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No More Boring Online Sessions

Trying to capture the limited attention span of an online audience? It helps to have some tips and tricks up your sleeves. In this contributed article, professional speaker Cyriel Kortleven shares his top tips on how to build that connection.

Delivering a good digital presentation is not an easy job. In my opinion, an offline performance with a live audience will always be better than a live online session. There are seven reasons why I believe in this statement:

  1. A lot of participants are working from home at this moment, and have greater distractions. Attention spans are shorter as your online presentation has to fight against other on-screen competition such as e-mail, social media, and other computer programmes.
  2. You have to deal with technical hiccups as people are not always used to the technicalities of online conferencing tools.
  3. Your audience is emotionally and physically exhausted because your presentation is possibly meeting number 4 on that day. We do not have the natural breaks and travel-time that we had during physical events to recharge. 
  4. It is a lot harder to capture the non-verbal communication of participants. It is a challenge to pick up on emotional expressions and because everybody is muted, you do not hear a gasp, or any ‘positive reinforcement’ sounds like ‘Yes’, ‘Mmm ah’, … 
  5. It is harder to connect to your audience because you do not have a chance to have an informal chat with the participants before you enter the ‘digital stage’. There is no before and after presentation energy.
  6. There is a very limited mobility (for both the audience and speaker). Your movements are bound by the frame of the camera. 
  7. You have to become a Jack of All Trades because next to your role as a speaker, a lot of times, you are also the moderator, the IT person, and the film crew if you choose to record it.

But that does not mean that online sessions should be boring! The opposite is true. You can make live online sessions very interactive, engaging and fun. And you do not have to be a technical wizard to make this happen. Here are a few tips:

+ Start with some good guidelines when you start a live online session

Ask your participants to go shut down their mail, social media and other programmes if they want to get the most out of your session. In that way, you reduce the distractions already on their screen. In most online meetups, all participants are muted but I ask people to unmute themselves if the group size is smaller than 12 people (unless there is a lot of background noise from one of the participants). Their cameras should be definitely on if possible. It makes a huge difference to be able to see at least the faces and expressions of people while you are presenting. A last tip that I always include at the start of my session is that cats and kids are allowed to pass by. This ensures a first laugh and it makes people a bit more comfortable because a lot of them work from their homes and you cannot predict what will happen.

+ Start with a short icebreaker

Because everybody is attending the session from different places, it might be worthwhile to invest a few minutes at the start of your session in a short icebreaker. It helps participants to get used to the tool, it makes people feel more comfortable because they have the chance to share something & creates group-cohesion. One method that I love is using your arm as leverage. Go to gallery view to make sure that you see the videos of all participants, and ask your audience to use their arm as a bar. If their arm is horizontal, that means zero. Arm straight in the air is a score of ten. And all options in between. You could ask what the energy level is of the participants at that moment or ask them to use their arm to show how much they already know about your topic. But there are a lot more icebreakers out there so run a quick Google search to find some. 

+ Slide-O-Matic

Most people share their screen if they want to show a slide but if you want to do something different, why not print (some of) your slides? Their attention will shift to the presenter instead of being ‘zoned’ into the slides. Or maybe you can use a flip-chart to alternate between presentation tools. 

+ Post-it mosaic

Make sure everybody is on gallery view again. Then ask all the participants to take a Post-it Note and put it in front of their camera. You will notice that the video conference screen becomes a beautiful Post-it mosaic. The next step is making a statement and asking if the participants agree or disagree with this statement. If yes, then they can remove the Post-it Note. Everybody can immediately see who agrees or disagrees with that statement.

There are many more tools available, like doing a quick poll, using the chat-function for little exercises and checking the opinion of people, or showing a short and funny YouTube video to bring in some different energy during your session. You can even facilitate a short brainstorming session in the chat. As a closing exercise, I like the one-word summary. Ask people at the end of your talk to write down one word in the chat that summarises the session. 

About the speaker

Cyriel Kortleven is on a mission in life: delivering an inspiring boost to the creative and improvisational mindset of leaders and professionals in change. He stimulates people to break their fixed-thinking patterns and inspires them to unleash their full potential. He has more than 20 years of experience in the domain of creativity and innovation, and delivers keynotes all over the world. Over the years, he has presented in 26 different countries in five different continents. He is also the author of five books. Kortleven is the first Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) in Belgium and belongs to the 35 people in the world who call themselves Global Speaking Fellow – an award for speakers who have spoken across the globe and demonstrate a high degree of speaking expertise and cultural awareness in global markets. 

Kortleven delivers a monthly ‘No More Boring Webinars’ session featuring 21,5 methods to create more interaction, engagement & fun. Enter code ‘ALTAFY’ to receive a 25% discount on your session. 

For more information, visit: https://www.cyrielkortleven.com/nomoreboringwebinars


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