23 September 2020

Digital body language: How to read a virtual audience

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How do you connect with an audience when you can’t fully see their reactions? Many of us have been grappling with new ways to interact with each other, and the challenges of interpreting people’s responses when we’re not in the same physical space. This presents particular challenges for trainers and learning facilitators.

In our upcoming webinar, Digital body language: How to 'read' and engage your virtual audience , we are partnering with Jo Cook of Lightbulb Moment, who has a wealth of experience in live online learning, to dig into these challenges.

So ahead of the webinar, here’s a short insight into the topic…

From ‘reading the room’ to ‘reading the Zoom’

Reading the body language of participants in a face-to-face workshop is something most facilitators do intuitively, and with experience we get better at responding to it. As a facilitator, you respond to the physical cues you get from the people in a room. People look bored or distracted so you shake things up or move to an interactive exercise; people look confused so you take time to explain something a little more.

But how do you adapt this for a virtual classroom, when it’s harder to pick up on those physical cues?

‘Digital Body Language’ refers to all the actions we take online which hint at what we’re thinking in the present and past, and what we want to do in the future. It applies to every virtual medium we can act on: retweeting somebody’s tweet, commenting on an online news article, and voting on an online poll… all count as digital body language (as does also consciously not doing these things!).

And this is very valuable information when running virtual classrooms. Being able to track and analyse your attendees’ digital behaviour while you teach can help you to adjust your course design and delivery, ensure understanding and engagement, and even just add variety to the whole experience.

It can be relatively easy to see people’s reactions when they have their camera switched on. However when you can’t see your participants, you need to rely on tools and good session design to get an accurate sense of how engaged attendees are and to gain feedback. And it’s best to design your session from the assumption that you won’t be able to get those visual clues from a webcam, so that you can still gather this vital information.

Three top tips

Here are three top tips on gathering input from participants in a virtual classroom...

1. Start simple - use the basic interactive tools to get feedback from attendees:

  • You can use the thumbs up/down or red cross/green tick options on the participants page to run quick spot checks with everyone.
  • Ask attendees to activate the stamp tool, and mark how they feel about the content. With this, you can find out where you may need to take more time to deliver content, revisit topics and so on
  • If you’re screen-sharing, for a powerpoint for instance, leave slides with several labelled boxes – such as “Completely get it”, “Mostly get it”, “I get some of it”, “One more time?”
  • Alternatively, you can run quick polls. Ask a quick question such as ‘Which of these do you think are most important’,
  • Or ask deeper questions, like ‘Use the heart stamp to mark things you already do, use the tick to mark things you plan to do, use question mark for things that you didn’t know exist’, etc.
  • Using the stamp tool in this way, you can check everyone is still paying attention AND get important information about your participants.

2. Hear from your participants:

  • Create opportunities for voices and opinions to be heard.
  • In larger sessions, make good use of the chat window and Q&A feature.
  • In smaller sessions, unmute people for input. You might want to ask people if they would like to expand on comments in the chat window. 
  • Think about gaining input from a variety of people, rather than allowing a few to dominate.

3. Use accompanying resources before/during/after the live online learning session:

  • For example, share resources/assessments/surveys through your LMS.
  • If you set up pre-session surveys, you can draw on those responses during the virtual classroom session.

New opportunities

If you think creatively about virtual learning, you can find real benefits to delivering sessions this way, rather than just seeing them as a poor second to in-person workshops and events.

Plan interactions to make attendees feel seen - you have new options to do this online. When you’re designing and planning virtual classroom sessions, make sure you consider which tools are best to achieve the goals you want. And who knows, your attendees may ever prefer online teaching to face-to-face as a result.

Find out more

Sign up here for our webinar on digital body language.

You can also download our whitepaper - Delivering impactful virtual learning in 5 steps