By Kellie McCord, Toastmasters International
If you’ve found yourself doing more online meetings and presentation you may have found the biggest obstacle has been how to connect with an online audience.
Given the renewed call to work from home because of the continuing pandemic, people’s need for connection and touch is being amplified.
Yet, despite the change in platform, the question: “How do I connect with an online audience?” is actually no different than “How do I connect with an audience in person?”. The only difference is that a screen sits between you and the people you are speaking to. Rather than seeing it as a barrier, I like to remember that if our eyes are windows to our souls, then a screen is a window into someone’s world. We can now take a peek into the home lives of our colleagues, employers and employees. It’s a great way to connect on a deeper personal and professional level – if you allow it.
Let me share some tips for how to connect with your audience online.
1) Be real! For example, as tempting as it is to alter your background to a cool backdrop, don’t do it. Instead, use your own background. Of course, if it is a business meeting then make sure that the background is presentable by not having a pile of dirty dishes behind you. Equally, it is not a social occasion, so you do not want your DVD and gaming collection in view. But there is nothing wrong with someone seeing your living-room wall; or, your study wall. If you have photos up, that is fine. It makes people feel relaxed because it makes it real.
2) With the above in mind, do not be afraid to have water or coffee at hand. Many people seem to feel uncomfortable sipping water over online meetings. If you are were in a face-to-face meeting, you would probably have something to drink on hand, so why not during an online meeting? If you are chairing the meeting, start five minutes beforehand and ask your audience to make a quick cuppa; or, grab some water before the meeting commences, so they feel comfortable.
3) This leads me onto a more crucial matter. Comfort breaks. I’ve attended many online meetings that seem to go on and on, with people losing focus because they desperately want to use the bathroom. If you do not want people getting up during a discussion or presentation, then make it clear that after 45 minutes to an hour, there will be a small break. If your meeting is only 45 minutes to an hour long, then make it clear when you are going to end the session, so that people are not left wondering when they will be able to relieve themselves.
4) While on the subject of time, make sure you respect people’s time. Because the audience is online and sitting in the comfort of their homes, some presenters seem to think that running over time is not a big deal. It is. It loses connection quickly, as your audience will be left wondering when the session will end; if they will have enough time before the next call; will they manage to finish off the tasks on their to-do list today? Therefore, manage your time. If you begin to run over, acknowledge it and try to wrap up.
5) Before a meeting, set up a poll to ascertain what people would like to discuss. Knowing your audience is the best way to connect with them. Why? Because it allows you to create a message that is designed for them; to speak directly to them.
If, for example, you need to discuss a particular subject and it is not up for negotiation, then you could email a PDF of the agenda for the meeting. This will prime people. They know what to expect and when, so that when they come to the online meeting, they are better able to focus and concentrate, since they have had an opportunity to mentally prepare.
6) Notes. Similar to face-to-face meetings it is NOT okay to read from your notes. It is so disengaging. People want to see your face; they want eye-contact. If you need notes, make cue cards, so that it reminds you of what you want to say next, but does not become stifling.
On that note, you also do not want to be looking at your screen, which I know seems counter-intuitive. Instead, look into the camera. Think of the camera as ‘the eyes of the audience’. You wouldn’t deliberately not look someone in the eyes when talking to them face-to-face, so do not do it online.
7) Be interactive. Many online presenters seem to take on the leading role in the online meeting. By that I mean, they talk and talk and talk. They think they are the star of the show! However, the reality is that they are not. Just because you are online, it does not change the purpose of a meeting. The meeting is taking place to serve your audience. Therefore, make it interactive. How? By doing some of the following:
– Ask questions
– Ask for feedback
– Ask someone to demonstrate an idea/concept
– Ask someone to define a term
– Ask the audience to imagine something
For longer meetings, create (if the software allows) break-out rooms, so that members of the audience can discuss topics or particular items in smaller groups. When the break-out rooms re-join the main meeting, they can then tell the other audience members what their group discussed.
Use these tips and you’ll find that you can connect in a deeper way with your audience whether they are colleagues in a team meeting, or a larger less familiar group. By being real you allow the possibility of creating a deeper and more meaningful connection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kellie McCord is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org