By now, it’s no secret that the future of work is hybrid. Right now, 45% of white-collar workers in the U.S. work fully or partially remote, according to Gallup. And that number is likely to increase. A survey conducted by Gartner found that nearly half of white-collar employers will allow people to work remotely to some extent for the foreseeable future. Hybrid is here to stay.
But the way it’s viewed — and its impact on people — is already getting complicated. Some workers may chafe at the unintended consequences of working outside their physical office, such as trying to be productive with an inadequate home workspace, or even missed opportunities for career advancement. These challenges, due in part to proximity bias, may cause some to feel that business can’t move forward as effectively when it’s not happening face to face.
For this reason, knowing how to engage your audience and communicate with influence in a hybrid environment is more critical than ever. Here are three things you need to know to make sure you — and your organization — are ready.
Make Technology an Asset, Not a Liability
The truth is that hybrid work environments are challenging. It’s often much simpler if everyone is either in-person or remote. The good news? Although hybrid work will increasingly become the norm for most of us, there’s no need to worry. With the right tools — and knowledge on how to use them — you’ll be able to thrive regardless of your team’s modality.
Always have a plan
As valuable and reliable as technology is, sometimes things are bound to go wrong. We’ve all been there! Maybe your internet goes down or your microphone stops working. Technology can feel like the enemy sometimes, but it doesn’t have to. To ensure you’re prepared for high-stakes meetings or presentations, be sure to:
Enlist a co-pilot: Ask a colleague to serve as your co-pilot (also known as a “producer”) during hybrid meetings. Partnering with a colleague in this way allows you, the presenter, to focus on the meeting while someone else addresses technology challenges. This helps you avoid wasting precious time where attendees are simply waiting for technical issues to be resolved. Producers can also take on other administrative tasks, such as letting people into the meeting, helping attendees with their own technical issues, and launching polls, leaving the presenter with more capacity for interacting with attendees.
Present using two devices: Even if you have a co-pilot, it may be useful to present using two devices. The primary device you’ll be working from should be the one that you use to present slides. It should also be the device that you use to speak to — the one that has your webcam and microphone.
But what about the second device? If you’re presenting with a computer, try logging in using a second computer (if you have one) or a smartphone so you can see how things look for other attendees. Don’t forget to mute your audio and turn off the camera on your second device to avoid unpleasant audio feedback. This way, you can avoid awkward and time-consuming interruptions where you must ask questions like, “Can everyone see this?” Instead, simply refer to your second device and you’ll know the answer. Being logged in on a second device has the added benefit of avoiding wasted time if you run into issues on your primary computer, because you’ll be ready to jump back in where you left off using your second device.
Use interactive features: For some, it may feel like enough of a stretch to simply use virtual meeting software. But making interactive features part of your presentation practice can help you leverage technology to provide a better meeting experience for everyone, regardless of location. For instance, polls can help you quickly get a feel for the needs or level of understanding of your audience, while starting a conversation in the chat can help attendees share their opinions and ideas. Plus, you can record or save contributions from chat, polls, whiteboard, etc., and refer to that information later.
As the speaker, you must practice using these tools yourself to make sure they’re smoothly integrated into your presentation. But even when you’re comfortable using tools such as polls and breakout rooms, audience members may not be. The best way to ensure that attendees know how to use interactive features is to show them. At the start of your meeting, provide a demonstration with detailed instructions on how to use your interactive tools of choice. This can be done using screen captures or through a live demonstration.
Another option is to use interactive placeholders or instructions on the slides being presented that give audience members specifics on what they need to do. For instance, at the start of a presentation, you can include a slide that asks participants to close their email (or other applications that can cause distractions) and prepare to be called on to share with the group. Or, if you’d like participants to use a certain tool, include a slide with instructions such as “click on the annotation toolbar on the left-hand side of your screen.” When you use interactive placeholders, attendees face fewer barriers to participation and are ultimately more engaged audience members.
Embracing Hybrid Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Hybrid work offers endless opportunities There’s a learning curve to hybrid work. When some people are in person and others are not, it can be tough. Here are some ways to ensure that your team works effectively with a partially remote workforce.
