Public Speaking Lab

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4 Hacks for Virtual Engagement

Before we begin there is an underlying assumption we need to have: we need to have interaction to make any virtual classroom or virtual presentation engaging. 

Without this first caveat nothing else applies. If you should take anything away from this article it is this: information without interaction is information that is forgotten.


If participants in a virtual classroom know exactly what’s going to be happening or they know exactly when and how they will be called upon, then they can tune out until they are required to participate. Therefore incorporating uncertainty as to when and how participants will need to participate will increase virtual engagement since those participants need to pay attention.  

When you are designing your virtual presentation, meeting or class outline plan to have interaction every 30 seconds to a few minutes.  Make sure that your participants do not know when that interaction will be. This makes it very hard to not pay attention because they will never know when they will be called upon.  Use a phrase like this: “In a moment I will choose a random person to…”

2. accountability

If you are going to ask for participation, in the chat for example, then you have to hold every participant accountable. That means if there are 20 participants in the meeting and you ask for an opinion, or for them to fill out a poll, you must wait until you get 18, 19 or 20 of them to do it. This compels participants to be more engaged and pay attention to what is being discussed. Not only will they never know when you will call upon them, they also know that if you call upon them you will wait until they respond. I have some examples of this on my course on virtual communication.  Does that mean you have to review everyone’s response? Not at all. You just have to see the number of responses and call it out.  

Here is an example of a phrase I like to use in my virtual classrooms …I only see 12 responses and there are 25 of us in the room so let’s see everyone please…”  Then I alternate between waiting and commenting on responses.

3. specificity

How much communication is supposed to be nonverbal? Most of us would say between 50% to 90%. We lose a lot of that when we’re communicating virtually, especially when the camera is not showing us but rather slides. That’s a whole other topic on its own and you can check out my virtual communication course (link below) for strategies on how to make slide deck visuals more appealing and use them strategically. 

When we lose all non-verbal communication it means that our words have to be much more specific so our participants/learners understand what we want from them. Therefore it’s not enough to say “…what do you all think…” or “…any thoughts about…” We have to be vary specific about the type of response we want.

Do you want them to comment? Do you want a one-word answer? Do you want a paragraph? Do you want a link? Do you want them to turn on their microphone? Do you want everyone to respond or just the first to respond? Unless you are that specific you will probably only get a couple of answers and those will likely be very basic, just a word or do.

4. DiversitY

Just like in the real world if you ask participants to get a show of hands to answer a question, the first time you do it, it’s engaging. The second time, it is a little less engaging and if you’re constantly doing it, it very quickly becomes tedious and people become bored.  Again this is amplified in online learning and virtual classrooms.  With less and less engagement every time you ask for the same type of participation/response. Therefore, we need to vary how we get participation and use everything that our online interface allows. This can be:

  • Answering questions with a poll 
  • Answering questions with a yes or no in the chat 
  • Answering questions with a link in the chat 
  • Turning on their microphone and commenting on a question
  • Turning on their camera and microphone and presenting to the group 
  • Turning on their camera and giving you a thumbs up

Those are just a few examples of how we need to diversify our interaction to compel engagement because if the group never knows what is coming next… they have to pay more attention!

On a final note, it’s important to understand that all of these strategies, while we’re putting them in a virtual presentation and classroom (or live online, remote seminar, virtual education, e-learning…whatever you call it) context, apply just as much to the real world, in-person learning environment.   

this is only the beginning

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I have designed a free email course called Communication Hacks, designed to give you 4 tools in 4 days, that you can apply to both your in-person and virtual communication.   Don’t wait, join team #endboring!

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See what previous students have to say

Teaching online?
this course has all you need to know.

Virtual Communication

- a new course from PUBLIC SPeaking Lab -


What’s the difference between teaching/presenting online and teaching/presenting in person? It’s probably not what you’re thinking… The answer is: online we don’t have to be polite. You see in an in-person classroom even if we feel there is:

no value in the lecture

it’s boring

it’s not engaging

When there are other people in the room we have to be polite and pretend that we are listening. In the same class online, however, we could just turn off your camera and microphone, watch YouTube and still “be in” the class. We could keep our camera on and check email and no one would never know. This is not just a harsh truth but more importantly it is also the future.  I designed this special course to specifically solve this problem.  This course is full of tactics and strategies to keep students engaged online.

I’m on a mission to end boring; when we are presenting online and in our virtual classrooms and meetings. I designed this course to make our online communication and presentations interesting, engaging and (dare I say it) fun! If you are a teacher this course is a must.


CHeck out these other great courses

Ivan Wanis Ruiz has been a professional speaker for almost 20 years speaking to crowds as small as 5 and as large as 30,000.  When he is not speaking he is a guest speaker at several universities and fortune 500 companies across North America. 


Being a charismatic and impactful speaker is something you can learn.  By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Make dynamic openings
  • Communicate confidence even when you are nervous
  • Transition between ideas smoothly
  • Create impactful statements to maximize retention

Everyone uses slides, but how many of them use it well? By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Apply to strategies to make your slides more impactful
  • Communicate complex ideas simply
  • Communicate financial and numerical information. effectively