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  • Kathy O'Brien

Can You Really Be Engaging on Zoom?

The past two years have proven we can do business – even high-stakes conversations – on a videoconference platform. Love it or hate it, it’s the default mechanism in an infected world.



You’ve done it all virtually by now: presented, persuaded, hired and possibly fired, cajoled, learned, inspired and complained.


The one thing you’ve likely found most difficult is engaging. Virtual has a host of engagement saboteurs: lagging, background noise, unstable networks. Human behaviour can be a block also – too shy to turn on video, not facing the camera, forgetting to mute/unmute, speaking through a mask.


If you’re serious about engaging a group on Zoom, there are things you can do. Here are some techniques to encourage input and guide people toward conversation.


Make video-on a default. Alert everyone in the notification email so people are prepared. Repeat it at the start of the call. You can say:


This is a video-on session. It really helps to see everyone’s face as we’re talking.



Look directly at the camera when you speak. This is not natural; but it comes across as natural to the audience. Think of when you are the listener: if you see the speaker’s eyes, you feel more compelled to watch. If he is looking down or at an angle, your brain registers that he’s not really addressing you and you feel less obligation to focus. Practice speaking directly to the camera, and record yourself to see how well you’re doing. You can look at the faces on the screen when someone else is speaking.



Ask for comments/questions. Alert the group you will be doing this. For example you can say at the start:


Please note I will be asking for input during this discussion.


Later you can say:


Now let’s have three comments on the ideas shared so far. Everyone please unmute. Who will go first?


Note the presumptive language here — not Are there any comments? — which suggests a yes or no answer. Rather you are presuming there will be comments, which signals to their brains that engagement is a given.



Smile! We say you should smile 20% more on the virtual platform because people have so little data to absorb, they can’t receive your energy or body language. A smiling person is far more interesting than a super-serious one. Of course this must be content-appropriate.



Encourage people through verbal acknowledgment. Say:


I see some of you nodding and smiling; so tell me, what do you like about this idea?


If it’s appropriate, call on people by name. Use presumptive language politely:


Sheena, share your thoughts on next steps.


If that’s too direct, cite a sub-group. Here’s an example:


Someone from legal, tell me how this affects your team.


As you try out these methods, take notes on what works well. Incorporate your most successful techniques into your next meeting.


We will continue to share tips for virtual engagement in upcoming articles. There is more you can do if you are hosting – for example, breakout exercises. Also, you need different techniques to remain appropriate when you are not the host.


Above all, success will come from managing your mindset. An engagement mindset will direct your behaviour, and everyone will benefit.



This is the first in a Red Shoe series to help you make deliberate choices in communicating your executive presence.


Photo by Chris Montgomery and Jeremy Bishop from Unsplash

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