Afraid of Bored Virtual Meeting Body Language? Don’t be.
When confronted with blank faces, inattentive or distracted body language it’s easy to rush through your material, over check-in, and generally behave in a way that creates the very boredom you seek to prevent! So what do you do?
NOTE: Virtual audiences tend to be more passive in general so your perception may not be reality.
Not all on-screen behavior means the same thing on video. Many people adopt a very blank expression when sitting in front of a screen or camera, which I refer to as Resting Business Face. Others may appear less engaged simply because they are seated, which is a very low energy position. However, there are times when inattentive body language is just that – a sign of waning attention, and it is necessary to address.
Should you confront when your audience looks bored in virtual meetings?
Confronting someone because they look bored or distracted is a bit more delicate in a virtual meeting. Face-to-face, simply speaking louder or moving near that person is often enough to get them to snap to attention. Your options are less numerous and less subtle on video. Therefore, it’s a good idea to be certain you’ve got a real problem before you needlessly put someone on the defensive.
Here are two ways to be sure you’re dealing with a bored audience member:
1. Look for clusters of inattentive behavior.
In isolation, inattentive-looking body language, like Resting Business Face, laid back body language, or low energy is not necessarily cause for alarm. This is especially true if the person you suspect of being tuned out shows signs of attentiveness in other areas, like answering or asking questions, typing in chat, nodding or shaking their head, etc. However, if this person exhibits looks bored, has low energy and takes their time to respond (or uses a distant or disengaged tone when they do), it may be necessary to take action.
2. Check your engagement level.
Are you making it easy for your audience to pay attention? One test is your own level of eye contact. If you are not spending the majority of your time looking at the camera, you make it easy for audience members to feel like they can drift off without detection. Engaging in a few minutes of good direct eye contact often quickly solves your attention problem.
Handling Inattentive audiences on Zoom
If you are doing your part to engage your audience yet they are still exhibiting signs of when your audience looks bored, try these three practices, in ascending order:
1. Ask the inattentive person to participate.
Assign this person a role, whether it’s being the timer, taking notes, or monitoring chat. If it’s a customer, ask them to draw their workflow or process so you can better understand it. This will get them engaged in the remainder of the meeting.
2. Confirm expectations.
At a natural breaking point, ask, “Am I meeting your expectations for our call so far?” This often breaks that cloak of visibility your participants may wrongly assume they are able to hide under. If there are multiple people on the call, start by addressing the group as a whole, followed by a question directed toward the inattentive participant(s), e.g.,“How about you Bill? Are we missing the mark anywhere?”
2. Remove the obstacle.
If the behavior persists, it’s time to be more direct and ask, “I can’t help but notice that you seem a little distracted. Is there perhaps another task or activity that you need to attend to before we continue?”
Ultimately, you can’t control another person’s behavior. If you’re on a group call, focus on someone who looks attentive as your touchpoint. As a great director once told me after recounting my efforts to engage an audience member who was on their phone most of my performance:
Stop using all of your energy to turn a non-fan into a fan. Focus on the rest of the audience who want to be fans!
If you are ready to tap into the power of building personal virtual relationships through the screen, I’ve laid the path out for you in my new book that won the Gold Medal Top Sales book of 2021, Look Me In the Eye: Using Video to Build Relationships with Customers, Partners and Teams. In it you’ll find all the steps and tactics you need to engage your audience.
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