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‹ View all articles24th June 2020

99% of people multitask in virtual meetings - 30 ways to hold their attention instead

You’re in yet another virtual meeting. An email pings in. Are you tempted to check it? 

What about a message from a friend? A notification on social media? A news alert? 

And what happens when you’re watching a presentation and your video camera is switched off? 

Time to put on another load of washing...

You might hope to have people’s undivided attention in the virtual world but the reality is quite different. In our recent survey of 400+ people, a whopping 99% of people admitted to multitasking some or all of the time during online meetings and presentations. 

Worryingly, only 1% of people said they’d recently attended a meeting or presentation that was extremely engaging. A coincidence that virtual interactions are generally dull and most people are multitasking? We think not. 

Naturally, when you’re not in an actual room together, your lack of attention is less visible. The subtleties of eye contact and body language are interrupted. Add in the ease in which we can flick through other tabs on our screens right in front of us without looking like we’re moving a muscle, and the odds are stacked against us. 

But what if you turn up to a meeting that grabs your attention from the get-go? What if a presentation is led with personality, impact and structure? What if your interaction is so integral, you have to pay attention? Chances are, you’ll catch up on your emails later. 

So, what can you do to get the maximum attention in your virtual meetings and presentations? Here are 30 ideas...

Get interactive

If you want people to listen, don’t talk at them, involve them. Here are some ways to do that, whether you’re in a large meeting or small group:

1. Polls: Set up some questions in advance on a key topic. It could be work or non-work related. Many online meeting platforms have easy-to-use poll functions. 

2. Chat discussion/feedback: As soon as people arrive, encourage them to find and use the chat to get people involved and two-way discussion flowing. 

3. Take questions throughout: Most people forget or lose confidence in asking a question if it’s just at the end. Questions and answers as you go can really help explain a point and keep things relevant throughout a meeting or presentation. 

4. Whiteboard: A whiteboard (virtual or physical) is a great way to capture key points and encourage discussion around a topic.  

5. Quiz: Get people limbered up with a quick-fire quiz that adds some energy and fun, or check their understanding of what you’ve said at the end.

6. Reaction buttons: Ask people to use them to respond to points or to flag they’ve got something they want to say. Just be clear about how and when you want them to react - and respond to their reactions rather than just ploughing through your material.

7. On-screen participant reaction: Even better, ask for a reaction in person - a thumbs up, thumbs down or hand raise for example. 

8. Fill-in-the-blanks activity: It’s an easy way to get quick feedback. Use it to test people’s knowledge, have some fun or find out how people are feeling. An octopus has___hearts. /I’m feeling____/ “I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the ________?”

9. Break out rooms: Take people into small groups for discussion and feedback. It changes the dynamics, energises a discussion and gets everyone involved. 

10. Solve a problem together: Throw out a challenge to discuss together and centre the meeting around brainstorming ideas. 

11. Invite people to participate by name: Some people need a little push to speak up, so ask them what they think if they haven’t contributed much. It’s a great way to balance out others who might otherwise dominate the conversation and it encourages diverse perspectives.

Personality

People listen to people, not monotonous robo-colleagues. Here are some ideas for bringing colour to your meeting:

12. Be interesting!: OK so that’s easier said than done. But think about what people on the call would be interested in, not what you want to tell them. If you’re not sure, ask them. 

13. Use humour: Laughter is a great energy boost and neurologically we're more capable of learning when we're happy. So find your funny. 

14. Tell (brief) stories: We’re hardwired to listen to and engage with stories, and you’ll be much more memorable if you use stories rather than facts alone. 

15. Be controversial: Can you challenge the status quo by posing an alternative view? Not to be difficult but to open up the conversation and disrupt groupthink.

16. Be inspiring: Talk about why you care so much about something. Your passion will shine through and by moving people, they’ll remember what you had to say.

17. Be honest: It’s refreshing to hear someone tell it as it is. It’s not about being negative but getting your true feelings on the table – this can really spark deeper discussion. 

18. Be a human being: Talk like a normal person, rather than a jargon-loving robot. Ditch the corporate stiffness and embrace a warm and down-to-earth atmosphere. 

Audio-visuals

Don’t forget to engage the eyes as well as the ears:

19. Put your camera on: Even when you’re giving a talk using slides or sharing a document, keep your face on the screen so people can see your expression as you speak. It’s one of your limited tools for building relationships online, so make it count.

20. Have everyone’s cameras on: Encourage (or insist) participants also have their cameras on in meetings so people are more accountable, pay more attention and more likely to get involved. 

21. Think visual: Listening and watching someone talk on a screen for ages can be tiring. Even boring. Plan how you can make and reinforce your points visually rather than rambling on.

22. Show a quirky image or a prop: A great way to make a point and wake people up is with a curious and impactful image or prop. You can even ask people to bring their own.  

23. Draw a diagram: This can really bring your point to life. You don’t have to be an artist to illustrate what you’re saying, but try scribbling what you mean on paper and showing it on screen.  

24. Show a video: Break up the conversation with a short video to demonstrate a point. It gives everyone, including you, a breather from talking. 

25. Use sound: Can you liven up your talk with some well-timed music or sound effects? You could even ask people to pick the tune they’d walk onto stage with as a bit of fun. It works for conferences, so why not online?

Structure

The way you organise your meeting is a vital part of keeping people focused rather than sending them to sleep. 

26. Keep it brief: You’ll get much more engagement and productivity in a short meeting or presentation than one that drags on for hours. There’s a reason why TED talks are only 18 minutes. What’s the shortest time you need to make the biggest impact?

27. Explain what’s happening, when (aka an agenda): Prepare people for what to expect so they’re geared up to listen and get involved. It holds you accountable and helps you all achieve more.

28. Explain the bigger picture of the meeting: Why is it important? What input do you need from people and how can they make a difference? When we see the meaning of a meeting, it’s easier to engage.

29. Have a point: Identify the one main aim of your meeting or presentation. Keep it simple and focused so you come out of it with clear actions and accountability. 

30. Break it up: Chunk your content into sections so it’s easy to follow and keep up with what’s being said. And don’t forget to factor in breaks for longer meetings. 

Pick some of the ideas from each of the sections and you’ll turn up the engagement in your virtual communications. And if you’re ready to equip your team with the skills to lead virtual meetings, pitches and presentations that will drive your business forward, ask us about our Virtually Brilliant training series where we give you the theory and practice to master any form of virtual communication.

Our clients are saying…

"I was totally inspired by the webinar! Sarah exemplified exactly the speaker style that’s effective—warm, clear, engaging. I’m interested specifically in virtual training for my work, and I left with pages of takeaways that I intend to implement. I’m watching another company’s virtual delivery skills webinar now, and it’s just not as good. In large part, I found Sarah really likeable, which made a bigger difference than I expected. I’m a total multitasker—constantly doing at least 2 things at once and I am the first person to “check out” during a webinar. But I wanted to hear her—especially when she gave clear actions (do this, don’t do that)."

Kathleen Dwyer


"Now more than ever, in this digital environment our communication needs to be both engaging and effective. I've just had the pleasure of attending a series of Ginger Public Speaking courses to help me on the path to become "virtually brilliant"! Thank you Sarah Lloyd Hughes - great investment of my time - both practical and fun."

Lucie Gelder

We love this work and invite your team to benefit from it. Just drop us a line or pick up the phone and tell us more about your challenges. Email hello@gingerleadershipcomms.com or call +44 (0) 207 3888 645.

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