MEET “THE ZOOM MASTER”
In this eye-opening interview you will learn how to encourage participation in virtual meetings, how to make yourself look (and sound) good online, and how to make your next Zoom meeting way more effective. There is a treasure chest of virtual tips, wisdom, and experience here. If you are in charge of a virtual event or have been asked to speak via a Zoom meeting, this is for you! Read on…
ADAM CHRISTING is the founder of Clean Comedians®. Adam interviews “Zoom Master” and popular keynote speaker, entertainer, and professional virtual magician AARON O’BRIEN:
ADAM: When this pandemic is over, do you see us returning to live meetings right away? And, what do you say to people who are having a hard time making the transition to virtual?
AARON: We have entered a new age of virtual meetings. Many people are having a hard time pivoting to these new platforms. After giving dozens and dozens of speeches and entertaining performances via Zoom, I have discovered some strategies that can help people engage virtual audiences and become better virtual speakers. These lessons also apply to being more effective in just about any virtual platform.
ADAM: That’s awesome. Fist, before we plunge in, let me share a little background for our Clean Comedians® blog readers and clients. You recently became an author (Speak Like Magic). You are also a keynote speaker, and a professional magician. And you are just 21-years old! One client (Insperity) has booked you more than 25 times for their Zoom sales/client meetings!! And, you recently got engaged! How in the world is all of this possible??
AARON: Virtual meetings allow us to save time and money! I don’t have to get on a plane now to connect with sales teams, employees, or audience members. We can all do more…often right from our own homes. It’s an exciting time. Thank you for the kind words! I am very blessed.
BELIEVE IN VIRTUAL MAGIC
ADAM: So, this is fascinating. You perform magic for hundreds of people every week. You inspire and entertain. And you work this “magic” as a speaker and entertainer—without having to leave your house! You must love this virtual world.
AARON: Sometimes we forget how awesome this new world is. Covid-19 is terrible, and we need to take it seriously. But we can laugh together during lockdown(s). We can have shared experiences. And people LOVE feeling amazed and energized via virtual meetings.
ADAM: Do we need to learn magic tricks to get people involved in virtual meetings? How do we go about setting the stage for a good digital experience with our teams?
AARON: We need to plan our meetings whether in-person or via Zoom. Who will attend? How can we inspire them? And this is key: WHY are we gathering? You need to answer these questions, then plan ways to encourage participation and engagement.
ADAM: There are some truly great things about digital events, right?
AARON: We can all do more…often right from our own homes. It’s an exciting time. Feeling connected is what life—and a successful virtual meeting—is all about. Always go for the connection.
IS ZOOM THE BEST PLATFORM FOR YOU?
ADAM: Most people have learned how to get on Zoom. How important is it for people to know what they are doing with this technology today? Do you still recommend Zoom?
AARON: Pick your platform and know your technology. Choose a platform that is user-friendly and will allow you to see the people in your audience. This is why I highly recommend the Zoom platform. It’s easy to learn. Most technical difficulties happen when the speaker is unfamiliar with the platform. Technology is only as good as the operator, so be sure you know how to handle exactly what you’ll be using, to avoid fumbling and dead air. If you do not have the time to learn it all on your own, consider hiring a young college student to assist you. He or she will have you on screen in no time.
ADAM: I have heard you talk about the importance of good lighting. What should you do if you are making a presentation and you cannot get to a professional studio, but you still want to look professional? What can a person do at home to make sure they look good in the virtual world?
AARON: Have great lighting so you can be seen. This is huge. You do not need a massive studio setup but do invest in some good lighting. It’s hard to connect with your participants if you are in the dark and they can’t see you. Look at the video feed before you go into a meeting so you can see what you look like. Purchase a light that will illuminate you well. There are some great options via Amazon.com. Example: For about $150 you can purchase the Neewer Light and Stand Kit. If you really don’t want to spend any money, at least frame your meeting so your face is lit by natural light from a window. More on what they see: Find a good space to set up. It should look clean and uncluttered. An organized bookcase or muted art can lend a touch of personality. Warning: A virtual background can be distracting (you’re in a tropical paradise, and your audience members are stuck in their homes). Low production value will detract from your overall professionalism.
ADAM: That’s some great stuff right there. Now, let’s say I’m giving a speech for an entertaining virtual event. What are your top tips for also sounding good in an online meeting?
AARON: Audio is key. Consider investing in a good clip-on microphone so the audience can hear you. If they can’t hear you speaking, there is no speech! This is simple: have your attendees give you a thumbs-up to verify that they can hear you. Do this before you start your presentation. You don’t want to be two minutes into your speech and find out they haven’t heard a word you’ve said.
ADAM: If could only make ONE suggestion for someone who is making an online presentation, what would that be?
