We're no longer "going remote" or "transitioning to online." It has already happened. If you're going to be leading online meetings, learning sessions, webinars, programs--whatever you call them--you need to develop special skills to keep people engaged. As someone who frequently facilitates webinars, virtual leadership programs, and online coaching (including presentation skills), I don't want to keep my secrets a secret.
Here's an A to Z of the basics--and beyond--to start facilitating online meetings and programs in your business:
Ask participants at the beginning, "What's competing for your attention right this minute?" and then ask them to make paying attention to this session their number one priority.
Batch content in simple, short chunks (less than 5 minutes) and ask for questions after each chunk.
Cut your planned content in half. Seriously. You'll need the extra time for technology snafus, confusion, engagement and interactions, etc.
Don't privilege "talk to think" participants over "think to talk" participants. Include opportunities for everyone to pause and reflect before answering.
Energize the conversation by using facial expressions, hand gestures, smiles, and direct eye contact with the camera.
Follow up with people immediately after the session to see what they're applying, what they're doing next; and what feedback they have for you to make it better next time.
Get personal by calling on people by name, if you have a small enough group. Let them know at the beginning you may do that, and that they can say "pass" if they prefer not to respond.
Halve your group--at least. The smaller the group, the more engaged and attentive they're likely to be.
Invoke a "no cell phones" rule (or, request) at the beginning of the program. Cite the research on how the presence of a cell phone reduces both cognitive functioning, and feelings of empathy and trust.
Jolt people into paying attention by sending handouts in advance that have a few "fill in the blank" elements. To complete the handouts, they'll have to listen to you.
Keep track of who has spoken and who hasn't with a simple paper tally. When you're noticing the same participants contributing, say, "Let's hear from some new voices first."
Let learning and conversations happen between peers. If someone poses a question in a chat box, where appropriate, see if someone else in the group would like to respond.
Mute people, and decide whether you want to give people the power to unmute themselves--or if you want to be in charge of that.
Notice and neutrally call out when you see shifts in attention or energy, such as "I noticed that when I asked the question, it got quiet." Or "We seem to be spending more time than we had allotted on this topic as there's lot of energy in this conversation. What do we want to do?"
Organize your content logically--chronologically, geographically, problem-solution--to help participants follow along easily.
Pause frequently to check for understanding, allow for questions, and to breathe.
Question participants: What are we currently doing about this problem? What might this look like a year from now? What are some examples of how your team/company is addressing this?
Recruit a colleague to be in charge of dealing with the technology, so you can focus on content delivery and audience engagement.
Share your face, but not your questionable cleaning habits. Hide your mess.
Test your lighting. You want to be brightly front-lit, not back-lit.
Use the technology to create interaction. If you have a breakout room function, use it to get people speaking in small groups. Set up a simple poll for people to answer. If you have a map and people can "pin" where they're working from, do that, too.
Vary your tone, pitch, and pace to make yourself interesting to listen to.
Wear headphones--even if you don't think you need them.
X-out any slides or visuals that may distract, rather than enhance, your presentation. Less is more--especially if you are on screen (as you should be).
Yapping nonstop may feel like you're engaging people, but you need to get comfortable with silence. It may take people a while to start participating virtually.
Zero in on the most important or urgent topics that are keeping your staff, clients, customers, or vendors up at night, and use the technology to focus on sharing that.
If you make content pressing and relevant, and your delivery varied and engaging, you can make online learning and meetings a wild success--and the way you do business moving forward.