Leaders today have an everyday, all-the-time challenge: Virtual engagement. Executives around the world are headed into Q4 2021 with one foot in in-person activities (depending on where you live) and one foot in virtual meetings.
From a communications perspective, it’s a lot to juggle.
After 18 months of Zooming or Teaming or FaceTiming with our colleagues, we all know that like it or not, a hybrid method of doing business is here to stay. Sometimes meetings might be in a hybrid format (a blend of in-person and virtual), some are 100% in person, some are 100% virtual. No matter the format, all meetings are composed of employees who need to get a job done.
The question remains, how can leaders keep the attention of their team members and stakeholders in a virtual environment?
A few weeks ago, I pondered this. I decided it was time to hear from leaders directly and ask them: “What are you doing to keep virtual meetings meaningful, productive, and engaging?”
I called on two leaders to help me unpack the answers: Puneet Saini, Vice President at a global bank, and Michael Campbell, Vice President of Sales at a mid-sized technology company.
INTERNAL MEETINGS: The Naming Strategy
In any meeting, in-person or virtual, saying someone’s name can be an effective technique to get a person’s attention. There is, however, an art to this – lest you be perceived as “picking” on someone or “calling them out.” It’s true – we like to hear the sound of our own name. It communicates a higher level of personalization and care from the person speaking.
This concept is supported by Dennis Carmody and Michael Lewis in their Science Direct article which notes, “There are several regions in the left hemisphere that show greater activation to one’s own name, including the middle frontal cortex, middle and superior temporal cortex, and cuneus. These findings provide evidence that hearing one’s first name has unique brain functioning activation specific to one’s own name in relation to the names of others.”
Puneet Saini occasionally leans on The Naming Strategy in his senior stakeholder calls. “Once we’ve gotten into the meeting content, I aim to keep the team engaged by occasionally calling on a few individuals by name,” said Saini. “On a Zoom call, it’s not easy for people to focus – most of us have double screens, and another screen, which is your phone.”
Saini will gently but obviously, get attention by using The Naming Strategy. “I’ll say ‘ok John, I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this is important …’ This gets everybody thinking in their minds, ‘…okay, we’re talking to John and he’s about to speak. We need to focus.’”
He calls this “going for the elephant in the room.” The “elephant in the room” is the knowledge that everyone ought to be paying attention, but not everyone is. Calling out specific names in a non-threatening manner brings people back to the purpose of the call – to pay attention and get things done by the time the team clicks the “End Call” button.
EXTERNAL MEETINGS: Get Out of Your Own Way
When presenting virtually to clients, so much is missing. When the physical presence of another person is lacking, a significant amount of non-verbal communication is unable to be transmitted. That’s important because up to 70% of all we communicate is non-verbal; only 30% is verbal.
Non-verbal communication includes how a person is sitting in the chair, what they are doing with their hands, whether their phone is in proximity to them, what else they might be looking at or who else has their attention. For example, we cannot see on a virtual call when a person has moved to another tab on their computer, or if they’re scrolling through their phone instead of taking notes, or why they are muted or off video because they got up to get a snack.
When these behaviors are noticed by a presenter in an in-person meeting, it’s easy to tell you’ve lost someone’s attention.
Recent studies have found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today. It is reported that goldfish have a 9-second attention span.
Michael Campbell has led a tremendously successful career in sales and has a remedy for increasing engagement on virtual calls. The result? He’s more likely to keep people’s attention.
“When we first went virtual,” said Campbell, “I had a tendency to present more and engage less. I had gone back to old habits. I soon realized I’m not going to open with 30 minutes about me. I’ll lose them. I’m going to show them 5 slides for 8 minutes. Then we’ll use the rest of our time to engage and discuss.”
This balance of 25% presenting, 75% discussion is a critical relationship-building strategy that leads to valuable outcomes: Higher credibility, increased trust and rapport, deeper understanding of needs, and desired outcomes. In short, it helps people pay attention.
This “25/75” strategy is what we use and recommend to clients at On Point, and it is highly effective – especially in the longer 60-minute meeting format.
In the virtual or hybrid environment, Campbell offers 3 additional insights and tips to keep potential clients engaged:
- Have more meetings. “Traveling to another city to cram every decision into one day is no longer necessary. Instead, we can invite more back and forth into the process, communicate more often, and acquire a deeper understanding.”
- Be comfortable on video. “I always turn on my camera. You get to see my face, see the way I react. It sets the expectation that I want to see them too.”
- Sharing materials in advance. “Share the agenda with them, and give them a little bit beforehand but not a lot. I try to remember that they probably won’t read it, but that’s okay. To balance the give and take, I try to have something I owe them and if possible, something they owe me – like the answers to a few simple questions from a survey.”
Campbell leans on The Naming Strategy too, just like Saini, but nuanced.
“Not everybody hears things the same way you do. There may be 5 different ways that someone needs to hear something or they will check out,” said Campbell. “When that happens, I’ll zone in but in a nice, playful way. ‘Hey, Peter, it seems I’ve lost your attention. What can I do to bring you back?’”
This reels the person back in. “Because I’ve already built a strong rapport, it brings a smile to both of our faces,” said Campbell. “We re-group, often get great insights about the topic in fact, and continue forward together.”
The reality is, we remain in virtual reality, and will for some time. Whether you are hosting meetings that are internal or external, it is the responsibility of the individual running that meeting to make it engaging, productive, and worthwhile. The meeting also needs to build relationships that can stand the test of time via Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, or phone.
In the uncertainty of Q4 2021 and what lies ahead, one thing is sure – we expect continued uncertainty surrounding getting back to the office.
It’s time to get your hybrid meeting game on, and with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to “Nailing It” on your next call, meeting, pitch, or partnership presentation.