Can you engage people without seeing them?

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Can you engage people without seeing them?

can you engage people without seeing them?

Can we engage people when we don’t see them?

YES! I spend most days presenting and facilitating to a screen with people’s initials or names on it. Yes, I do encourage that cameras stay on but there are often connectivity issues (especially in the rest of Africa) or people just feel self-conscious watching themselves on screen for extended periods of time. So, I’ve had to realise that wanting cameras to remain on throughout a session is more about my needs than the delegates’ and I can connect and engage people without seeing them. It’s be quite a learning curve and revelation. Of course, there are certain sessions where cameras on is a non-negotiable but it is not as many as I thought it would be.

So, how can you make your online meetings and training sessions more engaging? Here’s some Key Steps you can start taking immediately and you can contact Collette ( for more information on our workshops.

10 Key Steps to Engaging Online Presentations

  1. Visualise connection and engagement. If I get to see people at the start of a session, it’s ideal. It helps me to keep visualising them throughout. Where this isn’t possible, I imagine them anyway and imagine that we are in the same room together. I picture looking at them (as I look at myself strategically positioned on my second monitor right next to my camera), I make sure that my expressions and gestures look engaging, open and approachable. Trust is key here. I trust that they are connecting right back with me and benefiting from the session. It helps that I…
  2. Build in some form of engagement every three to five minutes. This could take the form of a question, reflection piece, quiz, group discussions and so on. It is important to teach people how to interact with you and how to use the tools available within the platform – chat, reactions, raise hand and so on. You can do this as part of the guidelines up front. Remember that you can engage people even though you can’t see their faces and watch them as they participate or react. Again, confidence and trust are key… in yourself and the audience. Just remember to…
  3. Give extremely explicit and clear instructions. At an in-person event, I’ll repeat instructions once or twice. Online, I often do it more. Remember that they can’t chat to the person next to them if they’ve missed something. It’s important to take extra special care to talk them through any new technology they will need to use (like Mentimeter, Jamboard, etc.) I learnt this the hard way, by initially assuming that people were fairly tech-savvy and would catch on quickly… Some do, many don’t! When you are explaining, make sure that you are really being supportive and you do not sound impatient, which leads me to…
  4. Be patient while everyone carries out instructions. It can feel like it’s taking a long time because you can’t see what everyone is doing. Recently, I was attending a session and the facilitator kept saying, “Come on, I need you all to answer in the chat.” This was less than five seconds after her initial request and said over and over. By the time I had thought about my response, clicked on the chat and typed it in, nearly 30 seconds had passed (while the facilitator kept pushing for answers) and I was one of the first to respond. She sounded so impatient. It immediately changed my impression of her and the tone of the meeting, which brings me to…
  5. Be sensitive to confidential information and feelings of vulnerability. Some people don’t want to share their answers in the chat. When it is sensitive or involves high degrees of vulnerability, expect less participation. It can help to gather info in an anonymous way – this is where a tool like Mentimeter is very useful. But some people will still not want to share. Culture plays a role here too – we need to be more culturally aware.
  6. If you are sharing slides, stop sharing from time to time so that the audience can then see you in main focus and connect with you better. Ideally, you want it to feel like a connected conversation, with the slides as a support.
  7. If you need the focus to remain on a specific person(s), spotlight them if the software allows. Pin in Zoom is for your view only, whereas spotlight is for all participants. You do need more than three participants in a meeting to be able to spotlight and you can spotlight up to nine participants as the primary active speakers, which means that participants will only see these speakers. This is where Zoom is so much more user friendly than many other platforms. I really wish Microsoft Teams has this functionality!
  8. Join with a second device so you can see exactly what the audience is experiencing. I learnt this during a workshop before lockdown. I am so pleased and can’t imagine running a session without it. I can always see what the delegates are seeing and test any tech from the participant’s perspective during a dry-run before the session too. Just remember that your sound on the second device must be off completely to avoid interference.
  9. Invest in a second screen so you can have your speaker notes, chat, participant list and so on visible to you behind your primary laptop screen. This might be overkill if you don’t attend many online meetings or deliver presentations. For me, my second screen is essential. Even during a coaching session, I move the participant so they are right next to or just behind my camera. It makes it easy to see them and make ‘eye contact’ simultaneously.
  10. Ask the audience to support you where needed – especially if you don’t have a technical assistant. In Zoom, you can assign co-host(s) for this purpose. They can keep an eye on the waiting room and let people in while you are welcoming others for example. When working in Microsoft Teams, I usually put someone ‘in charge’ of each breakout room. They would then be responsible for opening and closing the meeting in their assigned channel. It’s another way to keep people involved and make them feel important.

There are many more things I could share with you when it comes to engaging people online. Contact Collette if you’d like to chat more. In the meantime, I hope these Key Steps will support you to engage people – even when you can’t see them – and really…

“be the difference that makes the difference

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership and organisational development and transformation. She is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner. She is also one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s the Oscar of the speaking business.

Sharon’s PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that has been published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of Henley Business School and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. Sharon has become known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She is really looking forward to working with you and taking Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


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