Many meetings and conferences have been forced online by the pandemic, including this fall’s AACRAO SEM Conference, themed "Crises as Catalysts for Transformation: 2020’s Impact on Higher Education and Enrollment."
But engagement in the virtual space is a challenge. If people have a problem focusing during in-person meetings, where there’s a measure of accountability, obligation, and compulsion,
then staying focused during a physically distant meeting can be nearly impossible.
Below are five tips (with links to even more excellent resources) to keep tuned-in during live online sessions:
1. Change your attitude about virtual.
Don’t think of virtual as just another channel for delivering the same ol’ content. Let the medium inspire you. Consider the differences between in-person and virtual experiences. Learn the etiquettes and amenities of various online practices
and meeting providers. What is possible in this space that can augment, intensify, and enhance your information delivery?
This 2019 article from Inc. offers excellent advice on hosting effective virtual meetings, including the importance of enthusiastic acceptance of these new platforms.
2. Create empathy to engage.
Within the first minute, and again at regular intervals through the session, offer the group an issue that engages both their minds and hearts. Share provocative information that tells a story or describe a problem that elicits empathy —
and invite them to consider solutions.
This March 2020 article from Harvard Business Review shares five research-based insights into sustaining engagement in online meetings.
3. Give attendees responsibilities.
If the audience thinks they can get away with it, they’ll probably slip into the role of passive observers. Offer them opportunities to take responsibility, such as assigning roles to people or separating them into work groups (check
out the meeting platform for options, or explore apps that help facilitate group interaction).
Check out this Medium post for more ideas.
4. Keep it short.
In the virtual space, it’s incredibly important to be brief, clear, and focused on outcomes. In-person, people tend to have about an hour attention span. Online they can stay focused for just 10 minutes.
When possible, schedule meetings and sessions for shorter windows than you used to. (What could you accomplish with a 10-minute, purposeful meeting?) For longer meetings, provide water/stretching breaks, transition between topics, or do
some kind of audience engagement (such as storytelling, above).
Also, limit your slides. Use the “minimum viable powerpoint,” that is, use the slides as guideposts and attention-focusers,
not as an outline of the whole presentation. Having too many slides is not only boring for viewers, but it also creates pressure on the presenter to “get through.”
Find more excellent tips in this March 2020 blog post from the American Marketing Association.
5. Submit a proposal.
Build your presentation skills and better your skills in virtual engagement by participating as a presenter. Consider submitting a proposal for AACRAO’s SEM Conference: Crises as Catalysts for Transformation. This three-day,
virtual conference will feature models for adapting to change, meeting challenges, and planning strategically post-pandemic.
Submit your proposal by July 31.