Tips to make virtual meetings interactive

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Remote presentations aren’t going away anytime soon. Zoom, Skype, and WebEx gatherings are the new normal. Business leaders and their employees need to learn how to replicate in a virtual environment the interactions and two-way dialogue that make in-person meetings meaningful. One of the biggest mistakes presenters make is talking too much and not engaging the audience—in virtual meetings and even when everyone is in the same room.

Whether you are speaking with one or hundreds, planning for interaction will help you better connect with your audience, and enable you to learn what your viewers are really thinking—crucial for effective communication that leads to action.

Here are 10 best practices to help leaders and managers capture audience attention and fuel a productive discussion during virtual meetings:

Don’t save questions for the end

Encourage participants to pose queries throughout the session. The goal is to replicate true two-way communication and not drone on for extended periods. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think about how you would prefer to engage.

Solicit feedback in advance

Ask for questions, examples, or topics relevant to your session before you finalize your remarks. It will help you create your messaging, and you can integrate any specific questions you receive throughout your talk.

Use electronic polling

Embed a few multiple-choice questions into your presentation. This will enable all audience members to provide their points of view in real time. Be sure to set the questions up appropriately and be prepared to integrate the responses into the discussion.

Leverage the raised hands or chat room options

Provide explicit instructions on these features at the beginning of the meeting to encourage participation. Everyone may not be as familiar with the specific platform you are using. Have a colleague monitor incoming inquiries and bring them to your attention to help you navigate the discussion.

Build in time for engagement

If you have 20 minutes on the agenda, make sure you plan for using almost half that time for questions and discussion. If you’re adhering to the golden rule of presentation giving—to explicitly share your three key messages at the beginning of your talk and at the end—it won’t matter if you get to every point. Interaction is more important.

Eliminate the phrase “any questions?” from your vocabulary

Ask something specific instead. Stimulate ideas and conversation, such as, “What have you been hearing from clients?” Ask customers what their biggest concerns are or what can we do to better serve you. Solicit comments or relevant stories and don’t limit sharing to questions. If it’s a small group, have them unmute the entire time so dialogue will be easier.

Brainstorm before the presentation

Most presenters spend hours making slides, some time on messaging, and little thought is given to what questions might be asked. Reverse that process. Anticipate all the questions that might be raised—especially those that you hope won’t come up—and have answers ready. Prepare team members to take some of the queries to give them a role.

Keep the dialogue going

Promise to answer any unanswered questions post meeting. If there isn’t time to respond to every person or if someone’s remark requires a more detailed response, that’s okay. Just ensure that you follow up individually within a day or two. Also, provide your contact information so the audience may follow up with you directly.

Know your stuff

There is no substitute for knowing your content. If you rehearse yourself and are truly confident with your storyline, it will be easier to pause and take comments from the audience without getting tripped up. And never read from a script—that is certainly the fastest way to lose your audience and sound inauthentic. Even if you are in a highly regulated industry and your remarks have to be vetted, know the principles behind what you can and can’t stay and let that guide you.

No great meeting ever ends with a question

Don’t conclude with Q&As. The last question may not be a great one. It’s much better to end with a bang, not a whimper. Close your presentation with the two or three most important messages you want your audience to remember. And in these challenging pandemic times, perhaps leave them with an inspirational quote or thought.

People are craving live interaction as most continue to work remotely. With advance planning, striving to make a virtual presentation a dialogue will enhance your relationships and make a greater impact. And here’s an added bonus: these techniques will also serve you well when we get back to “normal” and in-person meetings are resumed. Remember, talk less, and interact more.

Valerie Di Maria is principal at the10company, a women-owned strategic communications agency. Last year they launched VOICES, an executive coaching program specifically for women by women. 

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