Unlike with face-to-face presentations, during a webinar there’s no speaker to focus the audience’s visual attention; nor can the presenter see the audience to gauge their interest or pick up on cues. And because the audience is sitting at their desks, it’s all too easy for them to become distracted by work: are they checking and responding to email instead of listening to what your speaker has to say?
Inevitably the visual focus of a webinar becomes the slides. But, just as with a face-to-face presentation, the audience really doesn’t want to sit and listen to the presenter read a set of slides. If that’s what you expect them to do, don’t be surprised if they simply do something else or leave.
In fact, reading any kind of script can be a turnoff if it’s clear to the audience that that’s what the presenter is doing. When the presenter can’t be seen, the quality of their spoken delivery is critical: the audience needs to feel that the speaker is opening a conversation with them, not reading aloud to what could just as easily be an empty room.
Keep the focus on the screen
As well as working on the tone and rhythm of the delivery, here are our top tips for keeping an online, invisible audience attentive:
- With the slides as the only visual focus, make them visually interesting. Even more so than in face-to-face presentations, images are a good idea. Only a visually and emotionally engaged audience will avoid multitasking during a webinar.
- Use more slides. In a face-to-face presentation you don’t want constant slide movement to distract the audience’s attention from the speaker. But in a webinar you should keep the visual pace moving briskly along: using slide builds, meaningful animations, highlights, or a new slide every 30 seconds on average to keep the audience engaged.
- Regularly break up the presentation (and the visual movement) with planned audience interactions using web tools such as an instant poll, or a hands-up indicator for a show of hands, or use of the virtual whiteboard.
- Include one or more Q&A sessions. Use the invisibility of the audience to your advantage: prepare some stimulating ‘questions from the audience’ in advance and use them if nobody actually asks any.