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Why the leader should be the last to speak in a virtual event

Nick Gold, MD of Speakers Corner tells us why now, more than ever, in the new virtual world the leader in a room should be the last person to speak rather than first.

During the first couple of weeks of lockdown, as we were all scrabbling around trying to get a handle on permanently working from home and making sense of the impact of COVID‐19, we rapidly embraced the virtual world.

We generally felt a degree of smug satisfaction that the meetings we were holding (on whatever platform we were using) were a way to see our friends, colleagues and business acquaintances and maintain some sense of human interaction.

But quickly I started feeling a sense of discomfort, and maybe because I was feeling it, I was picking it up from others. It stemmed from the exhaustion I was feeling after my fourth video meeting of the day, even though, I might have contributed less than I would have in a physical meeting, even though the meeting was nowhere near as long, I was drained. Shortly after that, I started hearing the first mutterings from people requesting we just have a telephone call as they needed a break from the video element.

I realised there was not anything wrong with the virtual meeting, but rather up to that point, we were trying to use it as a replacement for the physical meeting. Yet a virtual meeting creates a level playing field. There are no ‘power seats’ and there are limited opportunities to talk or even dominate the conversation. Where does the energy come from if we aren’t all in the same room with the human interaction and air of expectation?

Whole new virtual platform

In the physical meeting space, when these worked, it was a tremendous feeling and the time was always too short (which was fantastic for the supplier as meant they could follow up with another meeting after the event) but when it wasn’t relevant and there was no connection, those minutes seemed to last an eternity.

And the best part of the virtual meeting is that it has become ubiquitous as the world is in (and please delete as appropriate depending on your preference) unparalleled times/experiencing a new normal/unprecedented circumstances/. As such no‐one has the answers, no‐one can have a certain degree of confidence over what is next, ideas and creative thinking are coming to the forefront like never more to steer individuals, businesses sectors, society out of this situation.

Therefore, I would suggest that the virtual meeting space could become a networking space which if created right, could provide a whole new platform for business to be done, ideas to be shared and attendees to leave feeling inspired. There are common strands right now about the industry as a whole which unites us and the use of breakout rooms feature on the virtual event platform means the rigidity of the meeting times can be more flexible as it can be more random and dependent on the connectivity, the attendees will decide for themselves how long to be in conversation.

Re-imagine the possibilities

It is just an idea but it’s now time to re‐imagine the possibilities a virtual networking meeting can bring rather than simply act as a replacement for the physical meeting. This new thinking of the virtual meeting is the cornerstone to ensure success for the meetings and events space in the virtual world. And it means the rules of engagement will have changed, with the profound change that the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is just another face on the screen. Every person in these meeting can have an opinion, as businesses, as sectors, as individuals we are all experiencing similar things.

As a collective, the attendees in a meeting have a chance to shape together, on equal footing, the pathway forward. This flattening of the preconceptions of individuals attending a meeting and each individual being judged and embraced depending on their contribution to that particular meeting is an opportunity that should be embraced by all.

The shared experience which might historically have been the venue, the food or the experience is now restricted to the setting of the virtual event. The shared experiences are broader, the connection can be deeper, the relationships can go beyond the transactional relationship. This is the challenge but this is what the power of the virtual meeting can bring, it is a levelling of the conversation, it is a chance to create virtual relationships which have the possibility of being deeper and with more substance than the short form networking meeting.

It will give those that have never really been at the forefront of speaking, a platform to air their opinions and it will give those who previously been leading the conversation a chance to reflect and embrace other’s thoughts. Now, more than ever, the leader in a room should be the last person to speak rather than first.