Maximizing Strategic Engagement

The coronavirus has forced many of us to cancel meetings, conferences, and gatherings that were previously considered essential. You may have wanted to bring key constituents together to share a new vision, to explain your employees’ role in implementing a critical change, or to practice and apply new routines and behaviors to shape a new direction.

But after months of hard work preparing for the session, you now face a difficult choice because of Covid-19:

  • Cancel the session entirely. But the session was deemed essential, so is this really an option?
  • Postpone the session. But our strategy or initiative is time-based – can we afford to push back our strategy six months?
  • Reschedule the meeting as a virtual session.

If you haven’t guessed, Root’s strong suggestion is to move the event to a virtual environment. The other two options have the potential to have a long-lasting effect on your business, far beyond the current epidemic.

The challenge is that most organizations struggle to deliver great virtual content. Most of the time, virtual delivery is a pretty straightforward didactic tell with a lot of words in an uninspiring PowerPoint deck.

Put yourself in your participants’ shoes – when has that actually worked for you? Be honest: How many times have you been a participant of a virtual meeting where you’ve totally zoned out by flipping through your phone, catching up on email, or having side conversations in a chat (even with other participants!)?

Most organizations say virtual engagement is tough and just make do with the ineffective delivery they’re comfortable with. But are we really okay with knowing that critical messages won’t land, won’t connect, won’t inspire?

The good news is there is a better way. There are a number of tactical elements you can control – small tweaks that will make a significant difference to your participants’ experience.

Between the two of us, we’ve had decades of experience working remotely. We’ve been at the sharp end of some very good remote engagement work and also some less-than-desirable interactions. We’re also in the business of people engagement. We spend our working days figuring out how to best engage the hearts and minds of employees to drive strategy and culture change.

So marrying our experience with our expertise, we want to share our top tips for driving virtual engagement that works.

Create a Conversation, Not a Presentation

You can’t change behaviors until you change the conversations people are having. It doesn’t matter whether they’re virtual or in-person, vocally or through the chat function. Interaction is key to engagement. Here are some pointers:

  • Great questions are better than great answers. Put a question on the screen and ask the audience to answer it using their own critical thinking. If participants know they are expected to respond to questions they are way more likely to stay focused.
  • Have a designated virtual facilitator who keeps an eye on interactions with the audience, asks questions, and monitors the chat to direct the presenter. It’s way too hard to have the presenter play dual roles so having a designated facilitator role means you are focused on the participant experience and creating a valuable feedback loop.
  • Consider setting aside at least 25% of your virtual session for interactive activities. SO if you are running an hour long virtual session make sure you have no more than 45 mins of content.
  • Use visuals instead of text on the screen. Concentrate more on the story you are trying to tell, and support it with one image – it’ll be far more memorable than a bunch of words crammed into each slide.                                                      

What’s Not in the Virtual Meeting Is as Important as What Is in the Virtual Meeting

Often, when people think of a virtual workshop, they think it starts when everyone joins the web-conferencing platform and ends when everyone hops off the web-conferencing platform.

Instead, what if each participant came prepared with a base-line level of content from self-study or partner work so the virtual time as a group could be reserved for conversation, application, and interactivity? And what if after the meeting, challenges and stories were shared to ensure the content from the virtual workshop sticks? As you think about doing virtual workshops, think about expanding the workshop to go beyond the constraints of the 90-minute web-conference call.

Treat Virtual Meetings Like In-Person Meetings

We often treat virtual meetings like the attendees are robots who are on time, always pay attention, and don’t need coffee or restroom breaks. Instead, why not do the following?

  • Plan for buffer time. If you have a 60-minute session, plan for 90 minutes (login time, audio syncing time, question time, networking time).
  • Include a break (especially if you’re making people think a lot).
  • Ask people to use emojis to signal that they’re stepping away, because stepping away happens (coffee emoji for coffee, phone emoji for a client call, etc.).

Get Yourself a Web-Conferencing Platform with More Capability

At Root, we use WebEx Training Center, which has a couple awesome tools beyond the standard conference call and screen-sharing features:

  • Breakout Rooms that allow you to randomly or manually group people on the call into their own conference lines with a click of a button. This allows you to divide and conquer on an activity and increase interactivity!
  • Annotation Tools that allow group members to use a pointer to indicate something on the screen or to type directly on the screen!

Some web-conferencing platforms allow you to stream videos without lag-time, which is another modality that can change the game for your workshops.

Root Inc. helps some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 organizations realize change and activate strategy through disruptive methods. If you’re interested in learning how we can help facilitate better virtual conversations, click here.


March 9, 2020


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