Engaging Virtual Audiences

One thing we can all agree on is that this year has not been what anyone expected or hoped for. COVID-19 continues to change the trajectory of many businesses. When New England (and lots of other places) came to a grinding halt in March, it was shocking. Lawyers made the shift to home offices and kept plugging away at the existing business on their plates. But now that those matters are coming to a close, the pipeline is slowing. Although places of business are starting to open, people are weary of re-entering a confusing and scary new world. It will take a long time before we truly see how this is going to play out, but we don’t have time to wait. So, what should lawyers and law firms do in the meantime to keep business moving forward? Double down on building and maintaining important existing and new relationships.

In the past, successful lawyers spent a lot of their marketing and business development time working on relationships in person. With current limitations on in-person gatherings, people are feeling confused about what they can do to get “in front” of someone and make genuine connections. Make no mistake, relationship development is still very important– it just has become trickier to do. But this is where knowledge sharing becomes even more critical. As a result, online presentations are becoming a very important tool. But how can you be most effective in a distracting and noisy world?

Engaging an audience is challenging to begin with. How many times have you looked around a room at a conference to see folks on their laptops and phones, fiddling with the pen, doodling and seemingly not paying attention? Well, unfortunately recent research shows audiences are even more distracted while on conference calls. The research reports 65% of any online audience is simultaneously doing other work, with some folks distracted by eating their lunches or doing online shopping while “listening” in on a presentation. Despite claims for multi-tasking, it is scientifically proven that the human brain can not really do two activities at once and pay attention fully to either. It is tricky, but not a lost cause. So what are we to do? Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Use video. For smaller groups, ask folks to participate by video. When someone knows they are being watched, they are more likely to pay attention. For larger groups where video is not an option (or for those who put the sticky pad in front of their cameras), at least put yourself and co-presenters on video. Humans are naturally more engaged by faces and are less likely to tune you out than if it’s just an audio presentation.
  • Use your voice. No one wants to listen to a monotone or difficult to hear voice. Make sure your audio connection is clear. Try recording yourself doing a dry run. Analyze your voice– what are the strengths, what are the weaknesses and then work to improve your skills.
  • Be interactive. It is easy to lose an audience during a long monologue. Plan for interactive tools during the presentation. Use online polling tools, visually explain your talking points with images instead of words, use engaging visuals that change often, keep a quick and logical (but not lightening speed) pace that moves through the visuals, use chat functions and ask lots of interactive questions. Keep in mind that sometimes the hardest question is the first one– people sometimes feel shy about being the first to speak up. To help avoid this issue, plant a few questions in your audience to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Simplify your language. Don’t feel the need to impress your audience with big words or esoteric concepts. Keep your slides direct and to the point. Fill in the content with your talking points and visuals (if not too large, movie clips are a great tool for this!). Remember that some folks may be attending using their phones or smaller laptop screens. Less is more on slides– every time.
  • Start and finish on time. Keep your talking points informative but brief. Being respectful of your participants time will encourage them to attend future events you put on virtually. By ending on time, you also make sure your audience hears all of your points.
  • Follow-up. After your presentation, send out a brief (but comprehensive) follow-up to capture the most important points of the discussion. If folks were particularly involved, reach out to those people individually and thank them. Ask them if you may be more helpful to them on the topic at hand. These kinds of personal interactions following a presentation may very well be the next best thing to being in-person with someone. Helpful connections will lead to meaningful next steps in business generation and developing these relationships for the long-term.
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