AARON: Capture attention at the beginning and hold onto it. Virtual settings create a different set of challenges from live presentations. If an individual wants to close his or her screen and leave, they can. So be sure to grab your audience’s attention at the beginning of your speech by asking a question, telling a joke, or sharing a compelling visual. (See Chapter 1 for more ideas. Personalization is powerful.) It’s all about making and keeping connections. You may be speaking to fifty people, but look directly into your camera as if you are talking to a close friend.
ADAM: What are some other ways we can draw people into our virtual programs?
AARON: Use people’s names. With attendees’ names displayed, it’s as if everyone is wearing name tags. So you can and should address individuals by name. The virtual format makes many people feel disconnected. Use this as an opportunity to connect people to you—and to each other. The best way to remember names is to actually look at your screen. (If you are on Zoom, go to gallery mode when speaking, so you can watch your audience.) You can place a sticky note with names at the top or side of your monitor for quick reference.
ADAM: Most of us are doing these Zoom meeting while we are seated. Is that a mistake? Should we be standing? Should we move around?
AARON: Be dynamic! Look into software like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) or Ecamm (for Mac) that allows you to insert a slideshow or video into your program. Look for ways to enliven your presentation and keep people awake. We have all been in those boring Zoom meetings where one person is just talking on and on for an hour. Periodically have everyone stand up or do something to keep the energy flowing.
ADAM: If I am giving a speech or leading an online workshop, people look to me as the authority. But is there a place for inviting questions during a virtual presentation?
AARON: Encourage questions. This keeps people engaged. When you welcome their questions, people feel heard. And don’t forget. You are the expert on your topic. People will want to hear your responses to the questions that come up in their minds during your speech.
ADAM: What do you advise when it comes to group participation during a Zoom event or virtual meeting? If one person is doing the main presentation is engaging more people still possible?
PARTICIPATION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME
AARON: Build interactive elements into your talk. People love to hear themselves. So give them a chance to share and participate (without losing control of the time). If you see people drifting, or distracted, stop talking. This will recapture their attention. Silence is strong. They will all look up to see what’s happened. This is the perfect opportunity to re-engage them in your session. More ideas: trivia games, magic tricks, wine tasting.
ADAM: As we wrap this up, Aaron. And this has been SO helpful. If you had to sum up one key word or concept about this new world, what would you say? I guess what I’m asking is this: What are people really craving today via digital events?
AARON: Focus on community. We’ve all had to shift to virtual events, and this will remain the case, with many events becoming a hybrid of digital and in-person attendance. People need human connection now more than ever. You can bring some wonderful community-building into your presentation. Example: Before the program, send your attendees a “discovery box” in the mail. This gets opened in real time by your participants together during your session. Keep the contents of the box a secret. This will build suspense prior to the meeting and maintain their interest during your time together. The key here is getting your attendees enjoying a shared experience.
ADAM: Finally, if I am prepping to deliver a virtual speech or online presentation, what must I remember?
IT MIGHT BE VIRTUAL. BUT WE ARE STILL REAL PEOPLE!
AARON: Remember that this is still a speech. Even in a virtual setting, you want a good outline. Plan it out. Just as when you are giving an in-person message you want your audience to walk away at the end (closing their screens, that is) with solid takeaway value. Make sure you identify their pain, show them how to solve their problem, and tell them how to take action. Oh, and one more thing: Be sure to thank them for the privilege of presenting.
ADAM: And for people who don’t know how to outline a virtual presentation? Will you share it with us?
AARON: Well, it’s all in my book. But I’d be happy to chat with you about my 6-secret steps for pleasing an audience with a killer speech…next time we talk! I promise. We can go in depth and do a deep dive about it.
ADAM: Great! Let’s do this again for sure. By the way, readers: Aaron’s new book is called Speak Like Magic and it’s going to be available on Amazon.com via INKredible Books. Congratulations, Aaron. I don’t know many 21-year old authors…
AARON: Well, you know me!! Thanks for this opportunity and for the privilege of being part of CleanComedians.com I love bringing laughter and learning to virtual meetings.
ADAM: And that is magic! Thank you.
(This interview was adapted and expanded from the bonus Virtual Tips chapter in Aaron O’Brien’s new book, SPEAK LIKE MAGIC: 6 Secret Steps for making powerful presentations to please your audience).
AARON O’BRIEN became a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood at the age of thirteen. Now twenty-one, he has established himself as a popular keynote speaker, magical master of ceremonies, and dynamic event entertainer. Aaron has appeared on CBS television and is an in-demand virtual speaker. He brings his inspiring magic to many of the top organizations in North America, including Sony, Insperity, Qualcomm, the Federal Reserve, Amgen, and the American Cancer Society. Aaron believes the real stars of the show are the meeting planners, attendees, and companies he feels privileged to represent.
Keep Reading: 7 Ways To Break The Ice At Team Meetings
Adam Christing is a professional virtual magician, virtual entertainer, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speaker.