Podcast 41: Are you all zoomed out?

Welcome to a Question of Gamification. I’m An Coppens the show host for the show and today’s question is one of mine.

Are you all zoomed out?

Yes. I mean the Zoom online meeting system or in fact, any online webinar, meeting or conferencing tool.

In this lockdown, and thankfully for many of us, we are coming to the end of the lockdown. Or at least the end of remote working for some of you. For organizations like ours that have been remote from the start, we’ll continue to do what you have been doing for the last number of weeks. As in work remotely and we probably see many more companies doing this.

What I see is there’s an awful lot of debate on how great it is that more things are moving online and how great it is. I champion that. I would be the first to say, yes, I think it’s good that we are exploring all opportunities and all ways of communicating, I am definitely all for it.

One-way traffic or Talking heads syndrome

What I also increasingly see, and this is what I feel a bit more opinionated about, because of our gamification work where we try to encourage engagement, and this is the talking heads syndrome. I think in most of the meetings that I’ve been in online, whether they were conferences, learning events, et cetera, the trend is towards more talking heads, video heads.

People talking at you with very limited interaction. In fact, in some online conferences, they are even going so far as saying, please do not post questions on the sidebar whilst people are speaking. Or the other example where they are at least trying I guess, where there is a sidebar in the software, where you do get encouraged to ask questions but then nobody answers anything and you are left with to nothing, no interaction or no questions answered.

The people that are actually speaking rather than just ramble on about whatever hobby horse topic, they are on. Some of them are very informational. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s very much an information one-way street and very little about the two-way interactive experience that most learners need for them to make sense out of information.

The side or backchannel matters

I’m also part of other networks where I actually feel, you can have a great sideshow going whilst still listening to the speaker. I think that is more true to reality. In most situations, if you’re training in the classroom, primarily,  you’ll always have side chat, side conversations and sometimes these side conversations will make the mainstream. Sometimes they don’t. I think that’s natural.

So for people to be asked to shut these natural responses down, I think is going against human nature. What is worse and more likely to happen is that they will join each other on Slack and start slagging each other off, or the speaker off or worse again, tune out altogether and leave the meeting or conference run in the background. I have definitely done that on a lot of online events and conferences in recent months.

Making your online meeting or conference more interactive?

What can you do to make your Zoom or whichever webinar tool that you use more interactive?

The first thing is to actually look for questions and to engage people, to comment on specific topics. You can include polls. Most of the webinar or online meeting software, these days have polls as a functionality, where you can get like a temperature check. As a rough guide, I would say every five to 10 minutes, you should schedule in some activity in order to keep people engaged, whether that is a Q and A, whether that is a quiz, whether that is a poll, whether that is a question what are your thoughts.

Ideally, go further and get people to work together on something. People work together in the real world.

I would go even further than that and set them a challenge where they can break out into breakout rooms, work on it together, and then have per group feedback very much like you would do in a, in a seminar setting. So if I’m running a workshop, I would divide people into small groups and ask them for feedback.I don’t see this happening online. I feel we’re missing a trick.

The tools can do it. So it’s not even a limitation for Zoom or most webinars systems, most of them (and if they don’t you should be looking for new ones) are able to set up small groups, have breakout rooms, have you, as the organizer float around into the different rooms even. We use a tool called Learnbrite, which allows us to set up several rooms. It allows us to do interactions. Each person creates an avatar and who-ever you are close to you can have a virtual conversation with. In our team, we tested this and some of came through loud and clear and a few with lower bandwidth heard more robotic style voices but could still participate.

I also love whiteboard technology. Miro is another tool that we use inside the company to co-create and collaborate. Miro boards are like regular physical whiteboards only these live in the virtual world and they allow you to even host meetings on specific boards. A presenter or any user can pull all the others to a part of the board he/she wants them to see. (All the links here are affiliate links, just giving you the heads up on that).

We love Miro in our office because it allows us to post ideas as you have on any whiteboard for brainstorming. Then people in their own time can come back to it, add more to it, ask questions, put post-its on it or images. So you get a very wide and very rich brainstorm rather than just, whatever one person says at any given time.I think that’s really useful. Those boards can be used as a conferencing tool. You can also use whiteboards in online meetings.

I have often run online courses where I had multiple people writing on whiteboards, which ended up very funny at times, but it’s about the interaction. It’s about engagement.

One way communication = switch off risk

The longer you talk on your own without any feedback, without any two-way communication, the more people are going to be switched off. Unless you have the most entertaining voice or the kind of personality that people are just glued to from start to finish, most of us can’t pull that off. Even if you’re a great speaker, it is hard to capture someone’s attention for any longer than 10, 15 minutes at a time.

Research tells us that attention spans are shrinking all the time. Part of that is driven by television, part of that is driven by the habits we have. We have a very small amount of minutes to impress.


Recently, I sat through a few sessions on a multistream conference, great conference, great topics. But some of them delivered in such a boring fashion that I felt, Oh my goodness, me, I can’t do this for another two days because the conference was running for two more days.

It made me feel:

A) Glad, I didn’t pay for it.

B) Really annoyed that some of the topics were done major injustice, because of the way they were being delivered.

