How to Ensure Your Virtual Audience is Actually Awake and Engaged

Let’s face it: virtual meetings, webinars and presentations these days often feel like a blessing and a curse. While they can often aid to us feeling closer and more connected with those we work with, boost our productivity, offer opportunities for training and self-improvement and lead to greater collaboration and innovation, many of us glance at our calendars in the morning with some level of dread for the scores of meetings and events coming our way.

Online fatigue is a very real challenge for workers around the globe right now. Many employees are listening in on presentations or virtually present in a video chat square but mentally checked out, making it increasingly important for leaders in small and large companies alike to take an audit. We need to take a hard look at the who, what, when and how of communication and collaboration to keep team members not only awake, but engaged, empowered and productive.

So before you plan your next all-hands webinar, team meeting or sales training, take these points into consideration:

  • Keep it short. In most cases, anything longer than an hour is too long. At that point, topics start becoming irrelevant or over-discussed, and many are thinking of other work they should be getting to. So, set a specific and detailed agenda and create a structured ending. By planning out the end of your event, you can help your team gain a little more closure, by:
    • Asking or sharing what the biggest takeaways were.
    • Discussing key action items and next steps and agreeing on deadlines.
    • Asking what topic/s should be discussed in the next meeting, training or webinar.

  • Tackle only a few topics. You’ve probably been in a presentation where you felt overwhelmed by information. Maybe you attended a meeting that was dedicated to a general topic, but because there wasn’t a specific agenda, the conversation led to an open discussion that dragged on and on and wasn’t particularly beneficial for all those in attendance.

    Stick with no more than five topics, and ensure that for every topic on the agenda, there is a designated person responsible for tasks that fall under that topic.

  • Only include those necessary to the conversation. Speaking of ensuring that the proper stakeholders are in attendance, be mindful of who is invited. Video conference and event fatigue is real. Don't subject those to an event that isn't 100% necessary.

    Rather than inviting every member of any given team that has a hand in a campaign or project, consider inviting just those that are absolutely necessary and would find all or most of the topics discussed to be relevant to them. When the event wraps up, those that were in attendance can document commitments, reach out to other contributors, and manage the progress of post-event tasks.

    You may also consider scheduling discussions so they start with topics relevant to the most people and then communicate that people can leave as their names drop off the agenda. This will help keep conversations short and give time back to those that need it.

  • Acknowledge those in attendance. Giving those in attendance a clear moment of time as noted in the agenda, not only allows meetings and other events to run more smoothly and efficiently, but it demands a little more attentiveness and engagement. So grant everyone their moment in the spotlight and consider highlighting big wins.

  • Include an element of fun. Even if just for a few minutes at the beginning, incorporating a brief icebreaker can get everyone talking and at ease. Consider one of the following to open your next meeting, webinar or presentation:
    • A question: You can ask about anything from the weather where everyone is working, what everyone is listening to — this may range from music to podcasts — or what everyone did last weekend.
    • Share a picture: As the presenter, you may choose to share a funny meme or gif that made you laugh this week, a picture of your family, or an image of a hobby or passion you have that may not be well known.
    • Take a poll: Using the hand raising function — or a poll within a webinar — you may consider asking some simple yay or nay questions, i.e., whether participants are morning people or night owls, or just to gather how everyone is feeling.

  • Provide visuals. How many times have you been successfully following along in a meeting or presentation when you receive an urgent Slack message or email that needs your attention? You quickly reply, but suddenly realize that you weren’t as successful at double-tasking as you thought and find yourself a little lost in the conversation. Consider screen sharing working documents, the agenda, or a PowerPoint deck. This will help people follow along and stay a little more engaged in the discussion.

The average company seems to have an endless influx of meetings, webinars, trainings and the like. And while every event presents value, keeping them brief and to the point with a clear agenda, ensuring those in attendance are value adds and their time isn’t being wasted, and incorporating moments that encourage conversation and aid to the flow of the meeting will help everyone in your organization keep their meeting and event fatigue at bay while boosting productivity and engagement.