A recent survey by Prezi found that almost half the respondents admitted to doing something other than listening to their co-worker’s presentation during an online meeting – 28% said they used the time to send texts, 27% to write emails and worse still, 17% confessed to having a quick nap!

Delivering a presentation via a conference call or webinar requires a different approach to face-to-face presentations when you can look your audience in the eye. The relationship with your audience can seem distant and a different dynamic comes into play. Building rapport must be done swiftly and it can be harder to depend on personal charisma in the same way as in a face-to-face context.

Here are some suggestions to make sure your online presentation hits the spot.

  1. Create a warm welcome

Your participants will inevitably log in at different times leaving you with time to fill. Prepare a couple of slides to help you. Include housekeeping or ground rules so that everyone has a clear idea of their role in the meeting and how you expect them to interact with you. Why not also include an ice-breaking question for those who arrive early to discuss? It could be as simple as ‘Share a recent success’ or ‘What’s the one thing you would like to change?’ or a topic more closely related to the theme of the meeting or webinar. If your attendees are global you could include a world map and ask them to mark where they are and what time it is or what the weather is like. Sparking conversation between participants can help with team dynamics or creating a sense of community on a webinar.

  1. Check audience understanding

Without those all-important visual cues, you can’t gauge your audience’s physical or emotional reactions and it is far more challenging to be sure they are following your presentation. Build in regular check-ins such as Q&A or knowledge check slides. And of course, make sure you have a clear summary at the end with actions and follow up as appropriate.

  1. Design engaging content

Remember that when people feel invisible, they are far more likely to multi-task and it is easy to ‘lose’ them. Your slides need to be visually stimulating, memorable and easy to understand: brief reminders to support what you say rather than the main event.

  • Bear in mind that some attendees will join via mobile or tablet and so will not be able to read detailed text or data. Slides with too much text are confusing and hard to read.
  • Remember that your audience may experience a time lapse between each slide loading and will need time to digest.
  • Make sure that your you keep plenty of white space around your slides to allow for other elements of your virtual meeting room to overlap.
  • Less is not always more when preparing presentation slides for online delivery and best practice suggests you need close to double the sides you might have in a face-to-face presentation. If the screen is static for too long your audience will navigate away and look at something else. Instead, where you might use several images, questions or points on one slide when presenting in a bricks-and-mortar room, spread your information over several slides and use animation to keep the screen alive.
  • Use simple images that serve a purpose rather than as decoration. Images which resonate with your audience and represent key concepts are often better for engaging your audience and provoking discussion. Websites such as Unsplash offer free downloads which you can use to create memorable slides.
  1. Keep your audience with you

One of the best ways to keep your audience focused is to include them in your story. Story-telling, according to Nathan Gold a professional public-speaking coach, is the most universal way to capture your audience’s attention. People automatically tune in when you start telling a story because they want to find out what happens next, so try to build your presentation like a story and build suspense – and where appropriate involve your audience.

  1. Finish on a positive note

If you want your audience to log off feeling they spent their time well, remember:

  • Leave time for questions. If you set an hour for the presentation, at least 10 minutes should be used for questions and discussion. Take care to include anyone who may not feel comfortable speaking out in a virtual meeting by ensuring voice and text chat have equal airtime. On a webinar or training presentation, you may want to plant a couple of interesting questions with a trusted audience member or at least make sure you have examples ready to share in case your audience goes quiet.
  • End on time. If you have prepared your presentation with clear timings and practised sufficiently you should finish on time. People are busy so show respect by closing at the designated time so they can join their next meeting. Make sure that everyone knows that you will be sending a recording and/or materials and how to ask any unanswered questions.

Preparation is crucial for any presentation to be successful but it is even more important when you are unable to observe your attendees’ reactions or look them in the eye. Finding the balance between fast-paced yet clear, visually stimulating but without animation overkill, participative but still informative can be a fine art. Take time to prepare and practise, practise and practise – and you will never look back!