7 principles of online engagement
- See this BBC article Busting the attention span myth
- And this study published in the journal Advances in Physiological Education Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more
- Read my recent article What causes Zoom fatigue and what can you do about it
If you’re a speaker, trainer or presenter, it does seems you need to be even more engaging on your video calls that you might be on-site.
- Q&A in chat
- Reaction icons
Once, I asked attendees to press a party hooter reaction icon every time I used a word starting wth the letter J (This was in keeping with the theme of the session. You could ask them to do it every time you mention a certain core concept, to check they recognise it). This behaviour quickly became so engrained that I found myself leaping forward to press the reaction in a completely different meeting later that day.
For me, the problem with these cards is that they exclude anyone who hasn’t invested in them. And it looks to me as though people have quickly become tired of the novelty.
I think these cards distracting for users, because there are so many to choose. Flipping them over to find the right card deters people from focusing on the talk. Most of them will never be used anyway. People are likely to stick with about three favourites.
So I made an alternative:
I email this to delegates in advance of my training courses to print and cut out, and tell them they can draw their own versions if they don’t have a printer at home.
It’s cheap and cheerful, involves everyone, and causes a laugh. Here’s an example from my mastermind group:
You might also make your own signs to hold up at appropriate moments during your session. For example:
- “Tweet this” with a quotable quote and your hashtag
- “Time’s up!”
- “Happy birthday”
I also have a cardboard cut-out of my own hand which I wave at the camera when asked to ‘raise my hand’ or when it’s time to say goodbye. I simply drew round my hand on plain A4 paper, stuck it on a piece of card from a cereal packet and cut it out. It’s different from everyone else, and always causes people to smile.
3. Set expectations
People are so resigned to attending boring online meetings, that it’s hard to convince them in advance that your session will actually be enjoyable.
This even happens to me. I ran an event for a client who told me afterwards: “I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be *that* much fun.”
Here are a few things you can do to raise their expectations in advance:
- Make it clear in your pre-event marketing that there will be (relevant) interaction as well as practical takeaways
- Mention the word ‘fun’, and reassure people they will be allowed to opt out of anything they don’t want to do
- Invite contributions in advance, for example, request clues for word games (to use for revision, team-building and memory). They’ll want to attend and find out what you do with their words
- Send out a bespoke buzzword bingo sheet, and award a prize on the day
- Post your props and handouts in ‘do not open’ envelopes (this idea is on page 190 of my Experiential Speaking book, and works even better for online events because of principle 4)
4. Make it physical
Sitting (or standing) in front of a screen for any period of time is tiring. So make people do something physical.
Example: Treasure hunt/Scavenger hunt
You could ask them to find something within reach, but it’s better to ask them to move away from their desk and find:
- “Something in your house that reveals something about you”
- “An object that’s a clue to the country, town or place where you live”
- “A green thing, a round thing and a spiky thing”
You don’t want people hurting themselves running around at home, so give a health and safety warning and tell them this isn’t a race.
Despite this, I’ve never found anyone take more than a minute or two. They already know what they’ve got in their house and where to find it.
To cover the time, you could play copyright-free music while you wait. You’ll see when they get back on camera and wave their objects at you.
Once they’ve all returned, launch a show & tell session or a competition. For example:
- “What can your objects tell us about the theme of today?”
- “Pile your objects into a tower, measure it, take a photo, send the picture and dimensions to me via WhatsApp, highest tower wins”
- Multiple-choice quiz/poll (e.g. to check understanding at the start and/or revision at the end)
- Higher/lower guessing game. Could use PowerPoint. Could be serious e.g. reporting weekly departmental results. Could be silly e.g. Big sheep, small sheep: which comes next? The sheep idea is by The Business Speak Easy)
- Pick a volunteer, award a lucky dip prize, or randomise your content at WheelOfNames.com
For the rationale behind this, see the ‘Because’ story on page 17 of my book, Experiential Speaking.
8. Adapt my ideas
I know I said I have seven principles of online engagement, but in the interests of exceeding expectations, here’s an eighth bonus principle.
Don’t do the same as I do, otherwise all our events will become just as same-y and boring as each other.
My ideas are supposed to be a starting point to spark your creativity. Please adapt them to suit your own style and learning outcome.
If you’d like my help to devise a unique breakout or activity, you can book a time here: