Universities and businesses have shifted fast and furiously to online platforms such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts. To write this article I collaborated about best practices with Ronni Burns, a management communications consultant and professor who advises faculty at top business schools and executives about how to enhance the effectiveness of their teaching and communications. As professors and consultants we have both found considerable overlap between teaching and conducting successful internal and external meetings. Below are 9 helpful tips we’ve identified that enhance online meeting and classroom interaction and effectiveness.  

While many executives and professors were apprehensive about transitioning to meetings and classes online, most experiences are going far better than initially anticipated. The business school students who are now dispersed around the globe (many restricted to a more sedentary existence staying home with their families) seem to be enjoying the online classes, interchange with classmates, and opportunity to learn and be engaged more than ever. Discussions have been at every bit as high a level.  

Focusing on full-screen slides for the entirety of each session, often results in participants paying more attention to each slide. Slides appear larger than in regular classrooms where they’re viewed from a distance and attention is split with watching the professor.

Many presenters we’ve spoken to find themselves covering less content each session. It’s attributed to checking in more often to ask questions that make sure participants are engaged and processing the information, since we no longer have facial expressions as indicators. Presentation skills need to be adapted as audience attention spans can waver due to more distractions and multi-tasking that are now hidden from view. I’ve personally shifted from more of an in-person “performance” mode, walking around, looking directly at people, hand gesturing and pointing, to a mode in which my language and cadence sound more conversational, like one-on-one tutor or explainer. 

Below are tips Ronni and I came up with to help with a diverse range of audiences, both business and academic. Necessity is the mother of invention. I believe we’re all surprising ourselves with our abilities to adapt to teaching online in ways wouldn’t have imagined as recently as 2 weeks ago, and finding it more satisfying than expected.  

9 Tips To Increase Attentiveness, Engagement And Success

  1. Slide visuals are extremely important, no matter the subject. Slides with lots of words on the page are a turn-off. Relevant visuals help people internalize and apply the material, pay more attention and retain information better.
  2. Animating the entrance of bullets points on text-heavy pages, helps participants focus on each point, rather than being overwhelmed by words.
  3. There’s a need to be even more energetic and faster paced when presenting. Slow, quiet speech can cause participants to tune out. Variety in tone of voice and facial expressions are more important on small screens.
  4. It helps to change the type of content every 8-10 minutes, using questions, the poll function on the tool bar, the chat and breakout room functions, or YouTube videos of examples and experts
  5. To increase audience participation, asking each person to write down answers to questions viewable only the meeting assistant helps. It’s impossible to present and simultaneously read all the chat responses. If participants know they’ll be asked to respond to questions directly, they’re more likely to be have valuable responses ready. 
  6. In the case of academic courses, ensuring all participants are listening to the entire session is impossible. Giving a short quiz at the end motivates all to pay attention throughout.
  7. Showing the current and practical applicability of the content increases engagement. For example, for Marketing classes or meetings, it’s interesting to see which brands are now advertising their relevance and how they’re shifting their messages. For Finance, the current situation can be analyzed in light of the implications for businesses and financial markets. There’s is relevance to Statistics, Epidemiology, Demography, Urban Planning, Logistics, World Cultures, Law, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Management, CPG firms, Retail, Real Estate and so much more.
  8. It’s a good idea to summarize key points more frequently in the event participants are multi-tasking, to ensure they walk away retaining the most important concepts discussed.
  9. Given that many presenters shared they’re covering less material each session, it’s necessary figure out for each meeting or course for the next several months, how to reduce the material covered, whether cutting the number topics, providing less on each topic each session, or planning more sessions.

 

Our best advice is to embrace the opportunity to learn to communicate in new ways, beyond your comfort zone. As we all know, everything is increasingly going digital. While the current situation is forcing us all to accelerate our adaptation to new teaching and communication formats, platforms and skills, it’s a transition we all would have had to make at some point. Each presenter will have to experiment based on the audience, the subject matter, and their own personal style to find what works best. Excelling, like everything else, depends on iteration and continuous improvement.



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