and they aren’t usually enthusiastic about speaking up.  You are now a smaller, flatter, 2D version of yourself.

We have all been on the receiving end of a virtual meeting.  The presenter is smaller, quieter and less interesting that the millions of things that could be happening right next to us.  Things like the dog needing to be loved, the distracting co-worker, or the refrigerator that is calling out quietly to be opened.  When you hold a virtual meeting, remember all of these things are distractors that you are competing with.

Here are some ways to gain and hold the attendees:

1) Start off by setting the ground work that lets attendees know their participation is not only welcomed but also required.  Start by asking a question that everyone has an answer to but isn’t germane to the meeting topic.  Follow up with a quick conversation about the topic. Some samples:

* Where is everyone calling in from?
* How long have people been with the organization/Company etc?
* What’s the weather like where you are?
* Who is calling from the location farthest away from the presenter?

Gently let the attendees know that you expect an answer (either through Chat or Audio) and wait a bit longer than usual for the answers to start rolling in. This lets them get their chat window up and running and/or reminds them where their Mute button is on the phone/computer.

2) Be more enthusiast.  This means using more hand gestures and facial expressions.  Changing the volume and tone when you are talking.  We stay interested in things that are not consistent and/or monotone.

This may feel fake and awkward at first but it is worth it.  Remember the attendees are only seeing you through a small box probably in the corner of the monitor. 

3) Show the emotion that you want the attendees to feel when you want them to feel it.  We humans mimic.  If you show the emotion you want them to feel, they will be more likely and willing to feel and show that emotion.  You are the guide during the meeting, lead them down the path you want them to take. 

4) More visuals not less.  Break your 1 slide with 8 long bullets into 8 slides with just 1 bullet each.  The change rate of the slides will keep pulling attendees back to the screen.  That really complex diagram?  Make it several slides, each one highlighting just the topic you are talking about.  One complex slide that you stay on for 10 minutes will just encourage them to start drifting away (or going to sleep). 

With a little work and constant attention to your audience’s needs, you can hold the virtual meetings that everyone wants to attend.

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