We hear this all the time, from the people we train and coach. Engaging your audience during a virtual meeting is really hard, they say. And most people we work with are desperate for ways to create more engagement with their audience… because it feels next to impossible to create it.
I am here today to tell you that it is NOT impossible. Is it hard? For sure. It IS hard. My colleagues and I are certain that it is hard. But we are equally certain that it is not impossible. But how do we get it done? I will give you three things to think about today. The answer to better audience engagement starts with the following:
- You have to want it. And I mean really want it. Better audience engagement starts with a curiosity about other perspectives, and it has to be something you really want. Engagement is not just a vanity exercise… look how engaging I can be! Engagement is better because every study ever done will tell you that when people are engaged they have a better experience, they listen better, they walk away with more. Your message is more likely to land the way you want it to. You are more likely to get the outcome you seek. Better engagement starts with the right foundation, and a desire to hear from other people, for the right reasons.
- You have to plan for it. It is not going to happen on its own. You have to be intentional. So, long before your meeting or conversation begins, what are the specific things you are going to do to create it? It isn’t going to happen on its own, people. Want some examples of how? Well let’s start with how much time you intend to fill up with your speaking topics… if you are meeting for an hour, and you plan to speak for 50+ minutes, you won’t have a lot of engagement. Because you left almost no air time for it. You are filling up all the space. Try shortening the amount of the total time you intend to fill up. Want another one? How many different ways, at which moments, will you draw them in? Plan for it. How often and when will you ask for questions? And beyond just asking for questions, how else will you create it? An exercise? A discussion? Break out rooms? Maybe plant a few questions in the field? Maybe quietly tap a few people ahead of time to ask the first question or make the first comment? Leave time for it, and make a specific plan to drive it.
- Video matters. We don’t advocate that you mandate it. But we think you should definitely encourage it. And once some people start doing it, more will follow. You will create some momentum around the behavior once some people start doing it. Having video on creates more of a connection, because we can see each other, read facial expressions, see nodding heads or raised hands… all sorts of good things happen when we can see each other. But it can feel draconian if you make it a requirement. Perhaps start with a small group of likeminded thinkers, and agree that you all will set the tone of video behaviors. Then, based off that small group’s initiative, start to encourage people to turn their video on. But always make sure to leave some wiggle room for those who are not yet “video ready” that day, or maybe have some chaos going on at home.
Successful communication is based on connection. And to create connection, we need to engage each other. It is not always easy, but it is always possible. And to make engagement happen, we have to be thoughtful and intentional about it.
Good luck, and have a great day!
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