Expert offers ideas to make virtual meetings engaging, productive

Last month, we talked about ways to make yourself more engaging in virtual meetings.

Now let's talk about making those meetings more engaging for everyone else.

As business moves from the conference room to the computer screen, the dynamics of meetings have changed. In-person interactions have been replaced with a computer screen full of blank faces, looking like a dull version of "Hollywood Squares." Attendees become bored, zone out or are frustrated by the inability to chime in - something many are calling "Zoom Gloom."

But it doesn't have to be that way, according to Joanne Brooks, who is the founder and president of Northbrook-based marketing production company Creative Impact Group. By injecting a bit of entertainment or an element of surprise, Brooks said meetings and conferences can become more enjoyable and engaging for attendees and - as a result - more productive.

"There's plenty of things you can do in a corporate meeting that makes it more engaging and also encourages networking," Brooks said.

One of the big obstacles to overcome, she notes, is that most assume the person in charge of the meeting is skilled enough to run it.

That may not always be the case.

"If the VIP is not used to doing or doesn't like public speaking, I suggest that the person running the meeting be a professional moderator," Brooks said. "Right away, that will hold the attention of the audience ... someone who is articulate and can make transitions when they need to be made."

Brooks said meetings - especially key business meetings - can also benefit from some sort of entertainment to keep people interested and engaged.

That entertainment can be "infotainment," she added, by using an entertainer to convey a point or theme of the meeting. As an example, she said, a magician or comedian could use their talents to make a point or unveil a new product or campaign.

"They can gear their presentation specific to the company, making it very niche," Brooks said. "It keeps the wow factor in and keeps people interested, even though it's virtual."

She also suggests taking breaks during a presentation - at which point activities like stress-free exercises or a musician playing background music can be added.

For staff meetings, Brooks suggests adding activities such as scavenger hunts or trivia games to keep people engaged and motivated. For bigger events, she added, businesses can try a casino night or auction, or provide interactive cooking demonstrations.

"It's especially good for team building, and helps keep up spirits," she said.

If you plan on holding a noontime meeting, Brooks suggests having lunch delivered to the attendees - or at least send gift cards in advance so they can order their own meal.

Brooks believes live meetings will eventually return to the business scene, but they will likely morph into "hybrid" meetings - where a small portion of attendees will be in a room together while the rest will remain in virtual attendance. For the time being, however, she said anyone planning a meeting or event should anticipate virtual affairs at least well into 2021.

"Virtual meetings will be here to stay, for sure."

Saying goodbye to a good friend

Our Business Ledger family was saddened by the sudden death of small business marketing columnist Jim Kendall, who died July 23 at the age of 81.

I worked with Jim for all nine years I've been with the Business Ledger, and I always admired how he maintained an upbeat attitude despite the situation. His columns reflected they way he approached life: helping others with little need for personal reward.

While preparing his obituary (which you can read on Page 7), I was most moved by a line in his "farewell" column in our sister publication, the Daily Herald, last September. It truly epitomized what he enjoyed most about writing a column for the past 16 years:

"I've reaped perhaps the most important benefits: Getting to know, and appreciate, literally hundreds of small business owners - among the finest business people anywhere; getting to work with some of the best journalism professionals you or I or anyone else will find anywhere; and at the same time getting to enjoy the freedom to choose my own column topics."

Our sincere condolences go out to Jim's wife, Sharon, daughter Tracey Coleman and the rest of the Kendall family.

Our lives and the Business Ledger will feel a bit emptier without him.

Adding "surprise" elements, like a caricature, can help attendees avoid "Zoom Gloom" in virtual meetings and conferences, according to Joanne Brooks, founder and president of production company Creative Impact Group in Northbrook. Courtesy Creative Impact Group
Joanne Brooks
Jim Kendall
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