When you are looking at sharing content online in any which way, talking heads is not always the one and only format you should be going for. Your face to camera, however, pretty your face is, still only gives me one feed, one interaction with you.

Create multiple streams of contact

What I would want to create is at least two to three more interaction points where I can actually engage with you directly to ask you a question where I can take a guess on something, give my contribution in a poll or give it my best shot in a quiz.

There are tools that you can plug into your systems like Kahoot! for example, but they’re only one of a number of others on the market who facilitate online collaboration, such as quizzes or polls and more fun stuff than that. There is so much more you can do and I feel in a world that’s going more and more digital. We really need to exploit how digital can be the enabler for things, as opposed to becoming the one-way traffic channel of choice, which it currently is.

Because really, what’s the difference. If I am just sitting there watching you talk, I might as well turn on my TV and at least there the content is highly produced. I might even get better quality information from looking at documentaries on my television or on Netflix or something.

Most of the online things I see at the moment are home produced. They are you or one person talking to camera,  no explanations of systems, no explanations of how things really work. No deep dives, no Q and A, I mean, it’s shocking.

Top 3 tips to have better online meetings and conferences

If you want to improve my top three tips are:

  1. Look at multiple ways to communicate. Not just talking heads, but a variation of talking heads, slides, questions and answers.
  2. Encouraging engagement and engagement means that it’s two-way feedback and let people be negative. Allow them to ask that really difficult question, allow them to give comments, allow them to rate a thumbs up or a thumb down. Some of the meeting tools are able to have upvoting. Both Slido and Crowdcast allow you to upvote participant questions. Use systems like that. Where basically people can contribute a question and then the other participants can indicate, oh yeah, I would like that one answered or no, that’s not so much on my type of interests that I’m looking for. It’s, it’s getting people involved.
  3. Allow for side communication, allow the side chat to happen. Adults are sense-making machines. They make sense of information by conversation and by relating it back to things they can associate with. I’m part of a few networks that use Crowdcast. What happens on Crowdcast is that you have a very active sidechat where people are commenting and are having a side conversation. In one group that attend on a regular basis, side chat is actively encouraged and often the chatter is funnier than the talk, but the two interlink and the moderator of the chats also picks up on some of the points raised in the side chat. I would say encourage that communication because it’s natural. It’s what we’re going to do anyway. Instead of driving them away to another platform, and if you’re a manager in a company, I can guarantee you that if you are running zoom as your main system and Slack as your conversational system, that people are having Slack conversations on the side, while you’re doing your talking heads.

I have sat through many town halls in my day in the corporate sector, where the head managers are talking at you and the main message is being distributed. And Hey happy days, we tick another box, but the reality is you could tune in and out, get on with your work and have the town hall on like background music. Usually because you have to attend.

Question is this relevant to the people I am speaking to? Am I allowing them to engage?

I know I am all zoomed out because of the talking head syndrome. I hope and I wish that I can encourage at least a few of you to think in a more collaborative way and to think about communication as communication rather than one-way traffic.

Communication by default has a receiver on one end and a sender on the other and two-way interaction between the two. For that to work, you need to allow people to share their views, to ask questions, to engage with the content. Otherwise, you are doing them and your content an injustice.

Online course or conference follow-up

What you may also want to do at the end of a webinar or a seminar or online workshop is to build in an action plan moment, aks for what are you going to implement from this? Because again, a lot of the time I see great learning being shared, but then nothing being done to actually encourage the uptake. What are you going to implement? What are you going to do with it? That’s personal for everyone.

But then if you’re having a meeting or training session in a workplace context, you will have a manager or colleague to follow up with it. What are you doing to do as a result of the course you took, what are you going to do as a result of the new things you have learned? Let the employee decide what it is for them, because for some, it may be a major change, for others it may be small little things, tips that they took away and that they’re going to implement into their practice.

Maybe some of the comments they make may mean they actually want to learn more about X topic depending on what the topic was. You may want to facilitate that or you may not. You may have that information available or maybe not. But at least it gives you an indication of where people are at what they’re doing with it.

Then I would follow up three months, six months and further away to check-in, have they actually done something about it? Have they actually implemented anything? We don’t take that time to reflect often enough. Most of learning in adult life comes from,  taking on board information, experimenting with it, reflecting on it, and then deciding whether that fits into your type of things to do or not.

Basically you want to give people the opportunity to put their best foot forward. Give them the best chance of success of implementing learning by nudging them forward, by asking for action plans, by checking in on what has been done.

Another tip from the gamification of training trade is to get participants to rate how good they are before they attend webinars. Have questionnaires asking how confident are you about the content? How much do you know already? Which are the topics to listen out for?

I mean, there are lots of tips and tricks in learning that I could give you. I only wanted to give you three namely: firstly vary your content delivery so that it’s not just simply you talking to a camera, secondly look for engagement as in, look for two-way interactions with online tools. Thirdly encouraged the side chat, encouraged the social banter, because that’s what we remember much longer.

A lot of learning is about how you made them feel. If you’ve made them feel bored and sleepy and disengaged they’ll remember that too. So I’m hoping that I can motivate at least one of you to no longer contribute to the zoomed out zombie generation!

I hope to meet you again or talk to you again in another episode of a Question of Gamification.


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