8 Open Ended Questions for Engagement

One of the best ways to get your participants involved on your conference call is to open up for questions at the end. Many times, I've seen even the most impressive presentations end up with 'no questions' at the end. I've talked before about what to do when no one asks a question on your conference and one of the tips I suggested before was to ask a friend or co-worker to be the first person to raise their hand.

Now, some may disagree with me about using a "plant" on your conferences to get the ball rolling for Q&A. I'd offer the counterpoint that it is human nature to be shy and that no one really wants to go first. Q&A is an opportunity to refine parts of the presentations and silence will hurt the chances to do so. If the co-worker or friend asks a legitimate question about the content, I don't see anything wrong with this kind of tactic.

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no". It's important that the question gives the speaker an opportunity to explain some of those finer details while giving the opportunity to spark questions in some of the other participants. Here are eight great ways to start an open ended question on your next conference.

  1. "What is the purpose of..."
  2. "Can you explain...."
  3. "How would you use..."
  4. "What judgment can we make..."
  5. "How would you estimate..."
  6. "Explain the changes that..."
  7. "How would you summarize..."
  8. "What statements support..."

These questions are great conversation starters because they are legitimate in reference to the content presented and they give the speaker that extra chance to go over those finer details or even mention something they mistakenly skipped over when going over the presentation. Additionally, I suggest only doing this once a session and only if you don't get any one else in the question queue. This is to get the conversation started, not to take it over completely. The goal of asking your co-worker to ask the first question is to open the door for others to come along behind them.

Have you ever "planted" your co-worker to ask the first question?

Time Tips

There are a ton of things to consider when planning a conference. Believe it or not, one of the considerations that can give you the biggest headache is “What time?”. Here are three things to take into consideration when setting your conference time.
Be advised. Always alert participants that the time zones listed on the meeting invitation may not reflect their time zone. Be sure to note on the invitation what time zone you’re listing things in. For example, our company is in central time, so anytime you hear us refer to times, it would be CST. We note all the major US time zones on invitations and agreements, so hopefully; we can help keep things clear.

Special Considerations. When the US goes on Daylight Savings Time, everyone skips ahead an hour – except for the state of Arizona. As confusing as it can be for you, I’ve actually found it is pretty confusing for them too. When DST is in effect, it’s a good idea to note your invitation that the times reflect daylight savings.  

International Participants. When setting up your meetings, remember when dealing with international participants they can sometimes be up to a day ahead of you currently time wise.
Knowing who is invited to your conference and where they are located makes the planning process smoother as well as helping things move along well. Being well prepared will help relieve your stress and make things go a little smoother so that you can focus on the reason why everyone is together.
Besides time zones, what are some other things to consider when planning a conference?

Take A Break

Oh, Twitter, how you give us a glimpse into the mind of the everyday office worker and how they feel about their day to day activities. Usually, that mild mannered office worker has a conference call to attend, from updating a team on procedures to going over financials.  Everyone is using conference calls to make their staff meetings go a little smoother, stay more productive, and save money on travel.  Most of the time, conference calls can go pretty quickly, but there are always those times when you know it’s going to be a long one – due to the topic or even the person who’s doing the presenting.

As the leader of a conference, you can do a lot to plan ahead for a conference call and have things in place to keep the attention of the attendees. However, nothing is fool proof and there’s always the chance that you are going to lose the audience. What can you do during a conference call to bring them back to attention? Here are a couple of suggestions to try on your next conference if you sense everyone is drifting.

Ask a question. Don’t call anyone out but throwing out a blanket question and pausing for a few beats afterwards can help pull everyone’s brains back into the task at hand. Don’t answer the question, just ask it.  A lot of times when people “zone out” hearing something new or that could require a response will draw them back in.

Take a break. Have a long conference planned? Schedule a break about halfway through. I would suggest this for any conference that is going to be an hour or longer. It doesn’t have to be a long break, maybe five minutes. Let people get up from their desks, stretch their backs and arms, and maybe get a refill of coffee. Then they come back and it’s like the call just began.

