Tips to Boost Engagement during Virtual Sessions

What if people left your virtual sessions celebrating the outstanding experience they’ve just had?  That would be amazing, right?

I’ve attended countless virtual events since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  There’s been many that I’ve enjoyed.  But there’s been a few where I’ve slipped away quietly because I was bored and felt disconnected.

You’ve likely done the same, right?

When I facilitate virtual sessions, I’m hyper aware of the need to be purposeful.  I design and host the conversation so that the experience I create for my guests is engaging, interactive and valuable.

Not a simple task!  It takes skill and lots of practice.

Here are a few of my top tips to make your next virtual session something to talk about:

Engage Early

Set the stage for a highly interactive and engaging session by immediately using features such as polling and the chat room.  Start with a ‘warm up’ round.  Ask a simple, open-ended question or invite guests to share their name and where they are located.  Then dive into your content!

Interact Frequently

Aim for some form of interaction at five-minute intervals.  It’s about building in variety to drive interest in your topic.  Think about how to include all available virtual tools in your session design and how you will move between them seamlessly.  Get creative and use the chat room, polling, screen sharing, reactions and the annotation features.

Listen with Intent

Show your guests that you are absolutely present for them and that you are interested in what they have to say.  As with face-to-face sessions, your facial expressions and body language are critical to engaging conversations.  Connect with your guests by:

  • looking directly at your webcam to simulate eye contact, but don’t stare;
  • adopting a welcoming facial expression, with a smile and appropriate head nodding;
  • saying peoples’ names out loud; and
  • using gestures and mannerisms that feel natural.

 

Create Movement

Design your session with your kinesthetic or tactile guests in mind.  Get their fingers on their keyboards by using the interactive, virtual features.  Ask them to wave at their camera, give you a thumbs up/thumbs down, stand up/sit down or nod/shake their heads.  Lean toward your webcam, lean back or shift from side-to-side slightly.  When YOU move, their eyes move and they feel connected!

Go Small

Generally, the smaller the group, the stronger the engagement.  If your group is large, your quieter guests may not speak.  So, plan for breakout groups! The ideal number is about four people per group.  If you want to encourage deep listening and thinking, try a dyad (two guests per group).  Breakouts can be used for discussion, casual chats or refreshment breaks.

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I believe that the most effective virtual sessions are ones where guests feel engaged and, at the end, are glad they came.  As the host, it takes careful planning to create a productive, enjoyable and fully interactive experience for all.

For many of us, we’re exploring new territory here.  And with new territory comes new opportunity.

Let’s set our course for interactive conversations and, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say…ENGAGE!

Reflection Question: What’s ONE thing you will do differently to maximize engagement during your next virtual session?

Gerard Murphy, President, Barefoot Facilitation Inc.

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