What’s missing in virtual communication—and in boring meetings (plus 3 things to do about it)

By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster, No More Boring Meetings

Like many meetings and events, virtual communications are often boring, unemotional, forgettable, one way and lacking in purpose. Turns out, many of the techniques for improving how we communicate virtually help us improve the in-person meeting experience, too.

Let’s explore these realms a bit deeper with insights from Dr. Nick Morgan. He’s one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches, and speaks worldwide on communication, body language, storytelling and executive presence. His latest book is Can You Hear Me Now? How to Connect with People in the Virtual World.

As Nick explains, when we meet face to face, whether in groups or 1:1, we have the benefit of vocal tonation, body language, gestures, eye contact and intention. With these multi-sensory inputs as a foundation, we build trust, connection, emotionality and empathy with others.

You might assume that all meetings offer these same foundational sensory cues. Yet that’s not always the case, and that’s where boredom, disconnection, a lack of empathy and lackluster results seep in.

That’s why I recommend using the following tools and guidelines so your virtual and in-person meetings will are richer, interactive, story-driven experiences that address our shrinking attention spans and flood of distractions:

  1. Understand that you have 10 minutes to change. Both Nick and I find application and relevance in the brain-science research of John Medina. One of Medina’s key findings is that our attention spans start lagging after 10 minutes. So, when designing event programming, be sure to change the way in which information is presented 5-6 times per hour. Note that this does not require swapping out a presenter every 10 minutes! It does mean finding speakers willing to switch from, say, the spoken word, to a video, to a product demo, to a peer-to-peer exercise, back to the spoken word, in the same session, to keep everyone engaged.
  2. Master your Master of Ceremonies. Whether your event is virtual, live, or a hybrid of both, be sure to invite a master or mistress of ceremonies. As Nick notes, “The group can’t run itself without the virtual equivalent of body language. You need someone who’s in charge of making sure that each person talks and that everyone is engaged.”I would add: Make that a professional host (rather than, say, rely on that really outgoing colleague in accounting or whomever else you’ve pegged to do the deed for free). Yep, even the most cash-strapped event organizers are wise to prioritize hiring a great host—the role is that pivotal.

Here’s why. Your host is often delivering the very first interaction, energy and content that your audience experiences at your event. Any gaffe here has a disproportionately negative impact on your entire event, since we all know first impressions matter most. A seasoned host also provides a red thread of professionalism and insightful connections—”agenda glue” placed between your program elements that helps spur memories and boost recall.

  1. Maximize post-event engagement. When it comes to memories and recall, most events—whether a virtual webinar or an in-person conference—under-utilize opportunities to reinforce insights and learning from the “main” event.In Nick’s words: “If you want to increase the likelihood that your webinar will defy expectations, logic and the unhappy history of most webinars and actually be remembered,” Nick and I both believe you must integrate follow up actions. These include:
  • Smaller discussion sessions for participants after the webinar is over.
  • Short videos before and after to boost learning
  • Crowdsourced everything. Follow up the webinar with polls, surveys, prizes for participation, and so on.

And I would add:

  • Launch a Wiki, Basecamp or proprietary platform on which participants share and mine ideas, videos, white papers and case studies that reveal how ideas from the event are being activated in the real world. For little or no investment, this collective, user-generated content can last well beyond the live event, increase takeaway value and boost return attendance.
  • The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Find a sponsor with an exclusive product that is aligned with your event, and have the company send one to every attendee. According to Event Marketer, 74% of attendees feel more positively about a brand or product that’s promoted after they’ve attended an event.
  • Tell your live audience about any future events to help generate buzz. Can you even register people for upcoming gatherings on site or in real time during the webinar while they’re in the midst of your positive gathering?

Heed these tips, and you’ll bask in what Nick sees as a modern-day communication sweet spot: “The true adepts in these (virtual and real) worlds of the future will be people who develop the ability to code-switch from one world to the next—while maintaining a consistent and authentic personality that works seamlessly in all the worlds.”

For more insights on improving live and virtual event experiences of all types, get a copy of my book, The Non-Obvious Guide to Event Planning: For Kick-Ass Gatherings that Inspire People.