7 ways to hook your audience when presenting online

Guilty! I admit it. I’ve logged into online presentations, turning off the camera and mic.

All very convenient as this gave me enough time to check my email, send a couple of WhatsApp messages and then put an Ikea cabinet together.

According to research by InterCall, the conference call company, audiences are engaged in a number of activities while on conference calls.

Everything from doing other work (65%), to online shopping (21%).

Here are 7 ways – some subtle and others more explicit – of keeping your audience engaged in online presentations so you don’t end up talking to the air and your message lands with impact.

1. Avoid word heavy slides

A picture or a video is much more memorable. Our brains think associatively. This means a visual element that embraces your topic will simultaneously fire off all the connections to that topic.

The fact that we remember pictures more than words is down to the Picture Superiority Effect whereby if information is presented orally, we remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. That figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture.  You’ll find more about visuals right here.

Months after I’ve presented, attendees will remark on a picture I included and tell me why it was so significant to them.

The other point to factor in is that you have no idea what screen size the audience is using so keeping your slides simple is key.

2. Say ‘YOU’ frequently

This is one of the most powerful words in the English language. I recall attending a Sales Awards dinner, with about 20 Sales teams at various stages of inebriation. After the meal, two speakers had the unenviable task of engaging the audience.  The audience treated the first speaker as if he were little more than a sheet of mist.

The second one used ‘you’ from the get-go and dropped it in throughout, hooking the audience, despite them being full of booze.

3. Get them to do something

Asking questions to your audience is always effective but… and this is a big ‘but’ with online presenting…when people don’t know each other, they’re less likely to speak up so you get these huge silences.

Encourage them to use the chat box. This way, those who are feeling less forthcoming will be involved in an online presentation.

A more subtle way to involve your audience is to invite them to imagine something.  For example, “Imagine how easy your job would be, Karl, if you didn’t have to hunt around for documents to put into bids, and it was already easily accessible in the Cloud.”

Having them envision a problem or solution is a highly effective engagement technique in both remote or in-person presentations.

4. Use peoples’ names

Even in a crowded room with indistinguishable conversation, you’re hard-wired to pick out a mention of your name.

Apart from the fact that it’s the quickest way to gain the attention of others, it adds a personal touch which increases involvement.

Online there’s no eye cue to show who you’re addressing so mentioning the names of others is even more important, especially if you have questions, as you’ll read below.

5. Ask questions

Mostly you’d want these questions to be closed in a presentation, where they require a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, not wide open, such as “What do you think about…?”

If you’re asking a specific person, remember to heed point no.5 and say peoples’ names.  If you’re addressing everyone, tell them.  The silence that falls after a question is usually due to the audience not knowing who to address.

The second reason is because they’re not sure how to respond so give a clear instruction.  For example, they may respond with an emoji, in the chat, hands up or take themselves off mute to respond verbally

 6. Be visible

I’ve had clients that tape over their webcam so that they can’t be seen. Isn’t that like crouching behind a lectern with a live audience?

We need to see your face and hand gestures because research from Kellogg School in association with Stanford has shown that movement has impact on how the viewer acts. They discovered that using open gesture increases your influence and the strength of your message. We want more of you than your stunning face, so step back or push the screen away slightly so we can see your hands too.

Look here how to use the 2-finger salute to add more physical presence on screen.

7. Increase vocal energy

You know how fish sleep with their eyes open? Well, that’s your in-person audience when the speaker’s voice is monotonous.

When online, they’re probably not even in earshot and you wouldn’t know it. As your full physical presence is somewhat abridged, using vocal emphasis and differentiating with pitch and pace will keep your audience’s attention. Ensure you’re even more conscious of tonal variations in online presenting.

Your Actions:

  1. For your next presentation, underline the key words in the opening section.
  2. Record yourself doing this, firstly without moving, then gesture on the key words / phrases you’ve underlined. Which one sounds better? You’ll find that when you move, your voice has more colour.
  3. Practise in front of the mirror so you get used to 1) seeing yourself (yes, get used to that. We’ll love you anyway) and 2) using gesture.
  4. Use ‘you’ as soon as possible.
  5. Knock out the bullet points and replace with pictures where you can. You can always send out notes after.
  6. Find at least 2 points in the presentation where where you can encourage your audience to use ‘chat’.

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