For the foreseeable future, our working lives will require quite a bit of communication through virtual platforms: conference calls, video meetings, weekly webinars, and team chats.
Way before the Zoom fatigue set in, most of us were accustomed to virtual meetings and remote presentations that have felt…mediocre at best.
Even as the remote workforce has been steadily growing and virtual communication tools have been continually expanding, our bar for virtual communication still remains low. But why?
When it comes to using virtual platforms, most users have reached the “OK plateau.”
The concept of the “OK plateau” is simple. When we’re approaching a new skill, we learn and improve rapidly at first, but when we reach the level of “good enough,” we tend to stop improving altogether.
For example, I’m typing all day for my job. But I’m not getting any faster or less error prone over time. I’ve hit a level of acceptable competence, so I’ve stopped improving.
When it comes to using virtual platforms, most of us know how to turn on video, mute audio, and successfully screen share. While we may not be platform power users, we’re good enough.
The antidote to the “OK plateau” is simple: deliberate practice.
If you learn new things and try to apply them, you can become an expert. You can learn to master the new tools of your trade.
It starts by discovering all that your virtual platform has to offer and learning how to maximize those capabilities. Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the most out of your virtual platform.
Know What’s Possible
When we first started converting live, in-person workshops to virtual ones some of our Duarte facilitators weren’t exactly excited about the idea.
How would we translate the energy of a classroom environment to a virtual space? Would the Duarte magic disappear? Most of that reluctance came from not knowing what was possible in terms of virtual engagement and interaction.
But by the time we finished piloting these new courses, those same facilitators were fired up. They realized that with just a little additional time and effort, we could burst beyond “good enough” and blow virtual audiences away.
And in a twist nobody saw coming, we are actually seeing HIGHER scores on our virtual workshops than our already high-scoring in-person ones.
So, where do you start when you’re exploring what’s possible on your platform?
Nearly every platform has the same four core functions: video, audio, screensharing, and chat. This is the stuff most of us know how to use, at least at a basic level.
Many virtual platforms have extended functionality that includes annotations, file sharing, breakout rooms, Q&A, polling, optimized video streaming, and non-verbal feedback.
Often, we haven’t taken advantage of these features, either because we didn’t know it was there, or we never tried to use it. Many of these features aren’t enabled by default, so you have to do some investigative work to find out what’s possible.
To find out what your platform can do, look in three places:
These are your global settings, and they determine what’s available to you. For example, in Zoom you have to intentionally enable “Breakout Rooms” if you want that option to show up in your next meeting.
After you’ve created a meeting or session, you can usually edit it, and you’ll find another group of options there. For example, in paid versions of WebEx and in Zoom, this is where you go to create polls.
Set a meeting with yourself or a colleague and explore what you can do during a session. Look at the options menu and practice using the tool in new ways. Practice will lead to confidence in using the tool in new ways.
Interact with Intention
Professionals don’t like being passive. While keeping an audience engaged is the challenge of any meeting, workshop, or presentation, it can be particularly difficult in virtual meetings.
Here’s the main problem: audio is the bottleneck.
When you’re in a virtual space, only one voice can be comfortably heard at a time, so it’s difficult to capture the same collaborative energy of real-world meeting rooms where conversation and ideas are more free flowing.
So the trick is to get your participants involved simultaneously without using audio. This is where features like Chat, polling, and breakout rooms are useful because they allow the entire group to be active at once.
At Duarte, one of the methods we’ve used to keep virtual audiences engaged is annotation.
Annotation is a feature that allows participants to contribute by drawing on the screen: typing out their thoughts, highlighting key phrases, or placing stamps that indicate reactions.
What I love about annotation is that it gives participants autonomy; they can decide when and how they want to contribute.
Keep these three things in mind when it comes to facilitating interaction on virtual platforms.
Try to involve your audience within the first 2 minutes of your virtual meeting or presentation. This sets the tone for the experience they can expect.
Mix it Up
Don’t rely on a single interaction. Variety creates interest for an audience. For example, you could open a meeting with a poll and check in again mid-meeting with an annotation exercise.
Remember that interactions that add little value will only exhaust your video-fatigued audience more. Only create interaction with intention.
Explore your Platform Options
Now that you know what capabilities are available, you might be interested in exploring new platform options.
We can’t tell you what platform to pick—there are too many variables for you to consider, especially around security and cost—but we can give you a framework for approaching that decision.
When selecting a virtual platform, always consider your specific use case.
If you just need basic functionality, prioritize ease of use. You want everyone to have easy, hassle-free access. Google Meet is a new free alternative, but many other well-known apps have free versions.
If collaboration is what’s most important to you, prioritize interactive capabilities.
Remember to do your research; if you want to use breakout rooms, for example, that may come standard on some meeting platforms and require a different license type in others.
If you’re broadcasting, investigate your media options and consider whether it’s more important to stream video or stream slides. If video is your main concern it may lead you to Twitch or YouTube Live.
When it comes to making a platform decision, you should turn to trusted sources: verified software review sites, your own personal network, and of course, if you have one—the IT support person at your company.
Use a Producer
As Duarte has pivoted many of its in-person workshops and training to virtual platforms, we’ve realized the value of having a producer—someone who is a bona fide platform expert, and is worrying about the technology, so the presenter doesn’t have to.
If you’re broadcasting, designate a member of your team to act as producer. This person is responsible for tasks like moderating chat and managing any technical difficulties—freeing up your on-air talent to focus on the audience.
When it comes to virtual communication, OK is no longer good enough. With just a bit more time and attention, however, you can get more from your virtual platform and be on your way to blowing audiences away.
For more on this topic, watch the recording of Comm Together: Get More From Your Virtual Platform on YouTube.
Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente