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During the lockdowns and isolations of the previous year we have gone from very being enthralled by the use of online platforms such as Zoom, WebEx , Microsoft Teams and others to become weary and fatigued of attending online meetings. In fact, it has almost become ‘death by zoom’ from hour after hour spent staring into the camera.

Have you ever wondered if this describes your audience? Are they losing interest and you have lost their attention.? Are they paying more attention to their emails and phone messages than concentrating on your presentation?

If so, here are some thoughts on how to gain and keep the interest of your attendees.

  1. Take regular Breaks

I have always found that the adage of ‘short talks are listened to and long talks are slept through’ to be true

When you have been sitting in the same position for some while you become restless and instead of enjoying the meeting  it ends up becoming an endurance test and the end cannot come soon enough.

Encourage your attendees to stretch and have a break by setting regular breaks. Allocate time for these in your meeting agenda allowing sufficient time to make a fresh brew. Do this and result will be a more energised meeting.

  1. Don’t tie them to their seat

Alongside taking regular breaks consider how you can liberate your audience from the laptop -is there scope to have them leave the meeting and come back. You could for example pair attendees together to complete a task ( such as some research ) to be conducted over the phone/skype and report back to the main meeting after an agreed time period. I will talk about using Break out rooms later but essentially the difference is that they still keep people in the same meeting.

Encourage them to conduct this paired work at a different desk or office to the one they originated attended from and this will bring energy back into the meeting and add a touch of variety

  1. Involve everyone

In a physical training room, it can be easier to read the body language of attendees and to notice who is actively participating. I was taught to use a technique called ‘lighthousing’ which helped maintain eye contact. Not so easy on zoom especially when slides are being used and you are restricted to only seeing 5 people.

A simple technique I use is to draw on paper an imaginary meeting room with named seating allotted to all the participants and I simply place a tick against the name of an attendee who has made a contribution.

At a quick glance I can easily spot who is actively taking part and direct a question to a non- participating individual at the next opportunity. Advise them to come off mute and ask questions such as “Tom, we haven’t heard from you in a while-what are your thoughts on………?”

This also has the advantage of sending a message to the other attendees ‘I had better start paying attention because I might be asked next’

  1. Use the tools wisely

Each platform has its own quirks but they all come with some tools such as chat, polls etc and the trick is to use them to enhance the meeting experience and not to use them for the sake of using them. Here are some of the most common features and tools.

Chat –  Often used when it would be impractical for every attendee to use their microphone and having attendees use the chat for a response can add variety but if every response is given using chat it can slow the meeting down and itself become boring and routine.

Some platforms allow you to restrict chat between other attendees privately -consider setting your meeting up this way (warning-doesn’t stop people texting each other on their phones) so that participants are not distracted by sharing private messages one to another.

Polls-Used carefully I have found polls a valuable method of engagement. Setting up a Poll can be a simple and speedy method of canvassing option especially when there are several options. Attendees not only get to vote but can see the result of their polls almost immediately.

Break Out Rooms– One thing I do not miss about physical meeting rooms is the pain of sending people off to work in small teams ‘ it can be like herding kittens’ however with online meetings group is arranged easily and at the push of a button. In small teams it is much easier to collaborate and work together.

Make a note of who is allocated what room and if you want to switch things up a bit ensure that people at allocated differently at the next break out session.

Reactions buttons –it might be a smiley face emoticon or a cartoon of clapping hands but whatever your chosen platform provides be an expert in them and know what is available. When you need a swift response in the meeting  to a simple proposal or idea ask “ Do you agree? -if so give me a smiley face emoticon or a thumbs down if you disagree’

This enables a speedy response but at the same time encourages participation.

Camera  a contagious  (because of privacy issues) idea but when welcoming people into the meeting and before it starts encourage attendees to switch on their camera and microphone. This enables  people to greet one another just as happens in a physical meeting when people gather for coffee prior to the meeting. This helps relax people and can reduce the sense of isolation many people are feeling when working from home. Cameras and microphones can go off again when the meeting gets underway if that is what people wish to do.

  1. Disruptions

When people work from home distractions will happen, they are a part of life. I have lost count of the number of times the doorbell rings with a delivery when I am on a meeting or someone’s dog barks or a child wanders in. It is easy to see distractions as only being part of the online meeting world but if we are honest distractions occur in the physical meeting room just as often.

Many times, physical meetings have been disrupted from urgent telephone messages, loud lawn mowers, people coming into the wrong meeting room or the refreshments being delivered.

So, although the nature of the distractions have changed with online meeting distractions themselves have long been a part of meetings.

How many times have distractions and interruptions happened to you?

What is your experience of hosting virtual meetings and what tips do you have to share with others?