Switch speakers. Even if you’re talking about the same subject throughout the length of the conference, you can still bring a different voice on the call to finish up.  Not only does it help relax your vocal chords, but it will be a new sound and tone for your attendees to react to.  If you’re used to a sound or voice, it’s easier to drown it out, and bringing a new voice to the call can refocus everyone.  

There are some quick suggestions that can help you bring everyone back down to Earth during a conference call. Do you do anything differently? Have you ever tried these before? How do you prepare to refocus your group mid conference?

I am Gordon Ramsey

Okay, I’m not, but a couple weeks ago I wrote a post about Cooking with Gordon Ramsey and how cool I thought it was that he was using a simple video conferencing process to teach normal, everyday American’s how to cook. As someone who spends a lot of time in my kitchen, it was easy for me to pick up on what I would consider simple things to do. Mince? No problem. Garlic press? Got one right here. While it was awesome to me, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would benefit for someone who didn’t like to cook the way I did.

I concocted an experiment. I would test the Gordon Ramsey theory on someone who had minimal knowledge in the kitchen – meaning she can cook without burning the house down, but has rarely made things from scratch. Our menu was simple: sautéed chicken with basil and butter and a honey mustard sauce. My goal here wasn’t so much to teach her how to cook but to test the theory that a video conference can be used just as well as a live demonstration.

My test subject?  Meet my best friend, Rachel. Her cooking skills aren’t terrible, but I would call her a novice and chicken is one of her least favorite things to cook. She doesn’t trust herself to know when it’s done, and even as much as I cook, I tend to find chicken very tricky and have experienced a couple of failures with it.

I fired up the video conference and walked her through each step. Heat up your skillet, throw the butter in there, let it melt, and so forth. I cooked it with her, both of us with our camera trained on our pans. I have to say that trying to do this with someone that you’re not friends with could be an incredibly painful experience. So I suggest trying something like this with someone that you’re not afraid to laugh with.

We had some funny moments.

In the end, I decided that this whole video conference cooking show is a good idea. If normal, everyday people like Rachel and I can manage it, then surely it can’t be that difficult for super chefs. We had a few hiccups along the way, but in the end, it turned out nicely and no one got food poisoning.

So what is the conclusion of my experiment?

It’s surprisingly easy to teach someone how to do something through a video conference.

Additional Hassle

Since Christmas Day, weary travelers have been trekking through airports worldwide with one thought in mind: How long is this going to take? The TSA already recommended that you give yourself one to two hours for security checkpoints before your flight, especially when flying to international locations or in to the United States. Since the failed bombing on Christmas Day, security is even tighter. Now, the TSA website states that "At this time, security checkpoint requirements for passengers departing U.S. airports remain the same. Passengers do not need to do anything differently, but they may notice additional security measures at the airport." Interesting, since the day that Joan Rivers can't get on a plane and people are detained for not exposing the amount of money they make seems like more than just "additional security measures". Taking my shoes off is an additional security measure, limiting the amount of liquid I can take on my carry-on bag is an additional security measure. Getting a full body scan is a bit more than an "additional measure" and a bomb sniffing German Sheppard is not the way I was to spend my time hanging out in the terminal. Good luck if you're trying to fly into the United States from another country.

Why are we still putting ourselves through the hassle? In the past it had always been about trying to close a deal or do some training but with conference call providers that can do audio, desktop and web sharing, I have to ask, what's the point of the headache when you can easily do something different? Set up a conference, stay in your office, and avoid the delays. I can guarantee no one on the conference is going to mistake your white chocolate mocha as an explosive device.

Old Dog, New Tricks

There's an old cliche about teaching an old dog new tricks. Having recently taught an elderly basset hound how to speak on command I'm afraid I have to disagree. Now, my cute baby wasn't going to bark for no reason. I had to entice her somehow. I had to show her that there was a benefit for what she was going to do for me. This benefit came in the form of a Milk Bone. Old dog + Milk Bone = New Trick. Simple enough, right?

