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10 Ways to Keep Buyers Engaged During Virtual Sales Meetings

blog author
Written by Dave Shaby
Chief Operating Officer, RAIN Group

Imagine this: You're in a live sales meeting in a conference room with three decision-makers, and one of them, while you're talking, pulls out their phone and starts responding to text and email messages. They continue to check the news and start fiddling on social media. You even hear a light snicker.

This wouldn't happen.

But it happens all the time in the virtual world.

Buyers are constantly distracted by email or social media or their children or a pet or eating lunch or something else during your virtual meetings. In fact, according to FuzeBox, 92% of people admit to multitasking during meetings.

4 Reasons Why People Are So Easily Distracted in Virtual Meetings

According to researchers at the University of Toronto, York University, and SUNY Albany, 94.4% of meeting participants say they're able to pay attention during face-to-face meetings. But in the virtual world, it drops to 41.7%.

And a March 2020 Harvard Business Review article said, "Attendees often interpret virtual meetings as a license to multitask."

Our own research has revealed that 91% of sellers are challenged by gaining buyers' attention and keeping them engaged.

Why is it so difficult to maintain attention during virtual meetings? Consider these four top reasons:

  1. Compulsive task switching. Most people are rapid task switchers, especially while at their computers. As noted above, people view virtual meetings as a license to multitask.
  2. Maintaining gaze. It's very tiring looking people in the eye and focusing attention on their faces for long periods. This doesn't happen in live meetings, but it's all we have in virtual ones.
  3. Baseline stress. Given that people are often stressed, their energy tanks aren't necessarily full when your meeting starts. And if your meeting is the sixth one in a row, energy is even further depressed.
  4. Ringelmann effect. The Ringelmann effect states that the more people who are involved in a task, the less effort they devote to it individually. Thus, the more people you have in a virtual meeting, the less likely each person is to be engaged.

It's up to you, then, to take the lead in minimizing multitasking by maximizing buyer engagement during virtual meetings. Let's dive a bit deeper and discuss 10 ways you can maintain the engagement threshold. 

Engagement During Live Meetings Versus Virtual Meetings

While during live, in-person meetings, it's relatively easy to maintain buyer engagement, it's much harder to capture and keep attention above the engagement threshold in virtual meetings. The engagement threshold is the point at which attention is captured and maintained and below which attention is lost.

Let's say you have a 30-minute meeting. If you ran the meeting virtually the same way you would run it live, it's possible you might not reach a higher engagement threshold. Here's how it looks:


It's not even quite that simple, though. Because of the Ringelmann effect, the more people who attend a meeting, the more likely they are to tune out. In virtual meetings, because it's easier to hide, the more people who attend, the faster the engagement threshold rises.


10 Ways to Keep Buyers Engaged in Virtual Meetings

The secret to achieving and maintaining buyer engagement is to use the 30 + 3 rule. A seller (or anyone running a virtual meeting) has 30 seconds to grab (or lose) engagement. And because the virtual medium makes it so easy for participants to lose focus, sellers need to re-achieve engagement every three minutes.

Here are 10 key ways to achieve engagement:

  1. Build-in structural engagement, such as virtual whiteboarding, screen sharing, polls, and other interaction and activities.
  2. Create intrigue and build anticipation levels. For example, by setting up meeting topics and reveals (e.g., "In a few minutes, I'll share the three keys our research has shown to maximize your success in <fill in the blank>").
  3. Raise your visual asset game. Employ frequent, purposeful screen and slide motion, such as in building a Convincing Story.
  4. Schedule meetings in the 15s and 45s to give buyers mental breaks from meetings that tend to end on the 00s and the 30s.
  5. Schedule meetings earlier in the day to avoid being the sixth virtual meeting in a row.
  6. Open strong with immediate interaction.
  7. Tell frequent, brief stories. Stories of any sort are engaging.
  8. Center your discussion around the buyer. People are more interested when they're the focus of conversation.
  9. Keep any delivery or talking to three minutes. Make sure you don't speak for longer than five minutes before asking a question or stopping to check-in.
  10. Make attention an imperative. Call people by name. Ask them questions. Ask for an interaction. For example, you might say, "Beth, I'm curious to know your reaction to that." As you use attendees' names, it'll put everyone on notice that their attention is important because they may be called on next.

Bonus tip #11: To the extent that you're able, minimize the number of attendees on the call to reduce the Ringelmann effect and keep the engagement threshold as low as it can be. Of course, it's best to have the right decision-makers and influencers present, but if the meeting gets too big, it'll be that much more difficult to keep everyone engaged.

By strategically scheduling, upping your interactivity, and following the other advice here, you can ensure that future virtual meetings will be similarly engaging as a face-to-face meeting would have been.

Want to learn more about how to maintain the engagement threshold, lead masterful virtual sales conversations, and become a top-performing seller in this new environment? Check out our new book, Virtual Selling, available now.

Book: Buy Virtual Selling Now
Last Updated July 28, 2023

Topics: Virtual Selling