Insider’s guide: engaging online meetings

One year on from the beginning of the first lockdown, when we moved our entire training offer online in just 3 weeks, we reached out to our GCS Academy trainers for their advice on how to get the most out of online meetings.

Michael Paul, Senior Campaign Manager, Department for Education:

“The lack of visible feedback you naturally get from seeing people’s faces and body language is the most challenging aspect of delivering training virtually.

First tip: I think it all boils down to one thing: don’t give people a reason to dial out.

You don’t have a captive audience when doing remote learning sessions; they can leave the session without the embarrassment of having to get up and leave a room. So:

keep the content of your slides absolutely minimal. I’m talking about a couple of very short key points for people to remember. They’re there to listen to you speak, not read a lot of dense information.

Try and stand up to deliver the session. It helps give more energy to your “performance”.

Lastly, try and bring your own personality to the session. There’s absolutely nothing that says you have to conform to some ideal version of a course leader or Civil Servant. It is much easier giving a public presentation when you’re doing it in the comfort of your own skin.”

Ellie Kiai, Senior Press Officer, Department for Transport:

“In a lot of ways, delivering Modern Media training online was no different to delivering face-to-face. I still had to rehearse my presentation and make sure that I kept within the allotted time – this was particularly important, as I was delivering the training on what was the hottest day of the year!

Just like in a face-to-face scenario, make sure you stand up to maximise your energy levels. This will have a positive impact on how engaged your virtual audience is.

Try to be as animated as possible to avoid people tuning out.

Use of the chat function on Zoom to conduct a Q&A at the end. This is the part that I found the most valuable. It was easy for participants to post their questions in the chat and helped to make people feel involved and engaged.”

Helen Hilditch-Hayes, Senior Strategic Communications & Marketing Manager, Department for Education:

“One of the good things about delivering Introduction to Strategic Communications online was that there were people attending from so many different organisations who might not have been able to go to a face-to-face session so I used that as an opportunity to get them involved by saying a little about themselves.

Add plenty of examples from your own experience if you’re using existing slides. This really helps to bring them to life for the attendees.

Make your session as engaging as possible for those attending, for example by looking for interesting ways to make the content really up to date and interesting. I did and I had a few people contact me afterwards wanting to find out more, which was lovely, and got some great feedback too.”

Dr Paulina Lang, Behavioural Science Lead, and Eleanor Prince, Senior Behavioural Scientist, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office

“The Behavioural Science Team gives quarterly webinars to introduce GCS members to key principles of behavioural science, including using COM-B and designing effective messages. Their top tips include:

Use the chat box during your sessions. We found that the role of the chat box becomes especially important in digital sessions, allowing participants to ask questions throughout without interrupting the speaker. It also offers additional benefits to those who are shyer who may find it more difficult to speak up.

Naturally interactive or enthusiastic groups make it much easier and rewarding for the speaker – so make sure to prepare questions before or during the session as participants!

One of the big challenges of delivering training over a whole day can be maintaining enthusiasm throughout the sessions. To prevent participants becoming disengaged, we built in frequent 5 minute comfort breaks to encourage participants to stretch or make a cup of tea throughout the day.

Split participants into smaller groups to solve problems together using the ‘breakout room’ feature of Zoom. Working in small groups allows everyone to actively participate, helps facilitators ensure understanding across the group, as well as allows ownership of an end product to refer to in the future.”

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