With virtual trainings, workshops and meetings have taken off, but trainers now have a real problem: How do we combat “Zoom fatigue” and keep learners engaged and participative in online synchronous learning experiences?

Whether you are running a training workshop, a webinar or even a meeting, tactics to drive engagement are key to maintaining the attention of your audience. With so many distractions online, it is a challenge to keep audiences focused. Here are 11 ways to keep your audience focused during your online sessions:

1. Tell Respondents Exactly How To Engage

At the beginning of your session, let the audience know how they can engage and participate. I use the chat heavily and let the audience know that is the best way to interact during the session. I also invite them to use the “raise hand” feature if they want to share audio.

While you can invite the audience to unmute and share their comments, many participants aren’t comfortable unmuting themselves. With virtual calls it can feel like interrupting, and participants sometimes talk over each other since they can’t see who is getting ready to talk. Raising hands is more comfortable for the audience and allows you, as the leader, to maintain control over participant input.

2. Start With an Engagement

Set the expectation at the outset that you are looking for participation and train participants to respond. Open your session with a question to the audience.

This sets the expectation that you are building an interactive experience where they are expected to participate.

3. Require a Response to Your First Question

With your first question you are training the audience that you want them to interact, so require them to respond. You can say, “I want to hear from everyone, so I’ll give you some extra time.” You can even call out learners who haven’t responded by name: “Joe, I don’t see your answer yet — I’d love to know what you think.”

This sets the expectation for participation in the session and creates anticipation from the audience — they could be called on next.

4. Read Aloud the Responses

Part of the key to gaining engagements is creating a two-way dialogue. If someone asks you a question but ignores your response, it doesn’t feel like a meaningful engagement. Read aloud a few of the responses and react to them: “Sandy, I see you rate your currently LinkedIn profile a four out of 10. This is great because I’ll give you many tools to improve.”

Reading the responses out loud creates an interactive two-way dialogue and keeps learners wanting to engage.

5. Use Names When Interacting

When reading or responding to comments, use the first name of participants. This makes the dialogue seem more personalized: “John, I see that you already have a strong strategy. That is great!” Using first names draws attention to the responders, which encourages others to respond.

6. Call Out Participants

If you are struggling to gain participation or notice only a few people participating, call other participants out by name: “Jill, I haven’t seen a response from you in a while,” or, “Tanya, I’d love to hear what you think.”

This achieves two things: First, it draws people into participation. Second, it puts the rest of the group on notice that their name could be called, so they are more likely to pay attention.

7. Engage Frequently

In addition to starting with an engagement, keep the interactions running consistently throughout your session. I aim for engagements every five to 10 minutes in an online training session.

These don’t have to be official or formal interactions: “We’re about to talk about LinkedIn photos. How many of you LOVE your LinkedIn photo? Say I love it, meh or I don’t like it in the chat.”

This keeps the session pace quick and interactive.

8. Use a Variety of Engagement Techniques

There are different tools you can use to engage your audience in a virtual training. For example, most platforms like Zoom allow chat, breakouts, polls and the Q&A section for webinars.

In general, open public engagement methods provide the best opportunity for meaningful interactions. For example, using chat, where everyone can see the chat and interact with each other, creates a more interactive experience vs. the Q&A feature that sends questions directly to the moderators.

Also consider alternating between question types: open-ended, yes or no and trivia-style questions. For example, in my recent Facebook advertising training, I alternated by asking questions including:

  • Are you currently using Facebook Ads? Type “yes” or “no” in the chat.
  • Which ad objectives do you use?
  • Do you think the average video view time is over or under 5 seconds? Type “over” or “under” in the chat.
  • What is one thing you’d improve about this ad? What about the picture? Is it effective? Why or why not?

9. Keep Engagements Simple

When engaging audiences in online training platforms, keep your engagements as simple as possible. Ask clear questions that participants can answer in a few words or a sentence. For example, “Rate your current strategy on a scale of one to 10” is easier for a participant to respond to vs. “How is your digital strategy? Share in the chat.”

If you don’t get a response to a question, often the question is too complicated to quickly answer, or participants may be self-conscious about sharing their answer. If this is the case, you can continue to ask the question in simpler or easier ways. For example, I may start with “In the chat, share an example of a successful digital marketing execution you’ve seen,” and find I don’t get answers. This is a fairly in-depth question. Instead, I could say, “How about a brand that you’ve seen do a great job at digital? Share the name of a brand that you see being successful in digital.”

The idea is to make the question simple to answer and ask questions that most of your audience can answer.

10. Create a Conversational Style

Engagements and interactions are intended to create a dynamic experience, meaning participants feel actively engaged in the training. One of the best things you can do to accomplish this is to keep a conversational style to your presentation.

If you only focus on talking at the audience, they won’t feel participative. If, instead, you speak to them and with them, they’ll feel more involved. Respond to their comments to create a conversational tone.

React to how you believe they are reacting. For example, if I tell a joke, I laugh as though they are in front of me laughing. I anticipate their reaction to my content and respond accordingly.

11. Loop Back to Responses

When asking audiences to participate, one of the most important things is to loop back to their input and participation. This makes the program feel more customized but also gives the impression that their participation is vital to the program.

Throughout my trainings, I make a point to loop back to the comments shared by the participants. For example, at the beginning I may ask about the type of business they have. Then, when sharing examples of how to use Facebook ads, I’ll say, “Sarah said she was an accountant — here is how this could work for accountants.”

This is also a great way to set up your topics as well. For example, I may ask “On a scale of one to 10, how strong is your strategy?” Then, as I get into the topic, I refer back to their input: “Since most of you are at a five, we’re going to give you the most relevant tips,” or, “Kelly and Juan are at a 10, so they are probably familiar with this, but the rest of us have an opportunity to learn more.”

These tips will help make your virtual training more engaging and effective.