Make Your Remote Presentation Less Boring

3 simple changes to effectively teach, lead, and engage

Why shouldn’t video calls be this fun? (Image: StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay)

I used to never — never — do online workshops.

Then… You know. Global pandemic.

And suddenly online was our only option.

After a year of developing and facilitating workshops remotely, I’ve discovered a game-changing secret.

Remote workshops and presentations don’t have to be boring.

But boy oh boy, they can be.

Here are three (very) simple steps you can take to ensure your virtual “room” has a reason and the will to stay engaged.

1. Ditch Your Slides

“Death by Powerpoint” is a phrase for a reason. Even back in the days when we would physically gather in the same space, nobody wanted to sit through slide after slide — no matter how fun your transition animations and zesty your jokes were.

Now, when everything and everyone is coming at us as pixels on a flat screen, we certainly aren’t interested in a droning voice over a lifeless slate of text.

This first tip is simple, but may strike fear into the hearts of those who love the protection of their slides:

Tip: Start your meeting in Gallery View — not with a shared screen — and keep coming back to this view. If you’ve spent any amount of time videoconferencing this year, you already know that most platforms offer meeting participants different views. In Zoom, you can opt between Speaker View (which highlights the person whose microphone is picking up the most noise) or Gallery View (which shows many meeting participants in equally sized tiles).

However, anytime you share your screen, most folks’ settings will go straight into full screen mode, which squeezes the presenter and participant videos into a tighter, more limited view.

When you share your screen, meeting participants will see fewer people. When you don’t share your screen, they see more.

Sharing your screen also limits your ability as the presenter to see your participants. If you are new(ish) to — or just uncomfortable with — running a remote presentation, it can be unsettling to not see the faces of the folks you’re speaking to. Once of the biggest complaints remote teachers, presenters, and facilitators have is no longer being able to “read the room.”

The solution is simple: start without a shared screen. Set your view to gallery, and as new folks arrive, ask them to do the same (bonus points for having a brief, 1–2 sentence instructional spiel ready). Setting the tone is a power move, and your responsibility as the meeting facilitator, so let your participants know right away they should expect to have their cameras on. By seeing everyone and having them be seen, you are communicating that you want and expect folks to be present for this meeting.

2. Mix Up the Means of Participation

I won’t even pretend not to be biased — my favorite videoconferencing platform is definitely Zoom. One of its key perks is that is has several built-in means of engaging in a meeting. Get the most out of your user license by using them all.

Ask folks to drop mass or rapid-fire answers in the chat. Give them discussion time in breakout rooms. Call on individuals to unmute themselves and share. Ask for reactions from the “room” (thumbs up, thumbs down, etc.). Use the annotation and polling tools to have folks give responses to questions.

Tip: Consistently and intentionally change the way people are engaging with your material — typing, talking, viewing, watching, physically responding — and their minds will stay fresher longer.

You can, of course, use external (not-Zoom) tools during your Zoom meeting. Some groups like to use shared Google Docs for brainstorming, or use collaborative tools like Mural, Padlet, Mentimeter, or Google Jamboard.

One word of caution about this… Sending your meeting participants off to an external site or app requires that they wrangle with a whole different system which they may or may not have experience with. If you’re going to do this right, set them up for success with explicit instructions on accessing and using these other tools. Make it as easy as possible, and always anticipate there will still be a few folks who struggle.

If you’re dealing with a recurring meeting and a team that’ll be working on an ongoing basis, take the time early on to introduce them to whatever systems you’ll be using.

If, however, you’re leading a group that’s only meeting once or twice, you may want to skip the fancy external tools — they may be more trouble than they’re worth.

3. Everything in 5-Minute Blocks

We take information in differently when it’s coming at us through a screen.

I don’t know why — and if you need to know, there are certainly way smarter people than I who written about it somewhere.

But I do know, with certainty, it’s true. It’s as clear as the life draining from folks’ eyes when they’re being lectured at through Zoom.

Some presenters adjust by rushing through — trying to cram as much content as possible into an hour before letting everyone take a ten minute break — while others seem to think that merely acknowledging “Zoom fatigue” and thanking participants for “hanging in there” will work well enough.

There is another way.

To keep people engaged in a remote workshop, presentation, or even a long meeting, you’ve got to think about time differently than when you were in person.

Tip: Think through your agenda in five-minute blocks.

Have the group been hearing your voice for five minutes? Time to stop, and engage their voices or give them an interactive activity.

Want a group check in? Send folks to breakout rooms for five minutes (rather than spending 30 minutes waiting for each person to speak up and share).

Just covered a lot of content? Give five minutes of semi-structured reflection time, allowing your non-verbal processors to think with the aid of a few reflective questions.

Granted, some activities or sections of content are going to take more than five minutes — just because you’re going remote doesn’t mean to you to shortchange your audience (especially if they’ve paid for your services). But five minutes of any type of activity — listening, speaking, reflecting, writing, polls/quizzes, brainstorming, etc — should be considered a full serving.

Next time you’re leading a presentation or taking a group of people through a workshop or training, put these three steps to work. Your audience will (be awake enough to) thank you.

Gender — Relationships — Doing your own thing without pissing off everybody else.

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