Great Leadership

Superficial vs. Meaningful Engagement: What is the Difference and Why Do You Need to Know?

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Thomas Dawson2021-08-19

Whether in the room, hybrid, or fully remote, real-time interaction with your audience has never been more accessible. With tools like Zoom and Teams now facilitating quick polls, and dedicated audience engagement platforms like Mentimeter providing a variety of tools for real-time interaction, now is a good time to unpack the difference between superficial and meaningful engagement. We ask the question why is this distinction important, and when should you deploy one or the other?

Opinion Flow gif

The best place to start is probably by taking each term in isolation and unpacking what they mean. Moving on to discuss the merits of each and when to utilise one or the other.

Superficial Engagement

Superficial engagement is forms of audience interaction that are more surface level and controllable by the speaker leading the meeting, workshop, or classroom. This type of engagement often takes the form of quick polls and votes. The participants can select from a set of predetermined options, which is where the element of control and predictability comes from for the leader.

Plan the Next Quarter

Plan the Next Quarter

Engaging your audience in this way can often be more time efficient and provide a useful set-up for leading into the content you want to cover. You can utilise this kind of engagement to take the temperature of the room, with a serious check-in or with a light-hearted icebreaker. You limit the ability of the audience to fully express themselves when you use this type of interaction, but this can help you as the leader to dictate the direction of the meeting’s content, allowing participants to nudge it one way or another but reducing the chances of the meeting being derailed entirely by the emergence of irrelevant information.

Meaningful Engagement

Meaningful engagement sits in contrast to superficial engagement, in that it represents the unrestrained input of participants. While quick polls are quick - and easy - they only tell you so much. They also only engage your audience so much. Research has shown that participants in meetings are much more interested and attentive when they can make explicit contributions to the meeting, rather than only being able to show an indication of their thoughts through predetermined options.

Plan the Theme for Our Next Event

Plan the Theme for Our Next Event

Giving participants the opportunity to express their opinions in their own words demonstrates a placement of value by you as the speaker on to them as the audience. It reduces the power dynamic and the distance between speaker and audience. Transferring power away from yourself and towards your colleagues or students helps them to feel more invested in the content of the meeting or lesson, meaning both you and they gain more from the time spent on the exercise, and making the whole process more efficient and effective.

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Meaningful engagement can take the form of word clouds on the more restrained end of the scale, or in the form of opinion slides in Mentimeter where the audience can express themselves in full sentences and each response is given equal weight. Q&A’s are also a good and more direct form of meaningful engagement. This can of course be done verbally, both live in the room or through video conferencing software. But using a digital interface like Mentimeter’s Q&A slide type adds both an element of structure, control, and anonymity that makes for a more constructive meaningful engagement session.

Which to use when?

In general, a useful rule of thumb is to use superficial forms of engagement at the start of a meeting - and potentially at various stages throughout - and to use more meaningful forms of engagement towards the end of the session. This helps to maintain the agenda and any pre-planning that went into the content of the meeting. It is not helpful to risk a change of course mid-meeting, and especially not right at the start.

However, you should make use of meaningful engagement to foster a deeper connection with you and your audience. Meaningful engagement is a key tool for when you really want to capture interest and maintain attention. For this reason it is possible to utilise a more open question, or something like a word cloud early on to capture the attention and focus the minds of your audience. But this form of engagement is usually best deployed at the end of a session, it allows for your audience to provide unmitigated input and to share their opinion freely, which fosters a stronger sense of inclusion. Meaning participants feel invested, contribute with greater enthusiasm and energy, making the meeting more efficient and effective.

To read more about engagement in a hybrid setting, with practical tips and advice for getting the most out of Mentimeter, follow up this blog post with this one.