When you can see your audience during a presentation, you can pay close attention to their non-verbal signals and gauge their reactions much more accurately than in a virtual presentation. In a teleconference call you know they are there but you cannot see their facial expressions, spot a hand raised to ask a question or interpret any of their movements that might signal tiredness or impatience. Participants too are challenged and frequently distracted. It is hard for them to stay focused and give their full attention to the call, to you and the content of their presentation when they are also missing the physical presence and stimulus of both of the presenter and the other members of the audience.
Your listeners will need some guidance and encouragement from you to create a dynamic for constructive discussion.
Outline the objectives and the agenda of the meeting in advance and at the start of the call. Consider giving participants printed copies of the agenda ahead of time so that they can follow along.
Give participants the basic rules and guidelines for questions and their inputs at the outset.
Use an agenda slide and organize your presentation and discussion into a clear structure.
Make sure everyone is clear about any expectations you have linked to the presentation and what needs to be accomplished by the end of the call e.g. decisions to be made, next steps to be agreed etc.
Summarise at regular intervals – this will help participants follow what is being said.
Use rhetorical questions to link your slides and make your points as this tends to keep people alert.
Pause periodically throughout the presentation to get feedback and take questions from the other participants.
Direct questions to a specific person, instead of posing them to the audience at large. This helps avoid confusion and chaos, and helps ensure that your question is met with an answer rather than just a silence as everyone tries to figure out who is going to respond.
If the addressed individual can’t satisfactorily answer your question, he or she can refer it to someone else. Another option is to ask to hear from two people in response to the question/comment.
It can be a good idea to plan specific questions for specific people in advance – again address each person by name asking for any comments they might have as a result of the discussion.
Ask all participants to identify themselves before speaking if they make spontaneous contributions – the lack of visual cues makes this essential
Keep track of who is contributing to the discussion and who is not. To engage those who are too quiet, ask them a question or ask for their opinion on the subject being discussed. This forces them to keep up with the conversation, much like when you were back in school and knew you might be called on in class.
Always keep some time in reserve for any other questions that may arise at the end of the presentation.
Before ending the presentation and discussion, go around the virtual room and address each person by name asking for any questions or comments they might have as a result of the discussion.
End the presentation clearly. Briefly go over what was discussed, clarify any action you or the participants need to take, and finally thank them and instruct them to hang up.
Result? A more engaged and participative audience!