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IMT Mailbag – How Do I Engage the Audience at Virtual Meetings?

Recently a Manager of Sales Administration emailed us and asked us the following question:

Subject: How do you keep attendees engaged during virtual meetings?

Do you have any suggestions on articles, books, etc. that address Virtual Meetings regarding how to engage the audience, stop multitasking and keep them engaged?

Here’s how we answered his email:

Hi Gary,

We have been heavily involved in this topic for a long time. IMT led the research study for MPI (Meeting Professionals International) to develop a research base and a “How-To-Guide for Creating Hybrid Events.”  (Download it at We have been involved in creating several hybrid meetings applying those lessons.

Here are some things to look for in terms of engagement:

(1) Is the content appropriate to the audience? Most people try to do a 1 size-fits-all approach with their content. People lose interest much faster online. So, you need to do a better job with targeting.

(2) What does the content look and feel like? Most people’s reference point for online content is live television (Election results, live sports and talk shows.  Think Oprah.). Are you trying to emulate these formats for content delivery OR are you just recording subject matter expert lectures with boring PowerPoint slide shows?

If you think about how live television works – it moves very quickly from segment to segment and topic to topic. The content is much shorter than a live in-person meeting. Camera angles change as well.  In addition, reconsider the length of your virtual sessions and how you put them together.

(3) What are you doing to engage people?  I would look for two things: (1) What tactics are you using? and (2) How much time are you allocating to engagement?

Your attendees are one click away from doing ANYTHING else on the Internet and you only control a small window for their attention. Most online events are Subject Matter Experts talking to people for 56 minutes with 4 minutes allotted for Q&A.

If the attendee has nothing to contribute (ideas, comments, etc.), then you are “betting” that your speaker is strong enough that they will resist the temptation to click away. In my opinion, that is a big ask!  I don’t know any speakers that can keep 100% of the audience’s attention.

The person responded and thanked me for our help. Then, he told us that his virtual meetings concentrated on the following:

  • Product info
  • Shipping concerns
  • New policies/processes
  • Info such as upcoming training or meeting

This is boring stuff, especially when you can’t see people face-to-face. His situation sounded similar to a challenge that Ebay Europe faced with its internal team briefings.  So, if you find yourself in a situation where your content is capital “B” boring, I would recommend that you read the following Case Study:

Have a virtual meeting or interactive technology question?  E-mail us at: or visit our site for more information about our digital solutions.

First Impressions: IML Connector

IML Connector from MPI Minnesota April 2011 EventHave you heard about the new IML Connector? It was announced in February 2010 and has been repeatedly delayed in coming to market.

Well, it is almost here.

Last month, IML demonstrated the Connector at an MPI Minnesota chapter meeting. Luckily, I happen to be there.

What is the IML Connector?

The IML Connector is one of these one-size-fits-all super-whiz bangs for meetings and events. The centerpiece is a handheld device with a keyboard. It’s size and shape reminded me of the original Blackberry.

Here are list of things that it can do:

  1. Audience Response Voting
  2. Text to Screen Q&A via keyboard
  3. Microphone queue
  4. Simultaneous interpretation
  5. Portable PA
  6. Multiple Audio Channels
  7. Smart Card capability

I think that’s an impressive list of capabilities. When you consider that most of the other mobile guys are busy creating a more expensive way to show you an agenda on a 3 inch screen that people over 50 can’t read – I give these guys credit for going in a new direction.

Here’s what impressed me

IML demonstration at MPI MN 2011 Event MicrophoneThe microphone on this device is really something else. Attendees were holding it 6-18 inches away from their mouth (see picture above) and it worked perfectly to pick up their voice and project it through the house sound. (Note this demonstration was for 200 people over lunch). I thought this piece was really cool.

Also, I liked how people could text in the comments. Attendees used the keyboard to type in questions. The questions/comments were shown to the panel on a confidence monitor. Then, the panel could answer the questions as they saw fit. This seemed to work really well. After a few questions were answered – more people caught on and started sending in questions.

What I didn’t see

I am really interested in seeing how the multiple audio channels executes. I have some projects where it would be cool to project presentations from multiple rooms in a single lounge. Then, we would want to give the attendees in the lounges these devices to “listen in” on what is happening in the other rooms. I think this would be an awesome application of the technology. We will have to wait and see on this one.

Here’s where they need to continue working

The microphone can give some wicked feedback if used incorrectly. Speakers and the A/V techs in the room will need to be trained on how to “coach attendees” to use these microphones. In our MPI session, it wasn’t until the 3rd person spoke that someone pointed out that they were holding the microphone to close to their mouth.

Is this product really available?

So far there are less than 100 of these devices in the US market. They are all being used for demos. IML is doing it’s first “paid” in May 2011. So, this is probably something to take a look at for late 2011 or 2012.

Bottom Line

While most of the mobile providers are zigging these guys are zagging. I liked how these guys are trying to combine the three most common interactive capabilities (ARS, Q&A, Text Q&A) into a single solution.

Have you seen this device in action? Do we want another device at our events? Or should we be striving to include all of these capabilities in our mobile phones?