When was the last time you joined an online meeting? Learned a new skill during a live virtual training? Attended a thought leadership webinar? For many people, they’ve done one of those in the past week.
The modern business world operates simultaneously in face-to-face and virtual spaces. Yet, many people are uncomfortable in the virtual world. (I know I’m guilty.)
For businesses to remain agile and productive, we all need to overcome this discomfort by developing better virtual presence. This includes event hosts & participants alike!
So, we’re going to address the first “virtual presence challenge” many of us face: Lacking virtual awareness.
Pinning down a definition for virtual presence can be tricky. It’s best understood in the contexts of “good” virtual presence: “The skill set needed to deliver engaging, impactful virtual experiences effectively.”
These skills are very relevant to online meetings, virtual trainings, or webinars – for both hosts and participants. Good virtual presence goes beyond enabling webcams and screen sharing.
Here are the hallmarks of a good host:
As for participants, good virtual presence lies in their commitment to:
An example that resonates with me is document annotation. Imagine a team is reviewing their latest product flyer in an online meeting. A good host will turn on the annotation feature, so the team can collaborate on changes they would like to see.
To ensure a better collaborative experience, the host will:
To gain value from the session, the participant will:
(Watch the below video to see annotation in an Adobe Connect virtual classroom.)
(Try out Adobe Connect for yourself! Start a trial today!)
Learning the ins and outs of tools comes with experience and time – so don’t worry if you’re not there yet. But it does exemplify good virtual presence in an online event.
The challenges of virtual presence go beyond the features used by hosts and participants. The “first hurdle” of virtual presence is much more encompassing.
The first hurdle of getting or delivering value from online sessions arises when people don’t know how they should operate in a virtual space. Hosts and participants can both be guilty of naturally treating online meetings or events the same as those held face-to-face.
We’ve been trained to operate in physical spaces, but there are huge differences to consider when meeting online. Behavior actually needs to change from one setting to the other.
Our good friends at Virtual Gurus have shared with us three factors that differentiate face-to-face and the online settings:
When you’re face-to-face in a meeting or training, it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to respond to emails without looking inattentive than if you’re online and hidden from sight.
Online events necessitate that someone is on their computer or phone, and they are typically at their desk. Although even in physical spaces distractions can be abundant, online distractions offer are hidden from the eye and can be easier to fall into. Access to email, IM, Google, and Slack are attention hogs that can affect the outcome of online events.
A host for any online event must be cognizant of these challenges. Take actions to help your participants combat these distractions:
As for participants, they need to be accountable, too:
Everything in life is about relationships. All too often, the regular interactions we’d have with people in-person are forgotten about in the virtual setting.
Anyone hosting online events must remember the importance of the little things, like greetings. During MeetingOne’s webinars, we like to see where people are joining from. Even asking about the weather is a good conversations starter!
Virtual presence depends upon being appreciative of the needs of your audience. Providing a real sense of human interactions is a crucial component.
We would encourage all participants to actively engage a host or speaker at the beginning of an event. A simple pleasantry, like, “Excited to be here,” can help get things off on the right foot.
Let’s imagine two scenarios. In the first scenario, a female business executive goes to Japan to discuss a business deal. In the second, she uses an online meeting space to negotiate.
In which scenario do you think the executive is more likely to forget the cultural context defining the conversation? Probably the second.
This example isn’t intended as a dismissal of using the virtual space for important conversations. It’s meant to show a potential pitfall of under-appreciating how the two spaces work.
Awareness of how culture shapes expectations of a host/presenter is an aspect of good virtual presence.
The responsibilities are a little different for participants. Some cultures are strictly hierarchical, making it uncomfortable for individuals to ask questions. If you don’t feel comfortable giving input, using the status feature may be your best route! It’s a more reserved option, but it does cue the host into your participation.
Learn more about being culturally conscious with our eBook, “7 Expert Tips for Building Culture Conscious Online Courses!“
The virtual space has so much potential for driving productive events around the globe. They save businesses millions in travel expense, and they provide greater convenience for a world that demands instantaneous responses.
But it all depends upon our virtual presence. A good host of online meetings will see better outcomes. A host with lacking virtual presence may not realize why their online events aren’t working.
And the same is true of participants. Those who understand the value of being engaged in a platform will get more out of the sessions they attend.