WOW... So since the inception of the social distancing rules and being forced to work from home, we have seen a massive increase in virtual engagement (Obviously). I'm a pretty social kinda guy and I LOVE all types of social interactions. I thought I was REALLY going to struggle with being at home. I used to get crazy cabin fever and thought I always needed to be out to top up my social glass and renew my energy.
What's weird is so far... I haven't felt confined at all. I realise that I am SUPER lucky to have a large living space and to have my family around me. But besides that, I have probably had more interactions now than I ever have in my life. In fact, without even kidding, I spoke to over 150 people before 16:00 one day and that was over MS Teams (Chat and calls), Email, Facebook, WhatsApp, SMS, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn & Zoom. If you do the math, that's nearly 20 people an hour, which is 1 person every 3 minutes. What in the ACTUAL!! But its easily done.
This brings me to my next point.... it can be super overwhelming. Like, REALLY overwhelming. This level of engagement we are having certainly fills up my social glass, but I'm a VERY talkative uber extrovert who thrives on this type of stuff. I'm a total attention seeker who suffers from huge amounts of impostor syndrome and LOADS of other insecurities. I try to engage with as many people as I can to learn and figure out how my own mind works. So naturally huge levels of engagement with LOADS of people make me incredibly happy. but this is just me being selfish and this type of engagement with so many people isn't for everyone.
What about the folk that prefer to observe? What about the really deep listeners? What about the folks who prefer to absorb and give only when they feel their contribution is valuable or necessary? Everyone should be given the opportunity to be heard.
Well, even though I talk a TON, I have also been doing some observing. Let me begin with where this actually started. I have a friend called Keith Whatling (If you don't know him, please follow him on Twitter & LinkedIn). Keith is a legend and I respect what he says not only because of his wealth of both professional and life experience, but also because the dude is wise. I remember a discussion with Keith about Digital inclusion and how we need to work together to make sure everyone has opportunity to leverage tech to problem solve and create a better life for themselves and the people around them.
My goal : I want to make sure that the interactions and engagements I have provide as much value to the recipient as possible.
I remember sitting in meetings and watching how people were engaging one another. Watching things like body language and listening to their tone. Trying to understand who would react to what and why. I even would take different approaches when presenting and say certain things to try and promote thought and reaction. I'd try and engage every single person in a room or in a session and try and make eye contact with as many people as possible to form the connection we are all looking for. I try and tailor the content of the engagement for the people I am meeting with.
I recently remember a meeting with one of the partners I work with and I ended up explaining Common Data Service relationship management using packets of biscuits. HAHA! I really want to impart information in more creative ways and I want people to get value from the time we spend together. in what ever shape that is. I don't particularly know if its completely worked. I guess the people that I've met with could probably tell you...But I normally feel pretty good after most engagements. There are the odd few that just suck :( I won't be getting into that.
The last 3 weeks have been a HUUUUGE learning experience for me and hopefully everyone else. I've learnt a number of things about how to engage people and also learnt that I have some petty interesting little tools at my disposal that I am going to start using more and more. This has mostly been done through spending 90% of my waking day engaging people across one of the many channels I use.
We started a virtual pub called "The Bespoke Badger" where we meet every Thursday evening 19:00 BST. It started with 6 of us on the original meeting. Last week (09 April 2020) we had 26 people at one point and we had roughly 50 different people participating throughout the evening. It's nuts! And AMAZING!! Now where I'm going with this is.... Have you ever been on a call where 26 people are all laughing and talking to one another at the same time? IT'S CHAOS.... but... we have found ways to make it work. We have some how worked out how to communicate and enjoy each others company virtually in a big group. We do things like Pub Quizzes and nominations games, where someone has to tell a story or ask a question and they have to nominate someone else to respond and you cant pick someone that's already gone. We also put in a rule that you have to pick someone you don't know. It is EPIC fun. We even do hilarious things with our surroundings where there are props and all sorts of crazy things that get used. Even the funny backgrounds and Snap Chat filters get used.
There are a few tips I can share that could potentially help you with your virtual interactions and to provide value to the people you are engaging.
Cameras MUST be on wherever possible! Who cares if you think you look bad...YOU PROBABLY DON'T!!! Lets get that out the way. When your camera is on, not only do you come across as more engaging, but it shows you are present and paying attention. If we are on a call I want you to know I am listening and that I am interested. If you make a point, I want you to see me nodding my head in agreement.
I personally have worked out that getting creative with my surroundings has really worked for engagement. i don't background blur ever. I have a sign board in the background that people can see when I start a meeting. I often put funny sayings up there or the meeting titles. I want people to get a sense of who they are speaking to by what's around me. I have all sorts of weird stuff on display. Everything from a Duffs bar fridge, a drum kit & electric guitars to Lego Mixels. I've learnt to use my surroundings and to make the visual experience more interesting. I want people to know I'm super comfortable with them knowing more about me.
I do dress in real human clothes and make sure I look mostly presentable and I don't just rock the PJs all day. Some would argue I never look presentable. HAHAHAA! I don't do formal though. I'll wear a decent hoodie or something to that effect. I kinda feel that if you are going to do the formal thing it often forces others to turn their camera off because "I didn't know we were doing ties for this call" and I don't fit in.
I did actually spend a bit of cash to beef up my home rig. I got a sweet Yeti mic, a proper web cam and some awesome lighting so that people can have a better experience and hear me properly. I can also mess with the lighting in various ways to help me articulate a point or set a scene. My web cam is also situated in a certain way so that I can actually stand up and talk if I really want to make a point. its all part of the show. I did do something else hilarious and bought a bunch of smart Govee lights to support my scene setting. I just have a weird thing for coloured lights :D
Something I also realised pretty fast is that my voice and tone are SO, SO important now because people can't completely interpret body language over video, so they will use tone to flavour what you are saying. Just going with a monotone, flat approach may not be the best option. I do often get overly enthusiastic about stuff and animated with my tone. I'm still learning. The important part is it isn't overly forced. If I want to make a point I often go right up close to the mic and talk. Its actually pretty effective.
Finally, content is obviously very important. That being said. Power Point isn't the answer to all content focused solutions. I've found that you do need Power Point but I try to move into demonstrations and actual interactive content as much as I can. i use Forms pro to get people to participate in the demo. There are loads of other magical things you can do like create surveys, do live voting and loads more. Ill probably end up doing a separate post on this completely and what tech works well.
All in all, since the start of all of this, its been a huge learning curve for me and I've gotten so much out of it, so i thought I'd share what I've learnt. I know that its by no means perfect but hopefully you got a couple of awesome hints and tips. I'm also seriously up for a discussion with anyone on any of these points and will gladly share what i know.
Stay healthy and all the best.