Those of us who present, facilitate and teach for life understand the importance of developing a personal connection with the public. It is essential to be natural and feel; to make people laugh, feel comfortable and be totally involved – and maybe even lost – in the content you provide. That’s why it seems so unnatural and uncomfortable to create this type of environment in a virtual environment where you don’t have a personal audience.
As a teacher, I now struggle with the challenges of teaching and presenting in a COVID-19 world and recently brought my classes online due to the pandemic. But I had taught and facilitated many lessons online before this crisis. I gave lectures online, often to hundreds of people at the same time. I participated in group meetings as a member of the group and as a consultant. I also gave online training to people around the world on their computers or tablets, all looking at that little camera dot at the top of our screens.
What have I learned about teaching and facilitating online teaching from these different experiences in recent years? Which is a completely different context, not just a personal meeting or lesson on the screen. And while you need to shoot for the same purposes as in a personal environment, you need different tools to achieve them.
With that in mind, here are my tips for understanding the differences and making the most of a size you might not be comfortable with.
Make it personal
The virtual settings can seem quite impersonal due to the physical and psychological distance, so you need to be creative. To start, I like to go to my online meeting early so that I can greet people when they appear on the screen and have a small friendly conversation before the main meeting. I also encourage people to enable video functionality, if possible, to improve their personal connection. Since some people need preparation time to feel comfortable and presentable on video, I usually communicate in advance if video is preferable.
I also try to imagine the reactions of the people I interact with – especially when I introduce myself to a large group – since I don’t necessarily see those reactions as in real time. For example, when I look at the camera at the top of the screen, I remember that I had to show a warm and engaging smile, occasionally smile and convey a friendly and engaging tone. Sometimes it looks like it’s acting, but at least it doesn’t look fake to me; it seems necessary to create the warm and inviting effect that I want to achieve.
Finally, I also try to use people’s names when I refer to them, and I invite them to use the word and participate if they want. And with a chat function that informs whoever said what’s next to the video with people’s names, personalized support is easier.