If you're looking for innovation in a department that has always operated in a certain way, there's a chance you get could get some resistance.

Most companies are familiar with the idea of an audio conference. It makes sense. Get everyone on the phone together and everyone talks about the same thing at the same time. As technology has grown, so have the things you can do through a conference provider. If you think it might be time to step up your game a bit, it might be time to put some Milk Bones on the table.

Remember to dive in slowly. If you are working with a team of people who might be resistant to change or confused by new technologies, you want to introduce them slowly. Introduce them to something like simple PowerPoint sharing first.

When you're trying to introduce the unfamiliar you should always do it slowly. Throwing someone into the water and telling them to sink or swim won't give anyone any confidence with a new technology. Encourage them to try out the software with different people and let them do test runs. Be available for questions and call your conference provider to set up a demonstration with your company or department, so if there are questions you can't answer, you have someone on the phone who can take the lead.

Remind your team why this is a good option. It's on demand, always available, without printouts or handouts, no travel, and it saves you money.

What do you think? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Power of Instant Feedback

Sometimes, the hardest part of a presentation is getting feedback.  So much time and energy is spent preparing for your conferences and presentations. You know your slides backwards and forward, you've done a mock presentation, revised, and practiced again. When it's all over and your conference is just a memory, you now have to sit back and wait to find out what people thought.

Sure, requesting an online survey after the conference is over is a great way to get feedback. There are a few snags to getting feedback this way.  Your audience is busy and while they fully intend on giving feedback for your presentation, it might take them time to be able to submit their thoughts. It could be days or even weeks after your conference is over and you want to get feedback while things are still fresh.

Have you given any thought to asking for feedback while the conference is in live?  Most web conference applications provide a way for you to ask for feedback through polls and allow asking more than one question.  You can update your poll from "How do you feel about…" to "What is a subject you would like to see more about" with a couple of key strokes and you can get feedback instantly. There's no waiting, all the information is still fresh, and the web conference tool will store your poll results as well, so you can go back and look up to see the results later on.

How important is instant feedback when you're having a conference? Do you want to know right away the things that need to be adjusted or corrected, or are you more of the kind of person who prefers to wait until after you're done to get feedback so as not to have any distractions when you present?

Powerful PowerPoint – Part Three: Media

Description: If done right, web conferencing with PowerPoint can do amazing things!

It had to come eventually, but we're now at the end of our three-part series on the proper use of Content, Visuals, and Media to create excellent PowerPoint slides that grab attention, deliver the main message clearly, and highly augment presentations as a whole.

Web conferencing is, I think, the best medium to really get the most out of PowerPoint.  Not only is everyone right in front of their screens, able to see each slide perfectly, but they also have their computer handy to follow any links you put onscreen, or download materials you wish to share.

Take a look at this YouTube video that has tips for making the best of graphs and visuals.  Now, there are three things I'd like for you to glean from this video:

1.  Everything you put on a PowerPoint slide should be tailored to best convey your main message.  If this includes cutting out most of a picture to leave exactly what you want the participants to see, then so be it.  If increasing clarity means that graphs are made to be considerably less complex, so much the better.  If a slide has to be broken up into two—or more—slides to increase visibility, I say that's great.  Remember, you don't have to have a limit on how long a slide is shown, or how many slides you have.

Oh, and the best way to grab, retain, or regain attentions is go to the next— and different looking--slide.

2.  This video was on YouTube, but it and any videos you have or create can be placed on a PowerPoint slide!  A few slides into the beginning of a presentation you can announce that the CEO wanted to say hello, then you advance a slide and press 'play.'  Or, instead of describing a certain machine at work—or showing slides very fast with a picture on each—you can let your video explain all.

Video is eye-catching, but don't discount a slide with a picture and a sound file on it.  Get to the slide, press play, and let the exact words you want them to hear flow out.  It probably doesn't need to be said, but the picture should be appropriate for the sound file.

