I once made a sandwich, responded to an email, and let the dog out – all while “watching” a virtual presentation. I’m not proud. And I’m not alone.

InterCall, the world’s largest conference call company found that audiences are engaged in a number of activities while on conference calls. For example:office-freelancer-computer-business-38604

  • Doing other work (65%)
  • Eating or making food (55%)
  • On-line shopping (21%)

It’s not a huge leap to conclude that similar behaviors extend to a virtual presentation where the cloak of invisibility and easy access to multiple devices invites the opportunity to escape.

When you are presenting virtually, maintaining your audience’s attention presents a unique set of challenges. Understanding how to keep your audience engaged, and working with the challenges of the medium, requires some strategic but necessary adjustments in the design and delivery of your on-line presentation. Here are 5 key adjustments you should make:

5 Tips for a Great Virtual Presentation

  1. Get Visible.

Many presenters complain that they can’t see their audience. But the bigger problem is that they can’t see you. Studies show that there are few things as compelling to humans as another human face. Add in the fact that 90% of how humans communicate is through nonverbal cues like gestures and facial expressions, and you realize what a disadvantage this lack of visibility is online!

The easiest and most effective way to be more visible is to use a webcam. It’s THE MOST effective way to make a stronger connection with your audience. The more you can make yourself visible — and not just a disembodied voice — the more engaged your audience will be. Uncomfortable on-camera? Look no further…

  1. Leverage your voice.

With the physical component removed from your presentation, the burden falls on your voice to keep your audience engaged. Any vocal weaknesses (soft voice, monotone, fast-pace) are magnified in the virtual world. As your primary communication tool online, make sure you are in your best possible voice. Start by recording yourself and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, then get to work. There is plenty of advice on-line about how to improve various vocal issues. At the least, do some simple warm-ups before you jump on-line. Just like a great vocal artist, your mouth is money; don’t treat it lightly.

  1. Embrace the pause.

Virtual presenters often respond to typically quiet audiences by filling every moment with talk. But these long monologues do more damage, encouraging audience tune out and discouraging participation. The anecdote is to pause more often and longer than feels comfortable. Even a three-second pause (which can feel like an eternity!) gives your audience a chance to process what you’ve said, ask a question, or make a comment. A pause can also build anticipation or reinforce a key point.

  1. Use a “Soft” opening.

When you have more than one person attending your virtual presentation, arrival times can be scattered. So how do you avoid frustrating the people who are on time without penalizing the latecomers? How about two openings? The first opening, or “soft” opening is strictly for engaging and rewarding your on time audience. A soft opening might be a poll on an issue that leads into your topic, or a quick video. It should be interesting, relevant and most importantly, not vital to your audience’s understanding of your presentation. The second opening is your hard opening and it’s reserved for when everyone is in attendance. While this double opening is a bit more work, it pays off big when managing a larger group.

  1. Interact often.

The average focused attention span of humans is right around 5 minutes (and probably less on-line!) To avoid the attention nose dive, plan some form of interaction with your audience every 2-3 minutes. Whether it’s questions, polls, videos, or white-boarding, incorporating interaction consistently throughout your presentation will keep your audience engaged and less likely to reach for their smartphone.

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