We all need more time
If there’s one universal truth about work in the 21st century, it’s that everyone is busy. For this reason, when conducting and scheduling meetings, recognize that time is everyone’s most valuable resource, and that we must all be careful with the way we use it.
When conducting a meeting, respect everyone’s time by making sure that you start and end on time. Because many attendees must participate in many virtual calls each day, sticking to your schedule is critical to keeping everyone on track.
When scheduling meetings, be sure to leave time for yourself and your colleagues to do deep work. People perform deep work when they focus on one task, uninterrupted, for a long period of time. This is critical for business success because it gives people space to complete tasks and generate high-quality work. Without deep work, individuals can’t succeed. For this reason, avoid filling your colleagues’ schedules with meetings and ensure that they don’t interfere with time that’s already dedicated to deep work.
Create an inclusive work environment
To be successful in a hybrid work environment, organizations must first recognize that, in addition to providing many people with great freedom and flexibility, working remotely also presents serious challenges. Organizations must recognize that working away from the office can be isolating for some, especially those who have never worked face to face and built relationships with their colleagues.
To address this challenge, ensure that all participants in a hybrid meeting feel like they are seen and heard, regardless of where they are located. A good way to do this is to intentionally engage meeting participants and audience members who are not physically present. By calling these individuals out by name and asking them to contribute, you’ll create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone in your organization.
Build Presentations Specifically for Virtual Audiences
A well-planned presentation is key to success when presenting your ideas to colleagues. But the needs of audience members change depending on their modality, and typically it’s easier for virtual audiences to feel left out. For this reason, make sure that your presentation takes both in-person and remote audiences into consideration, but focus on virtual participants first to make sure they feel heard and seen.
Use visual cues to help engage viewers
Instead of verbally transitioning from one section to the next — which audience members may miss or misunderstand — add “visual pauses” that tell people when you’re moving on to a new topic. These cues can be simple — a single image or plain words on the screen — but they’re effective. Often these kinds of cues are just one slide. We call them interactive placeholder slides, and they help viewers stay engaged while also avoiding confusion during presentations.
Another helpful strategy for engaging viewers is to ask questions at several points during presentations and present them on the screen. Providing high-quality, thoughtful questions and discussion prompts into the presentation at regular intervals will help you get feedback from audience members, help people regain focus if their attention has wandered, and engage people in what you have to say.
You can’t rely on body language, so use your voice
One of the most jarring differences between remote and in-person presentations has to do with body language. With in-person presentations, speakers can lean heavily on body language to communicate and “read the room” to gauge audience engagement. But body language is much less useful when presenting remotely, especially when the speaker is presenting slides and may not be visible to audience members at all.
Speakers who are used to relying on body language may find that their presentations are less effective in virtual or hybrid environments. This is a problem because meeting attendees can be easily distracted by email or other work tasks, which underscores the importance of engaging virtual presentations.
To make up for the absence of body language, create vocal energy to project confidence and energy to meeting participants, and more effectively engage your audience. Here’s how:
- Prepare your body: Take some time before your presentation to stretch out the muscles in your face and practice talking out loud. Just like you should warm up before exercising, your body needs time to prepare for an engaging presentation.
- Be mindful of your body: During the presentation, focus on your posture. By sitting or standing up straight, your body will respond with more energy. Also, use hand gestures. Even if attendees can’t see you, using hand gestures will engage your entire body in the act of speaking, and this will be reflected in your voice.
- Assess your performance: After the presentation, reflect on what you did well and how you could improve. If possible, watch a recording of your presentation and take notes on what you’d like to change or continue doing going forward.
Hybrid work offers endless opportunities
There’s a learning curve to hybrid work. When some people are in person and others are not, it can be tough. Here are some ways to ensure that your team works effectively with a partially remote workforce. With a decentralized workforce, companies can recruit the best talent from around the world, individuals can have greater freedom in where they choose to live, and employees can create a work environment that aligns with their needs. But to fully take advantage of these opportunities, organizations must be prepared to overcome the challenges associated with a hybrid workforce. By leveraging technology solutions, intentionally engaging all meeting participants, and preparing thoughtfully designed presentation materials to meet audience needs, your team’s hybrid work experience can be transformed — and your organization will reap the benefits.