When was the last time you sauntered over to a colleague’s desk to ask them out for lunch? Or knocked sheepishly on your bosses door to ask for a week off? Or cheerfully greeted the receptionist in the morning at the office front desk?
Chances are you haven’t done this in a while. Or if you have, your social interactions at the office would have involved three-ply facemasks, hand sanitizers and a safe social distance of six meters.
We have Covid-19 to blame for this inconvenience. The pandemic has forced us into a tight spot: End our impromptu, face-to-face conversations with workmates and replace them with tedious, perplexing and extended interactions via computer screens, from our homes.
Such is our “new normal”.
We can complain all we like but we have to admit that the pandemic has propelled us into the future. It has given us the chance to explore how technology will shape our relationships, collaborations, and interactions with others in the years to come. To stay ahead, we must learn how to ace these virtual meetings both as a host and as a participant. I repeat: both as a host and as a participant. Why? Read on.
As the old saying goes, it takes two hands to clap. We can host great virtual meetings but if the participants are completely deadpan, we have failed. We can be exceptional participants but if the host is a dimwit, we have failed as much.
Since our MCO, RMCO, CMCO, ABCDEFCO, I have sat through webinars, online workshops and business “get-togethers”. Perhaps, I picked the wrong ones; out of the five virtual meetings I attended, four were nothing short of dull, dry and dreary.
I once exited a two-hour business sharing session because the regular members made so many inside jokes, I felt like an outcast. I checked my emails during an online workshop because the host spent 20 minutes trying to “upsell” his other workshop. I stopped watching a virtual “Masterclass” because the instructor was clearly reading and fumbling through her script.
So, what can we do as hosts and participants to create engaging, effective and welcoming virtual meetings? Based on my experience as a radio announcer and TV host—who has spent 10 years trying to figure out how to get people to listen to me—I can offer advice that might help.
For a virtual meeting to be successful, it cannot be solely about you. It has to be about your audience as well. If you want people to listen, engage, and participate, you need to connect with them in whatever way, shape, or form. Here are my top tips to get your sessions into gear:
- Minimize meeting lengths and presentation times. The only thing worse than a long face-to-face presentation is a long presentation, virtually. Keeping things short means your participants have less time to get distracted.
- Practice to gain insight. Set up a practice session with team members who are helping to facilitate the meeting. Practice what you will say, how it will be delivered and ask them if it resonates with the audience. Find faults, brainstorm, correct them, and evolve.
- Examine your generations. If you tailor your virtual meeting to the average age of the participants, they are going to find it easier to digest the information you are sharing. Respect your Baby Boomers, tell Gen X how they will benefit and make sure to include lots of visuals for the Millennials.
- Radiate excitement. First impressions matter! From the very beginning of your meeting, make sure everyone in the “virtual room” can feel your positive vibes, as they will and should follow suit. You don’t need to be an annoying Energizer bunny, just smile and portray positivity.
- Connect people. Participants automatically perform better when they feel comfortable with each other. Your job as the host is to get everyone to be a part of something together—no matter how small—so you can have a productive meeting. Icebreakers are great for these times.
- Maintain eye contact. If you were holding a face-to-face meeting, you would need to know the basic public speaking skill of eye contact. You need to do the same in a virtual meeting but it’s a lot easier: Your eyeballs need to be focused on your camera lens to make every participant feel like they’re included in your discussion. Look away briefly if you must but look back into the lens, especially if you have important information to deliver.
- Voice modulation. According to research, an excellent presentation is 30% your content, 40% non-verbal communication, and 30% your voice. 30% YOUR VOICE! Voice modulation is so important to keep your audience engaged. You need pace, pitch, pauses—switch things up to get your audience interested or out of boredom.
- Observe. Watch your participants. If they look bored, they probably are. Wrap up whatever it is you are saying, move on to the next topic or roll out a quick two-minute break.
And if you’re participating in a virtual meeting, try to:
- Stay focused and keep your comments and questions brief. The more focused you are on the agenda, the more efficient the meeting will be. Also, the more concise your comments or questions, the easier it will be for others to respond or read.
- Nod in agreement. If you see your host trying their utmost best to make the meeting a great one, help them out by nodding or smiling occasionally. Not only is nodding a form of agreement, it is also a form of bowing—an indication of respect. Give your host an extra boost in confidence with a nod at the end of their paragraph, when they take a breath or when something they say resonates with you. They will most likely appreciate your kind gesture.
Last words, a quote from Apple CEO, Tim Cook: “The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished”.