Were your colleagues’ eyes glazing over at your last Zoom meeting? Do webinar audiences nod off before you finish a sentence? Communications expert John Miers reveals tips for engaging your virtual audience and putting some zip in your Zoom

We have now endured nearly 18 months of webinars and Zoom calls, and what have we learned? My answer is: Generally, nothing. Technology has improved but most performances are as dull as ever. Webinars presented by law firms can be worse still, with inherently dry and technical subject matter compounding other shortcomings to make the audience experience nothing short of mind-numbing.

John Miers
John Miers

Let’s look at some of the challenges presenters face when having to deliver to a computer screen instead of a live audience. Some of these are obvious but few people have attempted to cure these problems.

If it is a webinar, you are looking at yourself in a mirror almost all the time, so it is very difficult to engage yourself.

If it is a Zoom call, because your “camera” is either above or below your screen, the viewers see you either looking over their heads or at their elbows. This is especially true when you are seeing the person whom you are talking to. You want to look at them to see their expressions, so you look at the centre of the screen. They see you looking at their elbows or above their heads. Try talking to a friend face to face, and look at their elbows all the time – never at their eyes.

However high the definition of the plasma screen, you only ever see the front of the person’s face. In live situations, you and they turn away frequently and, strange as it may seem, this three-dimensional image that you get makes it much easier to assess the character of the person you are conversing with.

Lawyers are taught how to make written material legally watertight and, unfortunately, they often replicate this behaviour when speaking. The result is a performance that bears no relation to an engaging and interesting conversation.

Those are the challenges. Now we should see what we can do to conquer them. The first objective, I believe, is to think about why we are doing the webinar or the Zoom call.

Every time you speak, you are doing it so that the audience remembers your message. You also want them to remember you positively. This is not an “ego” thing. You want them to look forward to hearing you again – to have the recollection that you are genuine, honest, know your “stuff”, and are easy to understand. It is precisely this recollection that leads to business development. The opposite is fatally true. If you bore or fail to engage your audience, they will look for another “expert” in your field that they can easily understand and trust.

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John Miers is the founder and chair of corporate training and coaching company Black Isle Global

Click here to see the full video How to make Zoom calls engaging and retain your virtual audience