Meetings Pro Tip: The Power of Props

Trying to keep virtual attendees engaged? One tactic: Give your speakers some props to work with.

After a year-plus of Zoom calls and virtual events, people need something a little fresher to keep their attention.

A pop of visual interest or energy can provide exactly that. One approach to try: Dig through your association’s prop closet so your speakers have something to handle while they’re talking. (Wait, you don’t have a prop closet? We should solve that.)

What’s the Strategy?

Kristin Arnold, founder of Powerful Panels, noted previously that one way to make a remote panel discussion more effective is to give attendees something that they can visually show off during the event, leveraging the camera frame effectively.

That could involve creating an interesting background to work within—something professional speaker Josh Sundquist does to great effect—but it can also mean giving your attendees objects that they can use to react to what’s happening in the discussion.

Arnold sends her clients “experience boxes” for virtual panel discussions, complete with thumbs-up and thumbs-down paddles or handheld whiteboards, allowing for a quick form of nonverbal communication on screen.

She also recommends having attendees pick up objects that they use in their work (during our discussion, she held up a stapler) or even carry the camera with them as they walk around.

If you’re trying to visualize this, look to TV shows—they’re already using prop-heavy tactics.

“Most people will agree that event design is more like event production,” Arnold said in an April interview. “You know, we’re looking more like TV shows.”

Why Is It Effective?

Holding attention during virtual events is getting harder as screen fatigue hits us in a serious way. A recent study from Splash found that more than half of attendees wanted meetings to last half an hour or less, and just 7 percent wanted them to last longer than an hour.

Given this preference, it’s becoming increasingly important to keep people’s attention by using novel activities.

You can even tie this in with tangible elements that you mail individual attendees. One that you might have seen on a recent virtual happy hour: interactive drink-making tutorials, taught by a professional mixologist. Giving your speakers—and your attendees—something to do is one way to keep them engaged when you have to go a little bit longer than the length of an average sitcom.

What’s the Potential?

For virtual event planners trying to keep the dream alive after a year and a half, the visual punch of a prop might be enough to keep attendees interested for a little while longer.

Of course, you may need to prep your speakers to use props.

“You have to get them to understand—you have to put it in front of the camera or hold it by your face,” Arnold said. “There are little things that you kind of have to coach people on.”


(olegback/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!