“I don’t understand it,” Tom said, “our content is so great. Why can’t we keep people’s attention?”
And that, right there, is the answer to his question.
Because anytime you’re gathering people together live on a virtual platform like Zoom, Google Meet, Butter, or any of the others springing up these days, if you’re thinking about your content first, you’ve got a problem.
Your content very well might be amazing. Off the chain.
But it doesn’t matter. Because when it comes to virtual meetings, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your content has to play second fiddle.
This may be controversial, but I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think seriously about the answer:
If all you want to do is deliver content, why are you forcing people to gather in real time anyway? Why not simply record a video?
I’m not kidding about this.
You don’t need a live, virtual event to deliver great content. So why not save everyone else the logistical hassle of being pinned down to a specific time and date, send them your great content as a video, and *boom*—you’re done!
“No!” you protest. “It’s not the same!”
You’re absolutely right. It’s not the same.
But the reason it’s not the same is not because the content is different.
The reason a recorded video is different from a live virtual meeting is because in a live virtual meeting, people have the opportunity to connect.
And I’d lay even odds that Tom is having a hard time keeping people’s attention because he’s so focused on his brilliant content that he’s completely forgotten to build in connection.
Or perhaps he doesn’t know how.
Either way, if you want to create a meeting, a training, an event, an experience that people will rave about, connection has to come first.
Connection Before Content
As Peter Block put it:
“we must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.”
I would add: building connection will help your virtual meeting participants engage with your awesome content.
Think about it: isn’t it much more fun to watch a movie or see a play with someone else? You know you have someone to talk to about it afterwards. You’re likely to pay more attention, because you’re actively looking for things to share with your watch partners.
Tom could help create that kind of culture at his next event. Staying tuned in could become a treasure hunt for shareable insights, rather than a passive consumption experience.
How to Create a Connection Culture
How would Tom go about creating a connection culture, instead of a culture where people tune out to check their email and scroll the socials?
First off, I recommend starting your meeting/event with an “unofficial start,” and then leading a connection exercise within the first 10 minutes of your event.
What’s a connection exercise? Simply having pairs or small groups answer questions in breakout rooms is one example.
(Stay tuned—I’ll be sharing some more connection exercises in future articles!)
Don’t stop there, however. You want to continue to weave in additional moments of connection throughout the event.
Here’s where you’ll want to consider the style of the relationships you want to build.
Wide & Shallow vs. Narrow & Deep?
If your event is something like networking or speed dating, where the goal is to make many connections, but the quantity of connections is prioritized over intimacy and depth, this is what one of my teachers, Jenny Sauer Klein, refers to as a “wide and shallow” approach.
If this is you, you’ll want to change up the groups every time you send people into breakout rooms.
But what if, on the other hand, your goal is to deepen connections and build a sense of intimacy?
Jenny Sauer Klein refers to this as a “narrow and deep” approach.
“But wait,” you ask, “is intimacy even possible on Zoom?”
You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes!
As demonstrated in a famous study by psychologist Arthur Aron and team, it’s not physical proximity that creates connection and intimacy, but sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.
One way to accelerate intimacy in virtual events is by having the same pairs or small groups meet in breakout rooms over the course of your event to answer increasingly probing questions. (Do make sure you’ve established psychological safety first!)
Whichever approach you go with — wide and shallow or narrow and deep — make sure to weave in connection touchpoints throughout your event.
But What About My Content?
Now you may be wondering, with all the time we’ve hypothetically allocated to connection activities, where does the content fit in?
And here’s where I challenge you to get creative!
It may just be that your content, the way it’s currently designed, won’t fit into a virtual meeting or event. At least, not if you want people to actually pay attention.
There’s a reason why I design my trainings and offsites using my active-learning F.U.N. Method™, not using traditional static lectures.
People pay more attention and retain information better when they learn through fun activities, rather than through lectures.
It may not be the way you’ve always done things, but if the way you’ve always done things is not getting results, it may be time to do something different.
If you’d like to experience some brain-friendly exercises that activate learning while building connection, come to my next Non-Boring Virtual Meetings Learning Lab.
Interested to learn more? Message me to chat about how I can use my signature system to help your employees infuse connection, joy and delight into virtual meetings, trainings and events at your workplace.
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