When people attend a virtual meeting, people log on at different moments. During that time, it can be awkward for people to sit in silence and wait for everyone to arrive. If you are facilitating a meeting where you want people to participate and speak up, this type of atmosphere is difficult to overcome. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to make the virtual environment more engaging and dynamic.
1. Have music playing when people log on.
When people log on to one of my workshops, I often having music playing for everyone to hear. This accomplishes a few things. First, it gives people something to talk about and connect over when they first enter the meeting. Second, if people’s cameras are off, the meeting still feels like it has energy and momentum. Finally, if you’re playing fun music, I’ve seen people start to move to the beat or sing along, which instantly adds in a bit of fun at the start of a meeting. If people are enjoying themselves and in a good headspace before a meeting, it’s much easier to collaborate and work together.
2. Have people use a themed virtual background.
If you want to add in some creativity to a meeting, ask people to download a virtual background with a specific theme. Especially if your team is working from home, this adds some appreciated visual variety to people’s screens. You could have people put up a background of
— Ideal travel backgrounds
Japan, Barcelona, Disneyland, etc
— Favorite tv show backgrounds
Simpsons couch, the Friend’s coffeehouse, Parks and Rec office, etc
— Picture of people’s favorite hobby
Yoga studio, garden, kitchen, etc
Not only is it fun for people to think about what background they could use before the meeting, it also allows your team to bond and share a bit about themselves in an easy and engaging way.
3. Have people share an “uninteresting fact” about themselves.
Many people dread ice-breakers because they have to think of something interesting to say. That’s why one of my favorite ice-breakers is to ask people to introduce themselves and reveal an “uninteresting fact” about themselves. It can be anything from “My front door has red trim” to “My cat is sitting next to me” to “I had cereal this morning for breakfast.” By saying an uninteresting fact, people instantly start to open up without the added pressure of having to come up with something profound to share.
The point of an ice-breaker is to help people open up around each other. So whether you’re playing music, having people show up with fun backgrounds, or sharing a bit of easy information about themselves, think about ways to help your group relax and connect.
Meetings are a great place to present your ideas and get feedback from others. However, as people share their thoughts, it’s easy for the discussion to get sidetracked. Before you know it, people are actively talking about an unrelated topic and you are faced with the task of figuring out how to get the meeting back on track. This is often hard for people to do since you don’t want to “stop” people from talking, but you also have a finite amount of time to share your ideas and get through your agenda.
As people are faced with this situation, it’s common to respond by saying:
We have a lot of other things to discuss so…
Since we don’t have a lot of time, we also need to talk about…
Let’s get back on track here…
People often use these phrases, but they aren’t necessarily the best to rely on. For example, if you’re in a senior position talking to someone junior, it could sound like you’re cutting someone off, thereby discouraging them from sharing in the future. Or if you’re in a junior position, it might be difficult to tell your boss that you need to “get back on topic”. Therefore, you want to say something that connects to the discussion while also redirecting people’s attention to your original agenda.
That’s why I suggest using theses phrases instead:
And along that line of thinking…
As you said that, it occurred to me…
And following up on that…
By using these alternative expressions, you maintain the momentum of the conversation since you aren’t cutting anyone off or telling them they need to do something different. Instead, you are relating to the current conversation and actively pivoting back to your primary plan. It’s a simple yet effective way of keeping the conversation flowing as you smoothly get your meeting back on track.
While people have been presenting online for awhile now, many events are starting to go back in-person and some speakers are finding the switch difficult. This makes complete sense when we remember that we’ve been standing in front of a desk and only having to focus on a small rectangle in front of us. Now, people are being asked to feel comfortable standing up tall, in the middle of a room, as everything in their environment completely changes. All these new variables can add up quickly. Therefore, I wanted to share one technique that’s helped people transition back to presenting in-person.
Technique: Stand on a stool or chair as you stretch your arms to feel as big as possible and practice the first few minutes of your presentation. Then, safely step off the stool, let your arms down, and (while keeping that feeling of being open and tall) practice the first few minutes of your presentation again.
The reasoning behind this technique is that for the last few years we’ve been presenting next to a desk. When you go back in-person, there is no furniture grounding and anchoring you. Instead, you’re standing at the front of a room without anything around. That’s why I recommend practicing on a stool or in the center of a room, so you can get used to that feeling. Then, it'll be a lot easier to transition back to presenting in-person.
I also recommend stretching out your arms, or going into a power pose, because you want to feel as big as possible. Online, we don’t have to work very hard to fill the screen. However, if you’re in a large room, you want to fill the space. This requires you to practice that feeling before your next event.
If you're nervous about speaking in-person again, try this technique ahead of time to help you prepare for your next presentation.
