In the decade or so that I’ve been teaching people to present online, there is one theme that comes up over and over again: how do we get people to actually pay attention to the webinars we present?
The greatest concerns of online presenters during webmeetings, webinars and training is that people are answering emails, walking the dog, playing Minesweeper or doing anything other than paying attention to what’s actually being presented. When I ask people how they know this is occurring, they sheepishly admit it’s what THEY do when they are on the receiving end.
The notion that the audience should magically behave in a different manner simply because you are the presenter is hypocritical at best, and bat-guano crazy at worst. If you expect people to pay attention simply because it’s “polite,” or “the right thing to do,” well, you have more faith in the human condition than I do, my friends.
Here’s the question I ask everyone: What do you do to earn their attention?
People are very good at paying attention when motivated to do so. Here are some of the reasons people will actually focus on your virtual presentation (and why they often don’t):
Do people know why they’re even there? How often have you been on a webinar or meeting and asked yourself, “why am I even here?” or “why is this more important than the other seven things I could be doing right now?” Gaining attention and mindshare starts before the online presentation even starts. The invitation, and the opening of the webinar, should contain explicit benefits of attending and why it matters to the attendee. What will they learn and why does it matter?
If people show up interested, you have a chance of keeping them that way. If they show up already disconnected and looking for an out, it’s tough to get them back.
If it’s so important, why doesn’t my boss know that? When I’m teaching an online class or leading a meeting, I often get private chat messages saying that people are getting pinged by their boss to answer a question or do something else.
The message, and not a very subtle one at that, is that this meeting, training or webinar is less important than another task. Some of this is the fault of attendees not setting “do not disturb” status updates, or letting their boss know they’ll be occupied, but a lot of this rests on the manager. If you assign someone to attend an online presentation, let them attend it. They’ll still be there when it’s over.
Don’t take it so personally, we fall asleep in front of the TV, too. Human beings have limited attention spans, and that’s not improving any time soon. If your audience is not interested in the topic, or passively staring at the screen and not seeing anything remotely interesting, they will tune out. Usually that means finding something more interesting to occupy their time (email, clearing their “to do “ list), occasionally it means hearing what sounds suspiciously like snoring on the other end of the line.
There are plenty of ways to engage the audience. For the love of heaven at least use one of them. People engage with content in multiple ways: visually (is there something worth looking at?) auditory (how interesting or easy is it to keep listening?) and kinesthetic (am I actually DOING something?)
If the presenter isn’t showing me anything worth looking at, my eyes look elsewhere for stimulation. If I can’t hear, or the presenter is monotone and dull, I will tune out. If I am expected to sit passively for a while, I will seek stimulation elsewhere. Webinar tools allow us to engage our audiences in all these ways. Yet 80% of presenters use fewer than 20% of the available features.
So rather than blame the audience for not paying attention to the pearls of wisdom you’re presenting, let’s turn it on you. What are you doing to earn the audience’s attention - attention you don’t always provide other speakers yourself?