The reality is, we all multi-task during virtual meetings.
A 2004 study by Raindance Commmunications, (provider of integrated web and audio conferencing) indicated that 90% of audio conference attendees multi-task during meetings. A 2010 survey by PGI (virtual presentation software), found that more than half of the respondents admitted to secretly multitasking during virtual meetings.
The good news is, as a virtual meeting facilitator, you do have some influence and control. There are specific actions you can take to increase engagement and participation during virtual meetings. And… more engagement leads to faster and better decision making, fewer follow-up meetings, more closed sales and many other benefits!
Here are ten tips to add to your virtual meeting best practice list:
1) Adjust Your “Participant Entrance” Call Settings
I have attended many virtual calls, where the facilitator continually tries to begin the meeting, but they get interrupted with “ XX has entered the conference” and have to start again. Most conference call software allows the “meeting owner” to change the entrance setting to either a short beep or complete silence. Making this change will help start the meeting on time and with power!
2) Ask for Engagement Up Front By Adding WIIFM
At the beginning of the meeting, give the audience members a compelling reason to listen and stay engaged. For example, “I know that we all tend to multi-task in these types of meetings, but I really need your engagement today. We will be making some decisions about the sales comp plan that will affect everyone on the call. I really want to hear your ideas, before it’s finalized.”
On a related note, Nancy Settle-Murphy of Guided Insights, in her article titled, “Discourage multitasking with clear ground rules, focused meetings” recommended that you try reversing the usual “all on mute except speaking” ground rule. “Ask everyone to stay off mute so they can be ready to participate instantly. This way, you’ll hear any errant key clicks that reveal multitasking is occurring, and you can be prepared to make some well-timed comments.”
3) Share Key Concepts In The First 15 Minutes
In a past job, I worked with a senior leader (let’s call him Bob) who could get very distracted in meetings and presenters often had trouble getting past the first slide in a presentation. Therefore, over time, presenters changed their approach and started with one slide that summarized all the key concepts. That way, if they never made it past slide one, they still communicated what was most important. We even called the slide the “Bob slide”.
The same holds true for virtual meetings. Assume that your audience members are most engaged in the first 15 minutes, so use that time to cover the most important concepts and ideas.
4) Use More Than One Presenter
If the meeting is more than 30 minutes long, add at least one other speaker to the mix. Different voices and styles, can help keep attendees more engaged.
5) Format Slides For A Smaller Viewing Area
Assume that your attendees are viewing your slides on a much smaller screen as they may shrink the meeting window and/or may be using a very small laptop. Then format your slides accordingly so they remain legible and understandable. Transfer very detailed information (e.g. data, graphs) to handouts.
6) Use Less Text, More Visuals
It’s a fact- bullet points can be boring. In addition, many studies have shown that visual representations of words (e.g. a picture of an apple versus the word apple) can attract more attention and help audience members better remember the content. Graphics can also help to simplify complex content.
In his book, “Virtual Presentations That Work”, Joel Gendelman provides three examples of visuals we should use in virtual meetings:
- Organizational visuals: Using clip art or images to describe a related concept. e.g. using a turtle to refer to a slow process and a rabbit to refer to the fast process.
- Relational visuals: Using images to convert statistics into visuals, e.g. pie charts
- Transformational visuals: Using visuals to illustrate how things change over time, e.g. timeline, before and after photos
7) Use Subtle Animation
At critical times during the presentation, add subtle animation like using a pointer, highlighter or occasional moving images to grab participants’ attention. However, avoid too much animation, as that can have the opposite effect and distract audience members.
_8) Interact, Interact, Interact
Find ways to interact with the audience throughout the virtual meeting. Beyond simply asking questions, you could use online polling, live chat, play games or even add short puzzles to the presentation.
9) Focus Your Questions
When asking questions, instead of asking them to the entire audience which often results in no response, narrow down the focus to groups, locations or a few people. For example, “What do the folks in the Chicago office think of this idea?” or “Tom, Judy and Kevin.. you were part of the previous implementation. What do you think of this new approach?”. You are much more likely to solicit responses with this approach.
10) Strategically Share Handouts
If you distribute handouts or a copy of the presentation before the call begins, participants may be reading your documents instead of listening to the call or watching the Webex. Instead, distribute documents right before you need to (perhaps via a shared folder or drive) or wait until after the call.
Other ideas for virtual meeting best practices? Please add them to the comments section..
For more information on this hot topic, check out:
“How to host an effective virtual meeting”, by Leslie Wolf
“Ten Ground Rules for being an Effective Virtual Meeting Participant”, by Julia Young