3.  The main point of this company's PowerPoint video was to get you to pay to attend their web conference seminar on improving presentations.  And they did this by showing a few minutes worth of their presentation as an enticement.

And you can do the same with your own products.  Hold a web conference for some potential clients and show your PowerPoint presentation.  Make sure to record everything.  Then pluck out sections with valuable information, and put them together in a PowerPoint video to put on YouTube.  You get some exposure, but more important, the leads you receive from it are informed and motivated potential customers.

I hope this three-part series on punching up PowerPoint helped more than a few people turn out stellar presentations.  Was there something I didn't cover that you hoped to see?  What subjects would you like covered in our future series?  Leave us a comment and we'll do our best to accommodate.

Powerful PowerPoint – Part Two: Visuals

We're now in the middle of this three-part series on getting the most out of PowerPoint using Content, Visuals, and Media, so let's press on.  What first comes to mind when you see the word, "Visuals"?  (I thought of photos.)  Though pictures are in the visuals category, they don't make up its entirety.

Since I brought them up, it would be good to mention that pictures do speak volumes and can be a welcome addition to any PowerPoint slide… if done correctly.  Pictures are like content; they must be surgically chosen.  And where the right picture can do wonders for communicating to your participants, the wrong picture can distract them, or even lower their opinion of you and your message.

You can't go wrong if you put one picture per slide, taking up all the space—captions don't have to always go underneath; place the words where they'll make the most impact.  Pictures of people are good, but crop tight from the chest up for individuals, and show some background and scenery for group shots.  Double-check to make sure the right person is showing at the right part of the presentation.  Product shots are good, and buildings too if appropriate.

If ever in doubt, not using the picture you're waffling over is probably the better choice.

But pictures aren't all there is to visuals.  The slides themselves can make or break a bid for participant attention.  Go through the first ten slides or so of this eye-popping PowerPoint presentation.

Pretty cool, eh?  You'll have noticed that they used color to manipulate mood, and sizes of slide elements to call attention to information.  I really like how they used reoccurring graphics as a sort of bullet-point system.  Nothing is worse than seeing the same layout and font, slide after slide, with nothing changing but the information.  (It puts me in mind of white stripes in the middle of the road at night: hypnotizing.) The one critical mistake on this powerpoint is the size of the text. 

But when people see a familiar graphic from a few slides before, they are eager to spot the differences, and quickly learn that these particular slides will be their guideposts for the rest of the presentation.

What visuals are you using to spice up your PowerPoint slides?  How do you like the series so far? 

Next up: Media

Powerful PowerPoint – Part One: Content

I've seen more than a few PowerPoint presentations.  I've experienced some so boring I counted the slides instead of reading them.  And I've seen slides so difficult to read, I found myself blinking coquettish starlet.  But then, every once in a while I get wowed by a stellar PowerPoint presentation.

To really get to the heart of the matter, I'm going to make this little PowerPoint discussion a three-part deal covering Content, Visuals, and Media.  In this first part, let's talk about how content makes those rare PowerPoint gems so great.

Content is what you want your participants to know, to have in the front part of their brains as they return to the rest of their day, and what they think about throughout the week.  However, the strength of content also contains its weakness.  Details, minutia, supporting arguments, and anything else besides your main point serve to drag a presentation down into mediocrity.

As a result, content should be surgically chosen.  What exactly is the main point?  What details are absolutely necessary to support that point?  Only include content that answers either of those questions, and leave out the rest.

"It's not vital information, but it's still important!"

That statement is the grease on the slippery slope that has spawned so many bad PowerPoint slides.  Remember, YOU are the focus of the presentation and PowerPoint is your support.  Show the main points and tell the little details and supporting arguments to your participants.  Everything else gets put into a handout for later reference.

Less is more.  Your presentation can contain tons of data, but your PowerPoint presentation should only bear a fraction of it.

Next up: Visuals