I recently visited with a person, in his 30s, who has a responsible and demanding job, about his participation in remote meetings at work. He made a rather stark admission…he does not pay close attention. And, he knows for a fact that others in the meetings do not pay close attention either. He described how he knows this; just trust me when I say I think he is accurate in his assessment.
This observation applied to any and all kinds of remote meetings. Whether or not it is a team discussion meeting, a training session, a pure presentation, or some other kind of remote gathering, he says the same is true; people are not paying attention.
I suspect that this is true for many people, in all circles…
For example, I am always a little suspicious when I see someone on a remote meeting with their camera turned off. I wonder…what are they really doing?
And, as much as I hate to admit it, I have been guilty a time or three of not paying great attention myself.
I know a man who leads a company that actually provides online training. He got a speeding ticket, and had to take defensive driving. He took the online course. Yep…he figured out how to pass the test with the least amount of attention.
I provide book synopsis presentations online. I always wonder…are people paying attention to my presentations?
Now, before we get too judgemental, in the years before Zoom I saw plenty of people in live settings not paying attention either. I knew a man who had to prepare for a weekly interview on the radio. He would write all of his notes in preparation while…sitting in a church pew, not paying attention to the preacher’s sermon. He did not even attempt to hide it….
This happens in other areas… Recently, when I attended a Texas Rangers baseball game, there were three people behind me who, I am completely convinced, did not watch even one single at-bat. But they really enjoyed their conversation; their plenty-loud conversation, I might add. And a man sitting in the row in front of me kept his eyes glued to his Smartphone screen watching the Dallas Stars hockey game. He did not appear to be very tuned in to the baseball game either.
This reflection is about learning opportunities online, not other kinds of remote team meetings.
(Like, for example, my book synopsis presentations).
People seem to pay better attention when:
#1 – The person is in fact a lifelong learner.
They want to learn. They are not attending (just) because a boss compels them to. They want to learn. They are always looking for the next new thing to learn.
#2 – The speaker provides learning “helps.”
I speak with multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handouts. I am very handout intensive as I present.
People print out the handouts (usually), and follow along, looking at the handouts more than my face. Which is exactly what I want them to do.
I literally point to the page, to specific spots on the page. I give phrases to write; passages to underline.
Here’s the point: people need something to help them pay attention well. Even the motivated, lifelong learners need such help. So, the speaker has to provide such help!
A sad observation/warning: there is growing evidence that people just pretty much tune out when PowerPoint slides are shown. Jeff Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint years ago. His tool of choice is a written document, prepared by an executive team member, handed out at the start of a meeting – not before. The team members read it in silence, and then discuss it. I think this is a brilliant approach.
I have long been a fan of using extensive handouts. It gets a pen in the hands of the participants, and they take/write their own notes as we go along.
#3 – The topic being presented matters…it is relevant to the audience!
This is rather obvious. But don’t forget to give this serious thought. You have to speak to the real needs, struggles, issues of the audience members.
The hardest part of my job, by far, is choosing books. The right book is a book that beckons the audience’s interest and attention. The not-right book becomes… boring.
A side note: I have had plenty of people tell me that my book selection did not interest them all that much until they heard me present it. Then they realized its value.
Here’s my challenge to you…recommit to being a lifelong learner. And, when you present, or when you are in the learner/student seat, use whatever tricks you can find to help others pay attention, and to help yourself in your quest to pay better attention.
And always…Keep learning! There is always the next new thing to learn!