What was that? Can you say it again?
Your mic is muted.
I cannot see your screen.
Your screen is frozen.
Have you recently heard yourself anything similar? These must be some of the most pronounced sentences by those of us who participate in webinars. The sound or video disturbances certainly affect our learning and engagement experiences.
In one of the webinars I organised, one of the participants struggled to hear with clarity my words. The internet connections of the other participants were good. So, I expeditiously suggested she’d log out and in again. In vain. I did continue the presentation but she eventually got frustrated and left the virtual meeting. Who can blame her? What’s the point of sticking around in a meeting when the communication is broken. Either you cannot hear what they say. Or they cannot hear your questions.
We may be thinking, “I knew it that technology cannot be trusted! So looking forward to the day when we can meet face-to-face.”.
An experienced teacher or speaker is aware that effective communication, where the takeaways are clear, requires frequent reviews of the key information as the presentation progresses. The repetition may be annoying for the active listeners in the audience. But there’s a good reason to do it. And the reason is not that the speaker is boring.
Dr. Ralph Nichols, who spent 40 years studying the art of listening, understood that people can pay attention for a short amount of time, which can be as low as 90 seconds. Every few seconds, the speaker’s words trigger some associations in the listener’s mind, in the form of new connections, judgements or other concerns. The listener’s attention is turned inwards, chasing a new trail of thoughts. Meanwhile, the speaker has advanced with the presentation and the listener has a gap in what she/he has heard. This is why it’s important to repeat the learning points over and over again. This way the speaker is helping the listener to stay on the same page.
Effective communication in presentations and meetings is like a tango dance. Both the speaker and the listener have their share of contribution to keep up the engagement. In the end, everyone involved leaves the meeting being more inspired than at the beginning of the meeting.
Let’s focus on the listener. What can the webinar experiences tell us about our listening abilities? A good listener is a person who can concentrate on understanding at three levels:
- Speaker’s feelings.
- Speaker’s intentions.
It’s a reality that technology can impair our learning experience during webinars. But is it a fact that in person meetings will lead to clearer understanding? In face-to-face conversations, we are distracted by the instinct of finding some pauses when we would be adding our views. Whether present online or in person, our minds are the main barriers to understanding and learning. In a webinar, where we have the option to turn off the video and mute ourselves, there is a great opportunity to exercise our listening awareness.
Provided you’d like to improve your listening skills when attending a webinar, you may find it useful to increase awareness of what happens in those moments when your mind strolls away from the speaker’s narrative. There is a self-talk taking place in parallel with the speaker’s talk. What might the contents of the self-talk be and how could you bring your mind back to one of the three levels of listening, – facts, emotions or intention?
- You may be making connections between the newly received information and the information stored in your memory. You are thus getting new insights related to the topic. Jot down the new ideas and get back to listening. Or, you may be confused or having some doubts about the validity of a particular learning point. Rephrase these concerns as questions and write them down in the questions box. They may be addressed at the end of the webinar.
- You may be experiencing some negative emotions, triggered by the way you judge what’s being said in the presentation. You can shortly write down these reactions, “The speaker said this … and I interpret it this way ….” Then try to remind yourself of your intention when joining the webinar. Why did you join? What were your expectations? There is always something new to learn even when the initial expectations are not met.
- You may be observing that you spiral down to a rabbit hole of reflections on the current life situation. Things that have nothing to do with the topic of the webinar become like a magnet to your mind. With patience, try to write down what it is that you’re worried about. “I am afraid that I will be jobless by the end of the year.” or, “Am I good enough to homeschool my kid?” or, “What is that bee doing at my window?” Once you wrote down the short notes of concerns, try to get back to the speaker’s narrative. “What is this person talking about now?” You can let go of the written concerns. How you are going to tackle them is something to work on when the webinar is over. Since they keep coming to mind, they must be important and they may want you to address them properly.
At the end of the webinar, look at the list of side notes: notes of learning points and questions, notes of judgements and notes of concerns. Which ones are predominant? You can congratulate yourself for being a good listener if the majority of notes consists of learning points and questions. However, if you see more notes of judgements and concerns, then you know that for the time being, your mind is quite distracted.
Can you hear me?