In one scene in the movie The 40-Year Old Virgin, Jay (Romany Malco) gives advice to Andy (Steve Carell) about spotting women in a bar. He starts by explaining that you have to “use your peripherals” by looking straight ahead, yet observing what is going on all around. He describes this subtle, yet important technique that allows you to spot interesting women in the bar on either side of you, in addition to women right in front of you.
What in the world does this advice have to do with a web conference? As Jay explains in the movie, if you are only focused on what’s directly in front of you, you may miss something important on either side of you. Similarly, if you are presenting material in a web conference, there’s a tendency to focus intently on your slides or whatever is showing on the main part of the screen. Meanwhile on other parts of the screen, participants may be asking questions in the chat area, changing their status to indicate they have a question or responding to a poll. Therefore, it’s important to continuously scan the screen and take in the entire landscape of the meeting room throughout a web conference.
At first, it will take practice to move your eyes away from the material you are presenting. You may need to write reminders in your notes. Initially, you will need to pause, scan your screen, address chat comments or other relevant participant interactions, then pick up where you left off. Eventually, this technique of scanning the room will become much more natural and you’ll be able to simultaneously present your material and notice chat texts and other interactions by participants. A skilled web conferencing facilitator can weave in chat comments, poll results and other participant interactions seamlessly into a presentation at the appropriate moments. This skill is the result of continuously monitoring the entire screen. Just as Andy learns in the bar scene in the movie, when you start using your peripherals, you increase your chances of more interactions and it will make you look like a pro!