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Virtual, or at least hybrid work, will continue well into next year, and maybe even later.

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Thirteen months into the coronavirus pandemic, vaccinations are under way and there is hopeful talk of returning to offices and schools this fall. But that’s still months away, and there’s a widespread belief that even though there may be a partial return to workplaces by September, virtual, or at least hybrid work, will continue well into next year, and maybe even later.

That means if you’ve been deferring in-person training, postponing community consultations or delaying product or service presentations to your clients until “things are back to normal,” it’s time to give up on that pipe dream and find ways to achieve these objectives now. The obvious answer is through cyber methods, but online events come with their own unique challenges. Your event attendees are frequently distracted, and getting them to participate and interact can be akin to pulling teeth. When you factor in the love-hate relationship most people have with their screens by now, achieving the right business outcomes from your online event may seem impossible. Not so! Intelligent event design can make your participants connect emotionally and contribute thoughtfully. Here are 11 proven ideas to make your online events more engaging and interactive.

Start with your intended outcome. What do you want people to do as a result of attending your online event? Do you want them to follow procedures? Or provide input? Or buy your product or service? If you keep this desired outcome front-and-centre as you plan your event, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood that you’ll achieve that outcome.

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Craft your presentation to address the three ways people pay attention. Everyone has a preferred style in how they absorb information: auditory, visual or kinesthetic. Use a balance of words, graphics and interactivity for each main point or concept to make sure you have everyone covered.

Answer three important questions. Participants want to know: What’s in it for me? Why should I do it? Will it be fun? Make sure you decisively respond to these questions in the first six minutes of your training, facilitation or presentation, or run the risk of losing the very people you are trying to engage.

Design compelling visuals. Put up wording from the policy manual in 14-point Arial, and everyone will check out as fast as you can say “disengaged.” Instead, use colourful templates, photos, videos, and minimize your use of text.

Use breakout rooms often. The easiest way to include even your most reluctant participants is to put them in small groups and assign them a task. Those who are unlikely to speak up in a large group will contribute when they are with only three or four others.

Be intentional in using chat features. Ask simple questions about your topic and invite attendees to answer in “chat.” Most will respond, and by discussing some of the answers that come in, you’ll find that more will participate the next time.

Utilize polls. This is the online equivalent of asking for a show of hands, only better. People love sharing their own experiences, and comparing them with others’. If this functionality is not available in your online platform, try easy-to-use interactivity apps such as Mentimeter or Slido.

Create a collective word cloud. See if you can build a word-cloud exercise into your event design. This activity (available in the free versions of these apps) is surefire way to focus on what is important in a way that will elevate your audience engagement.

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Up the fun factor with quizzes and games. Use game-based platform Kahoot to build highly entertaining, pub-type trivia games related to your topic. Your attendees can use any internet-connected device to play along. Try WheelOfNames.com to bring a casino-style flair to your training or facilitation event.

Invest in a good microphone. Your online audience will forgive just about anything, except poor audio. If they can’t hear you, they’ll take the next exit ramp to somewhere else. Test your audio by rehearsing with a friend. If the sound is not clear, put a good mic on the top of your shopping list.

Improve your video by spending very little. Sit facing a window with natural light. If that’s not possible, place table lamps in front of you on either side of your camera. Ring lamps are inexpensive, but if you wear glasses, they are not your best choice.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership speaker, consultant and the founder of leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.

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