Every interaction is virtual right now – business and personal. Entrepreneurs are doing online meetings, webinars, pitching, job interviews and lots more. You might be hosting one, or running it as an anchor, moderator or speaker. The question is – how do you make them a success, and not be tedious or repetitive. Get the right tips for virtual meetings that truly engage – and are fun – your audience.
Go Virtual, but never be impersonal!
Try these proven tips from business owners and executives to engage clients in online meetings
Start by adding a personal touch
“In virtual meetings with clients or employees, check in with them personally to see how they are doing. Especially in these times of social distancing, having a personal connection at the beginning of a meeting can put everyone in a better mood,” says Alina Morros of Fiol Law Group.
Imani Francies of FreeAdvice.com points out that people are isolated, spending long hours alone, and may even experience anxiety or stress from everything that is going on.
“Ask how they are coping, and do not accept generic responses like ‘I’m well. How are you?’ Be vulnerable with them about where you are so they will feel comfortable enough to do the same.
Due to being stuck in isolation, people are losing the human connection and interaction with link-minded individuals that they usually get naturally.
Intentionally giving your audience that connection they are missing allows them to be more engaged with the later conversations associated with work because, in some way, a bit of weight may be lifted from their shoulders. People relax because they realize they are not the only ones dealing with anxiety over everything.”
Ask how everyone and their families are doing. It’s always nice to know the people you work with care, especially during this time.
Keep the attention
Freya Huffman of Virtual Training Coach suggests, “Keep attendees engaged by starting with an introduction and virtual icebreaker. Build in activities to keep them engaged every few minutes.”
Rafael Parra from Homeschool Spanish Academy offers a tip. “Keeping attention online can be harder than in a real meeting, so use easy-to-answer questions to randomly chosen people throughout the meeting. This ensures all the participants are tuned in because they might get asked something next.”
You can easily lose attention in large group meetings, especially if the conversation goes too far off-topic.
“Let the participants know they can put their comments in the ‘virtual parking lot’ and acknowledge them throughout the meeting,” suggests Huffman.
Use tools to converse
Virtual Meeting Platforms offer numerous features that you can rely on, to communicate better and build interest.
“Take a poll, ask them to use the icon to raise their hands. They can click on check mark icons to say yes. Be sure to make generous use of the chat feature. Ask a simple question and have everyone respond,” suggests Author & Speaking Coach Diane DiResta, of DiResta Communications, Inc.
She adds, “the chat allows the audience to ask questions that the presenter can answer. To let people participate verbally, the Presenter can create “hot seats” where individuals can receive advice about a particular issue. For large groups, have virtual breakout rooms where they can split up and meet in.”
Huffman shares tips to involve more people. “Ask everyone to keep their lines muted and raise their hands to speak or use the chat feature. Encourage participation but don’t lecture. Thank each speaker for their contribution then queue up the next speaker by calling their name.
Engage with video
Isaac Hammelburger at Search Pros offers an advantage of looking at the camera. “It keeps eye contact with everyone who is on call. This keeps them engaged in the video conference and keeps their attention on you.
Shiv Gupta of Incrementors Web Solutions suggests mandating that the cameras be ON to allow that personal touch. “Yes, you are working with a virtual setup but what brings more energy is having the person right in front.”
Avoid ‘Death by Powerpoint’
DiResta cautions. “Don’t be a talking head. Attention spans are shrinking, so your normal presentation needs to be much shorter to adapt to the virtual format. With presentations, don’t talk for more than a minute for each slide. People will get bored and tune out. Speak in sound bites and use examples and anecdotes in place of long stories.”
Tech consultant and coach Aviv Ben-Yosef has a different idea. “Even for those in high-tech positions, low-tech might be the way to go!
One of my favorite tricks is to ditch the slides. To keep people engaged, scribble with them live. Don’t have a PowerPoint presentation or even screen share a Google Doc. Instead, use a virtual whiteboard, or shoot yourself in front of a whiteboard or easel sheet.”
Daisy Jing, CEO and Founder of Banish has an idea which is great for webinars and virtual events. “Give out a “cool” prize for the day. It’ll break the tension, make everyone more alert, and keep them engaged. It’ll also become the highlight of the meeting, and people will look forward to coming back every week.”
Werner Jorgensen from Heatxperts shares. “Avoid text-heavy presentations because they complicate things, and people lose their interest. If they have to read everything by themselves, then why are they even talking to you. Yes, elaborate but use “easy-to-understand” words.”
Laura Fuentes of Infinity Dish shares a way to address a downside of virtual meetings. “Encourage people to speak up more, or ask questions of people. It’s more difficult to read body language to see if someone has something to say. So be more aggressive in getting opinions from people in order to make up for potentially more reserved personalities during an online meeting.”
