Why people don't pay attention on webinars

Feb 26 2013 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I have been doing a lot of speaking to people about their webinars lately, and the main question is "how do you keep people interested and involved?" Well that's a good question, but if you're seeking a solution to that problem, the real question should be, "why don't they pay attention in the first place?".

Here are five reasons people get distracted:

There is a lot going on. Whatever meeting or webinar people are on in the moment is only part of an over-scheduled, hectic day. When they're on line with you, they're not doing something else. People need to understand how the time spent on your webinar will be an investment, not a depletion of a scarce resource (their precious time). Always set context for your audience by stressing the results of your time together, and why it's worth their attention.

They don't have to look you in the eye. We have said this before, the main reason people don't answer emails - or simply walk right out to do something they consider more valuable - in face to face meetings is social. You are a person, and it would be rude. Online they don't have to meet your eyes as they wander off or answer email.

One way to overcome that is to use a meeting platform that actually monitors attention (you can tell when they're on another screen on their computer or device). Set groundrules. Tell them you can see when they're not on the main meeting screen, and most importantly. Maybe send a private chat message to them if you see them "wandering off" or becoming strangely silent. Don't scold them like children, but hold people accountable.

It's physically difficult to maintain focus online for a long time. If you've ever fallen asleep in front of the television you know this is an involuntary response, but still real. Long sessions staring at a screen (over an hour, certainly 90 minutes) without breaks, are more than mere mortals can physically handle. If they are not actively involved (at the very least speaking occasionally) their brains seek something more stimulating than your project status update.

They've been trained and rewarded to multi-task. Be honest, we all sometimes confuse activity with accomplishment. To just sit when there are emails to be answered, or something done that we can do in addition to sitting passively in a webinar, we will do it just to feel like we actually accomplished something with our day. By the way, if you're sending them email or responding to it during the webinar, you're part of the problem.

It's really hard to maintain focus when you don't care. This one is on us as webinar presenters. Have we invited the right people? If so, do they come in knowing what the webinar is about and what's expected of them? Is the topic introduced in a way that addresses anything they care about or is it all about you and your objectives?

People will pay a ridiculous amount of attention on information they think is relevant. They have no time for something that won't benefit them. Is what you're presenting more valuable to them than whatever else is going on in their world? If not, be prepared to struggle for their attention.

Is your webinar or webmeeting planned, designed and delivered in a way that commands attention and focus? Or are you just another screen and disembodied voice that interrupts more important work?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.