This is the second of three articles exploring how to take your virtual meetings to the next level. Last week we discussed some good practices for virtual working meetings: the quality of your sound, lighting, positioning of the camera, environment, and the peculiarities of live interaction. Today, we are going to build on that and consider how to run better virtual presentations to groups, aka webinars.
Now, if you are relatively comfortable with live presentations and engaging a group of people in a live setting, a webinar is a whole new playground. People’s attention span online tends to be extremely short, a shocking 2-3 min in fact in a live presentation, because your audience is watching your speech on a device and it is ever so easy to move their head slightly and check an incoming email.
We at Kingsford have participated in countless webinars and hosted several ourselves, so here are 6 takeaways to keep your audience engaged while hosting one:
#1 Keep your presentation short.
Or as short as possible, but no shorter (to paraphrase Einstein). You have to cover the material to meet your purpose; people anticipate that a session with a substantial amount of good information will take some time, whereas a few minutes may be seen as not worth attending. As a very general guide to both provide a good amount of information and keep people engaged, 30 to 40 minutes + questions and discussion, is doable for both presenter and attendee. But of course, sessions can run for much longer. For a multi-hour session, take a short break every hour.
#2 Your first 2 minutes are critical.
Set the scene with IMPACT. It doesn't matter too much what you say, more how. Grab their attention – an inspiring or thought generating image – an energetic start. AVOID the slow, ... winding, ... introducing, ... explaining, ... excusing ... start. So, you have initial momentum and engagement, now keep it up.
#3 Engage often.
Sometimes, the material you are presenting is sufficient in itself to keep people’s attention for the whole time. However, it is good to include various types of engagement – ie where the audience has to ‘do something’ in response to you. This could be a simple rhetorical question, or ask them to write a note. For a small group, you can ask a question and get someone to give an answer or comment. For slightly larger groups, you can ask for a ‘show of hands’ or use the poll function - many virtual apps have a raise your hand button and/or a polling function. The poll needs to be prepared in advance, everyone answers and you can show the aggregate audience response. There is a wide range of other tools like AhaSlides or Mentimeter for more complex audience participation. And what do we mean by engage often? Well, every 3 to five minutes you should be eliciting some sort of response from the audience.
#4 Engage your audience in breakout rooms
People will usually only interact with each other in small groups, so use breakout rooms where your audience is split into smaller (safer) groups and where they can participate in some private discussion or work on assignments collaboratively. Your breakout room is not a “mini-conference” room, so think of it as a physical place where people work together. So, to get the most out of it, have one of your people in each breakout room to stimulate discussion, facilitate or direct, and maybe do an icebreaker and have a collaborative whiteboard or brainstorming app or document that people could use together. Check out Mural or Miro for collaborative whiteboards (with virtual post-its). We use Mural and love it. Many people come to webinars with the hope of meeting people - breakout rooms are where ´virtual networking´ happens best.
#5 Is there anybody out there?
One big issue with virtual presentations, especially for larger groups, is that often you can’t see your audience – many will have their cameras off (and hopefully their mic’s off). It is important you retain the knowledge that there is a crowd out there listing to you and watching you. One technique is to put an image of people (that you like), or even a small fluffy toy, just behind the camera and talk to that. Make eye contact with your audience, yes, even if you can’t see them.
#6 Be expert.
The most important of all….make sure you know how to drive the technology. Your attendees don't want to watch you battling with the tools. It just doesn't look good. Practise - enough said!