Realized Worth is what we like to call a “virtual company.” With employees based all over the US and Canada and clients all over the world, we hold upwards of 50 online meetings per week. To stay connected with each other and with our clients, we’re in a constant experiment to answer the question, “What does it take to facilitate an engaging online meeting?”
Without question, human beings struggle in a digital environment. Face-to-face communication between humans is already fraught with misunderstanding. Bring in questionable wifi, zero visibility, and bad audio (not to mention “mute”!) into the mix and it’s a wonder anyone sticks around for the whole meeting. (They do…don’t they?)
While we continue the experiment, we thought we’d open up about what works well so far. Take a look and let us know if you have anything to add!
Imagine: you sign in to your meeting, running through the agenda one last time before the participants dial in. After some chit-chat, you begin. To your relief and delight, things are going well – people are laughing at your jokes, asking and even answering questions. Everyone leaves the call feeling invigorated and excited about what they’ve learned.
What would you need to make that scenario a reality? An energized audience? Lots of sharing? People asking questions? How about drama!?
It is up to you as the host to make that happen, and we are here to help.
Let’s do it in order:
1. Call Preparation:
Send out an email or set up an automatic reminder for participants before each meeting or webinar. Be sure to join larger webinars/trainings 15 minutes prior and test the settings.
- Keep your agenda manageable. Maybe that sounds obvious, but consider this: people hear things the first time on the 9th listen. Keep your ideas crisp, clear and palatable. And then summarize. If the agenda is too full, participant comprehension will inevitably suffer for it – not to mention discussion! Share items in a pre-read or a follow-up when possible.
- On that note, review your content from the participant’s perspective and ask, “what’s in it for me?” Your listeners are expecting another boring webinar, but they’re giving up 30-90 minutes of their time anyway. Blow their minds. Share only information that brings immediate value by being shared verbally. Package the rest to send as a follow-up.
- Prep a few attendees ahead of time to speak up and share information or stories but be sure they understand why they are sharing – not just what. All content needs to connect with the purpose of your webinar – which is both to impart information and to engage attendees with a meaningful experience.
2. Getting started:
- Always have at least 2 facilitators – one to lead the call and the other to manage the chat screen. (We’ll come back to the chat screen later!) If both facilitators are also great presenters, throw the conversation back and forth to keep attendees’ attention – and maybe even make it funny!
- Begin by introducing everyone. Call each attendee by name and ask them to come off mute, share their name and location, and what why they chose to join the meeting. If there are more than 8 people, ask them to use the chat screen to introduce themselves and welcome each other.
- Almost-require Video. Not everyone is allowed to use video functionality at work – and not everyone will have their hair done – but turn on your video and ask everyone else to turn on theirs. Without seeing the fact of the participant, you can kiss engaging webinars behind.
3. During the call:
- Use the chat screen. Encourage attendees’ to use the chat screen throughout to interact with the content and each other. Help them get over any uncertainty about using it by asking everyone to type “yes” and hit enter just to confirm the chat is working properly.
- Maintain eye contact – really! It may feel awkward to look straight at the camera instead of at the screen, but it changes the experience of the participant entirely. And remember, attendees can see you when you’re not speaking, too. Keep your expression engaged and interested.
- Keep your energy up. Lift the virtual energy of the call with a genuinely positive and upbeat tone. (Okay, sometimes you’ll have to fake it, but it’s worth it?) Even if it’s true, never say you’re feeling rushed or you’re going to speed through things or skip sections. If you give the impression of what’s being shared isn’t important, participants will question the value of their attendance.
- Talk to people and use their names. People will pay attention if they expect to hear their name. (Think less high-school-teacher-looking-to-embarrass, and more attentive-host-welcoming-guests.)
- Always summarize a participant’s statements or comments after they are done sharing. It shows you were listening and helps with clarity for other participants.
- Explain acronyms! “Helen’s husband is now DOA.” Has tragedy struck Helen’s family or was her husband promoted to director of accounting? No one knows because Helen didn’t explain. Don’t be like Helen.
4. In closing:
- Allow awkward silence. Typically, in a webinar setting, people will wait an inordinate amount of time to see if someone else wants to speak up first. If you save time for discussion and pose questions to attendees, allow a decent space for uber-polite attendees to step up.
- Summarize key points. Duh, right? But it’s easy to forget to designate time for this. Ideally, when the people who attended your webinar are asked in the hallway later, “What was it about?” they’ll be able to rattle off three salient takeaways without much work.
- Invite reflection. Critical reflection is how people bring meaning to their experiences. It’s what allows information to settle in and begin to change attitudes and behaviors. You may not have time to spend time in reflection on the actual call, but invite attendees to keep two questions in their minds as they continue through their day: What did you experience today? And was it what you expected? Ask them to share their thoughts with someone or take time to write them down.