Recently I had the privilege of delivering a virtual keynote for a Canadian client with 400 virtual leaders who attended a full-day, digital conference. My topic was
Leading Collaborative Virtual Teams
, a 90-minute web workshop that I have delivered from my desktop using our web conference platform for previous clients.
Our client, however, had never held a virtual conference for their remote leaders. They wanted to ensure their conference was a success, so they hired a webcasting company and decided to broadcast the two keynotes from a television studio in their city (they flew me to Toronto). I was informed that I would be standing in front of a black wall, speaking to a video camera while the presentation was streamed to a live audience, watching the conference from their desktops or conference rooms in locations throughout Canada.
"I can't do it that way," I told them, with a little hesitation, thinking they would find me very high maintenance. Thankfully, the webcasting company collaborated with me to make my session as interactive and engaging as I wanted. No talking head presentations for me! We determined how we could rely on a chat stream (I watched a large monitor streaming the chat from the web conference platform), how we could build polls into the interaction (we opened four different polls with results displayed on a second monitor with my slides), and how I could create a more relaxed, warm environment (I perched on a bar stool so I could relate to the camera comfortably and move my arms expressively, instead of standing still in one spot).
The first keynote speaker delivered his presentation, standing before that black backdrop. He talked to the video camera, showed a few videos, and gave people five minutes to complete a couple of activities. He repeatedly asked for questions from the audience (read aloud by the moderator), and, while, he did get a few questions here and there, it was clear that he didn't require much interaction. He was an expert on his topic; I'm sure people took away some useful content. It's the style of virtual presentation that many clients request and many speakers provide.
After lunch, it was my turn. In the opening two minutes, I posed a polling question, and asked an open-ended question that encouraged people to share their thoughts in chat. Within minutes, I had engaged their interest and attention. Together, we created an informal, interactive, collaborative keynote experience that was a joy to facilitate. I was on camera for 90 minutes, fully present, enthusiastic, and totally connected to the audience. I used their names, read many of their chat messages aloud, answered their questions on the spot, and praised their ideas and opinions, weaving them throughout my facilitated presentation. They had the opportunity to interact with me and with each other.
As we wrapped up, one of the attendees proposed the formation of an online collaboration group where they could continue learning from one another. I was in heaven. It was demonstrable proof that learning occurred and would continue.
Please join me in raising the bar for virtual conferences and keynotes. They can be interactive, engaging, collaborative, dynamic, and effective.