Your voice is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s especially important since most people are conducting their meetings virtually where they can’t rely as heavily on using body language to communicate. That’s why having a clear and strong voice is critical. However, when you’re in back to back meetings it’s easy for your voice to get tired. Therefore, here are three ways to help you avoid vocal fatigue:
1. Warm up your voice beforehand
People know how important it is to warm up their body before doing a physical activity, but they don’t often think about warming up their voice before speaking. That’s why I spend at least a few minutes before I teach my workshops warming up my voice. I like to blow through my lips, spend some time humming in different pitches, and I move around a bit so I am breathing deeply and fully. That way I know my voice will be ready to use when I speak up in a meeting.
2. Sit up tall
If you’re attending multiple meetings, it’s easy for your body to melt into a “schlump” where your shoulders are crouched over and your head is tilted back. This collapsed position is very hard on your voice because you’re collapsing your voice box and inhibiting your breathing. Therefore, I recommend either coming to the edge of your seat and sitting up tall, or standing as you present, if you are going to be talking for a while. That way your physical stance will keep you supported.
3. Avoid clearing your throat
Many people “clear” their throats before speaking. However, that actually makes things worse. It can aggravate your throat and, overtime, cause more vocal issues down the road. Instead, I recommend humming and then swallowing. This process still clears away any mucus you have built up, but it doesn’t aggravate your throat when you do it.
By warming up, keeping a tall and supported stance, and avoiding clearing your throat, you can help avoid vocal fatigue.
If you listen to a lot of presentations, you’ll notice speakers often use similar phrases during their talks. Then other people hear those expressions and repeat them in their own talks. While some of these phrases are useful, here are a few phrases I’d suggest phasing out of your future presentations:
1. "To give you a little bit of background…"
When people use this phrase, it subtly sends out the message, “This might not be exciting but I have to cover this information.” However, background information is often incredibly important and you want people to actively listen to it. Instead, I’d begin by jumping straight into the information.
2. "For those of you who don’t know…"
This phrase can often sound patronizing and creates distance between the speaker and the audience. If you’re worried that some people in the audience don’t know this information, I’d use the phrase, “In our field it’s important to….” That way if someone does know this information they will think, “Yes, that’s true” and if they don’t know it they will think, “Oh, that’s useful.” This way you keep everyone engaged the whole time.
3. "I won’t go through all of this but…"
This phrase is normally used when people have too much information on a slide. It instantly tells the audience to stop looking at the details on the slide because they might get overwhelmed. Instead I’d say, “I’d like to point out how…” That way instead of highlighting how complex the slide is, you’re helping something important stand out.
By avoiding these phrases, you can easily elevate your presentations and effectively share your message with others.
During a presentation, many speakers end up falling into what I call “the snowball effect” where they speak faster and faster as the presentation continues. This can be problematic for both the speaker and the audience since the speaker gets out of breath and the audience has a hard time catching all of the information. If you find yourself speeding up as you talk, here are a few tips to help:
1. Don’t connect the first few phrases you say with “and”
The beginning of your talk sets the pace for the rest of your presentation. Most people end up combining their first few sentences into one long sentence with “and”. For example, “I’m Bri McWhorter and I’m from Activate to Captivate and I’m excited to share some presentation tips.” Instead, make each of those phrases independent statements. Then it comes out as, “I’m Bri McWhorter. I’m from Activate to Captivate. I’m excited to share some presentation tips.” That way you start off at a slower and more natural pace.
2. Think of your presentation as giving step-by-step instructions
When people are giving instructions, they don’t speed through them. They take their time giving each one and then check in with the listener to make sure it’s sunk in. That’s what you want to do with your presentation. This is all new information and just because you’re familiar with it, doesn’t mean your audience is. That’s why you need to reveal it step-by-step so each section can be absorbed. Try practicing your transitions as instructions and see if it helps you slow down.
3. Every time you click — breathe
I recommend that every time you click to a new slide, you breathe and exhale. That way, even if you do start to speed up during a presentation, you have a built-in way of slowing down. Since the audience needs a moment to take in the new visual anyway, you end up helping yourself slow down and you help the audience have a moment to absorb the new information at the same time.
If you break up your first few sentences, think of revealing your presentation as step-by-step instructions, and breathe every time you click to a new slide, you can elevate your talk by slowing down a bit so your audience has time to listen and learn from your presentation.
As the world opens back up again, hybrid presentations are becoming more popular. It’s a great way to give people the option of being able to participate in-person or online. However, with this format, it means the presenter has to be even more prepared in order to make a positive impact. Here are three tips to keep in mind:
1. Put your headshot on your title slide
Since most in-person events require masks, this means that people online and in-person never get to see your face. That’s why I recommend putting your headshot on your title slide. That way, even though your face is covered, people can still imagine what you look like. Then, when people look you up online after your talk, or see you outside after an event, they can recognize and connect with you.
2. Face your audiences
With hybrid presentations, your audience is in two places, one in front of you and one behind the camera. This can be an odd adjustment for many presenters since their tendency is to look behind them at the screen where their slides are being projected. However, when speakers do this, they often turn their backs to the camera. That means the entire virtual audience can’t see you anymore. Therefore it’s important to face out so your physical and virtual audiences can see you at all times.
