Here’s why your audience is zoning out

Meetings, especially, since lockdown, have been crammed into diaries like sardines in a can. In between those meetings, you had to suffer virtual presentations.

Now, some may have been informative, relevant or even inspiring.  I can think of…one, brilliantly delivered by my then-colleague, Akosua Bonsu.  Two points I remember about that were her combination of storytelling and facts.

However, many of us took a leaf out the goldfish book: we learned to sleep with our eyes open.

It’s not only the stresses of those years in our hives that this unengagement still persists.

One reason is that everyone is invited to a meeting or presentation which is relevant only to a few.  There’s also the situation where only part of a presentation is relevant to everyone but then it’s difficult to have them drop in or out at will during that 20 minutes or so.

So what makes the difference between getting the results you want from your virtual presentations and the ones that flop?


1. They’re too long 

Personally, I think any talk is too long if it’s boring. 5 minutes would be too long with a monotonous delivery or unengaging content.


2. They don’t care

Sometimes, you’ve been given a stack of slides to present. There’s no key message so you’re not motivating your audience and because you’re only acting as a cipher for someone else’s project or pitch deck, you don’t care either. A presentation might look like stone but it’s clay. Mould it make it your own.


3. No vocal variation

Even if there’s connection to the subject, self consciousness rids the speaker of their the highs and lows of pitch. The pace is constant. When we speak, these naturally change because of the way we prioritise information and fluctuate emotionally.

It’s particularly common when people are reading a script. Generally, I discourage this practice but there are situations where this is necessary, in the police force, for example. And sight reading’s a skill for which training is necessary.

Even with no script, your voice tone can be optimised as can the way you use it. Start with this 5 minute video to add more vocal variety.


4. Overly planned

The speaker is sticking to an unnecessary script like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to a log. There’s no room for off-script moments that allow interaction with the room – virtual or otherwise. That sinks any personality. Excessive prepping is due to being unaware how to use prompt cards or a lack of knowledge of engagement techniques.


5. No setting expectations

Perhaps the speaker wants the audience feedback but hasn’t told them. They may have vaguely indicated it but not mentioned what they want feedback on. So people mentally check out. By setting expectations at the beginning, the audience listens with greater intent. Audiences are often mixed in ways such as concerns, specialisms or levels. Using a caveat in the opening means that of your talking from say a technical perspective, the non-tech people will stay with you as they know you’ll be speaking to their interests as well. Here’s what a caveat looks like.


6. Too technical

Sometimes it simply doesn’t need to be technical at all but that can be challenging if you’re a detail oriented techie. On the other hand, when a speaker dumbs down the content, you may be inclined to switch off. Here’s some advice for bridging that gap so you’re not talking over people’s heads or resorting to ‘an idiot’s guide’.


Your Action

Not all of these will be relevant at all times and it only takes work on a few of these points to make a massive difference.

  1. On your next presentation, find someone to hear you speak through your content.
  2. Request they do these 2 actions before you share your content:
      • note which points they find relevant or insightful.
      • write down any technical concepts or phrases that they don’t understand
  3. At the same time, record yourself.  You only need to play back a short section (about 1 minute) to determine whether your voice has enough variety in pitch, pace and intonation.


Is there particular reason that causes you to zone out when listening to a virtual presentation? Let me know in the comments Arrow

Image by Airdone on




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