How to keep members’ attention during your online presentation

Remember those days where you could stare into the audience to see if what you are saying was making an impact or even stare at a few people to see if they are paying attention.

Maybe that last bit is just me.

With more of us just speaking to our laptop and hoping that the system we are using will at least let us see a few faces on the screen to see if they are still with us, it’s a completely different experience for the presenter as well as those watching and taking part.

It’s not always easy to replicate the same levels of excitement and energy of a real, live event and keep them engaged. They’re looking back at me, but their virtual experience is so different from when we met in person.

And with more and more of us running virtual meetings, workshops, events, webinars etc to support our online groups to help them stay active and thrive we need to adapt.

Below we detail out three of the common challenges your online group members will have and four ways you can deal with those challenges.

1. The physical environment

We are not all blessed with our own office at home, and space where we can block out the noise of everything that’s going on around us. Sometimes we are working from the kitchen table, in the living room and we may have to venture to the bedroom for a little bit of peace and quiet. You also have the issue with looking at a screen, continuously. You may have already been looking at it for a few hours already. Just seeing slide after slide of text or a single person talking will not make you automatically switch into that engaged mode where you can listen and take part, which you may have been able to do when you attended a presentation in person. The entire audience experience has changed with everyone participating in the event from their home environment.

2. Multitasking

We all do it, you go into listening mode and an email or messenger pops up and you’ll go to just quickly answer it as you’re still listening in, and then all of a sudden you're down the rabbit hole. As you're no longer in that physical shared space where it’s easy to see that you're not engaged, you feel that you can do it all, but will probably miss out on something key.

3. Tedium

Those people who struggled to engage the audience during presentations or meetings face to face might be finding it more challenging to do so virtually. Some presentations tend to use the same format too, where the guest speaker talks with boring, unimaginative slides in the background. And if you have had to attend 10 or so of the same presentation style this week, it’s no wonder you lose interest.

So how do you deal with these three challenges? How do you plan and deliver a virtual presentation that will keep people engaged?

Here are a few tips that I have picked up over the last few years of running virtual presentations where I have presented but also where I have been a host to other great presenters.

1. Stand up or sit down

Personally, I don’t think it matters - it’s what you feel comfortable with and your style of presentation. If you are going to stand up make sure your audio is clear and you stay on the screen. If you choose to sit down, don’t feel you have to stay still. Just relax and feel like you are in a conversation.

2. Start with a bang

If you're great at doing your own introduction and it brings something to the party, go for it. If not, let the host introduce you as it provides a different voice. There is a reason why radio shows always have more than one voice. You can do something new, provocative, unexpected, unique, or you can tell them what they are going to get out of it and why they should listen or even how they can take part.

3. Keep it visual

Ariel size 20 and 10 bullet points per slide is a no no. You can make text fun and engaging and there are lots of great examples out there that you can use. But don’t forget to use relevant and appropriate visuals to help you get your messages across. Using simple images, gifs, video, graphs, comics, quotes etc. can help you tell the story and keep the audience engaged, and reinforce the content you are sharing.

4. Make it fun and interactive

From previous virtual presentations having a nice blend of the fun, engaging elements can take the session to another level. Polls, breakout rooms, virtual whiteboards, great stories, chat discussions and Q&As can bring the audience into the session. Allow them time to contemplate and react to what you say. Where possible, try to keep each section or topic of your presentation to under 8 minutes while using other interactive activities to help mix up the format for your audience.

What tips do you have for hosting virtual presentations with your online group? We would love to hear what works well for you and your members.


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