Or you can also reach out for feedback from attendees – this way, both of you benefit.
Explore these 23 tips for engaging and interactive presentations!
Read body language
Julian Jost CEO and co-founder of Spacebase suggests a way to hack the issue of overlapping speech. “Although these may occasionally be unavoidable due to lagging video and WiFi problems, the best practice for this is to read body language. The usual signs to look out for are nodding heads, or mouths starting to open. If it is a video off meeting, the next best is to directly ask for comments and thoughts.”
Think virtual etiquette
“During one on one meetings, the lines can be kept unmuted,” says Huffman. “Also, ask the person if they would like to come on camera or not.”
When pitching, start off by introducing yourself and sharing commonalities. Ask them to tell you about their goals and needs. Listen but don’t sell. Empathize with them and let them know you understand and you’ve been there before.
Then ask them for a few minutes to share your product or service. If they resist, stop immediately and ask if you can send them an email with a link to your materials for review.
Check out these 10 ways to keep your audience focused on a video presentation?
Incorporate fun (even in professional settings)
Here are 15 ways to keep your meetings interesting.
Karen Oakey, an HR pro from Fracture shares ideas
- fun interactive type questions
- virtual lunches
- virtual happy hours
- trivia via platforms like Kahoot
- virtual DJ drive-at-5 “drop your favorite pumped-up song”
- virtual town hall-style meetings for all (customers, vendors, employees) to dial in, get an update and ask questions
- open video/slack calls within your team to get access to that verbal communication missing from texts and emails
All work and some fun is good!
Jonathan Sprinkles, The Connection Coach suggests approaching a meeting as a gameshow. “Look at how network shows keep the audience engaged and tuned in: polling, humor, questions that make us all yell at our screens trying to guess them. You can use this in your next meeting to build high energy.”
He shares some tips for fun virtual meetings
“Open up a meeting by playing HeadsUp with your smartphones. Ask trivia questions where winners get virtual gift cards or even small Cash App rewards.
Or have the group tell a story, but each person says only one line of it at a time. People can take it wherever their imagination lets them. They compete, but also bond while stitching together the story.”
Liam Flynn of MusicGrotto offers a theme based idea such as ‘introduce your pet on camera day’, or host virtual lunch meetings where everyone brings a meal and your team discusses business the same way you would during a physical lunch meeting!
Jorgenson uses a Spinner with fun questions like, “What is your favorite book, and why?” “Who is your inspiration?” and “What is your biggest accomplishment?” etc.
“Dress up for the meeting or declare it a Casual Day,” Terell Strayhorn of Do Good Work Consulting. Take a group “selfie” on Zoom with a screenshot of the entire frame. If you have a team/company tee, encourage staff to wear it one day to nurture teamwork, albeit virtual.”
Plan for distractions (the kids may not be quiet!)
An engaged interaction starts with YOU! Factor in things that might go wrong at your end.
Walter suggests letting people in your space know that you’ll be conducting a meeting so they won’t interrupt you.
Sean Valencourt from Polywood feels that it involves giving yourself some flex. “Understand that with children at home and everything else that’s different than from before, there needs to be flexibility with working hours.”
Francies adds. “If your child or another family member interrupts, don’t allow it to throw you off or work you up. Just adjust and keep moving. How you handle situations will be how your clients/employees will handle them too.”
They balance. We say manage, juggle, embrace.
Sign off – the goodbye matters just as much!
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of My Corporation.com says “leave a bit of time at the end for questions or encourage attendees to email you afterwards with additional questions.”
Neal Taparia of Solitaired saw pretty consistently that not everyone participated in their Zoom meetings, like they would in a normal conference. He suggests giving a shoutout to those who contributed the most to the meeting. Needless to say, this will step up everyone’s efforts to make it more balanced.
Virtual is here to stay. Whether you are working with remote teams, multi-location clients and vendors or simply working from home, online meetings are a fact of life.
So keep it interesting, make it engaging and don’t forget to have fun!
Pooja Krishna is an Entrepreneur, Business Mentor and Mom. She has worked both in large corporates and managed startups over the last 20+ years.
She’s a co-founder at Maroon Oak, and is founded Win Thinks, where she writes, speaks and teaches about Digital Media, Brand Building and Future Ready Businesses. A day trader for over a decade, Pooja launched Trading Paces to educate amateur and pro stock traders. As a classroom mentor, Pooja loves teaching students across the U.S. about job skills and entrepreneurship. Read about her on Huffington Post and Forbes.
A trivia buff and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast, she’s discovering the pleasure of drawing Zentangle patterns for ‘creative mindfulness.’