3. Repeat questions
After your talk, your audience will probably ask you some questions. However, since you have two different audiences, this means the virtual audience can’t hear what’s happening in the room and the physical audience can’t read the chat box. Therefore as a speaker, get into the habit of always repeating the question before you answer it. That way, the virtual audience can hear what someone asked before you launch into an answer and the physical audience doesn’t get confused when you are answering a question online. By repeating the questions, both audiences feel included and can easily follow your answers.
If you add your headshot to your title slide, make sure you are facing your audiences, and repeat questions so everyone can follow what’s happening, you can easily elevate your talks for hybrid presentations.
Nerves can be difficult to overcome, especially during important presentations. Nerves cause many people to stiffen up and go into what I call “Presenter mode” where their body tenses and their voice becomes more muted and monotone. Not only is this hard for the presenter, it’s also hard on the audience, because it’s difficult to listen to someone speak when they are overwhelmed by nerves. That’s why it’s important to have a few actions you can rely on to relax and feel more like yourself.
1. Think of your first word as a sigh
When people start speaking they often hold their breath when they start to speak. This can make the presenter’s voice sound strained which can magnify nerves. Instead, I recommend thinking of your first word as a sigh. If you sigh as you say “Hello” or “Alright everyone, let’s begin” it will help remind your body to exhale and relax. That way, when you start speaking you sound more at ease.
2. Move your body
When your body is tense, you have more adrenaline pumping through your system so you want to find active ways to remind your body that it can relax. One way is to remember how your body moves during a conversation. When you’re casually talking to someone, you move your hands when you talk and you twist your torso as you share ideas. But during a presentation, people tense up. Therefore when you're introducing yourself, move your torso and use your hands as you speak. That way you can release some of the tension that has built up to help you feel more natural.
3. Find a point of focus
When people start speaking they are often trying to look all over their computer screen or at everyone in the room. This can heighten your nerves because your eye is trying to take in too much information. To help calm yourself down, I recommend finding one person to talk to. Think about putting them at ease with this next bit of information. Then, direct your attention somewhere else with your next piece of content. Finding a point of focus can help you slow down and make your speech feel more like an intimate conversation.
Nerves can surprise us, so it’s useful to have a few tools to rely on to help calm yourself down. Thinking of your first word as a sigh, moving your body, and finding a point of focus will help you feel that this presentation is more like a conversation. The more conversational you feel, the more at ease you will be.
In your current role, you probably have a lot on your plate. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and take on too much responsibility. Instead of burdening others, it’s tempting to add more items to your ever-expanding to-do list. That’s why knowing when and how to delegate is an incredibly important skill.
Unfortunately, there are few tutorials that effectively teach delegation. This skill is more involved than simply assigning a job to someone else. It also goes beyond identifying who on a team is the most qualified and best suited for a project. Instead, effective leaders evaluate the assignment and ask, “Who would see this project as not just a task, but as an opportunity?” This requires more than knowing the project — it pushes leaders to know their team.
Each person is different, with a different background, education, work history, etc., and we look at things in different ways. For some, a particular assignment may be no more than another item on a to-do list, while for others, that same assignment could be something that excites and ignites their passion. For example, I look at hosting a symposium or conference as an energizing event, while many others see that job as a daunting if not overwhelming chore. The job still needs to be done, but it’s far more effective to give that responsibility to someone who would be invigorated by it.
So next time you start noticing your to-do list filling up, ask yourself if there’s someone on your team who would benefit from this experience, enjoy the challenge, or think of this as a valuable activity that will help advance their career. Then, take it off your plate and give this opportunity to them. Now, not only will you be able to check something off your list, you’ll be empowering a team member at the same time.
Before any interview, you want to make sure you are prepared for success. This includes researching the company and job description so that you are able to answer the interviewer’s questions with ease. But no matter how much research you do, it’s very rare that you’ll know the exact questions the interviewer will ask. That’s why I recommend brainstorming stories that you can use in a variety of scenarios. Look at the list below, compare it with the type of job you’re interviewing for, and then think of 3-5 stories that you can share in your next interview.
Types of Stories to Prepare:
1. Origin story (Your background)
2. Leadership story (You in this position or the type of leader you want to be and why)
3. Overcoming an obstacle
4. A time you failed (Plus what you learned from it)
5. Diversity story (Not just that diversity is important but a story of you understanding the value or being involved in a specific initiative)
6. Working with a difficult boss / teammate
7. Asking for help (This shows that you analyze situations before jumping in)
8. Taking initiative or going the extra mile
9. Having to think on your feet (Can be similar to an obstacle story)
10. Proud accomplishment
An interview is a great opportunity to show off your skills. That’s why it’s important to take the time to prepare examples that show how you act and respond to different scenarios in the workplace. If you have various stories prepared, you’ll be able to have useful examples to share, no matter what specific question is asked.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.