Engaging Your Online Presentation Audience — 15 Best Practices from the Experts

With major corpo­ra­tions such as Hewlett-Packard and Symantec swit­ching to online meetings to increase atten­dance numbers, amongst other bene­fits, it is time for busi­nesses of all sizes to embrace tech­no­logy and take presen­ta­tions online. However, some first-time online presen­ters may be concerned about the chal­lenges of presen­ting online. On the other hand, experts who host dozens of online presen­ta­tions every year will tell you that the key to success is the same when presen­ting in person — it’s all about knowing how to engage your audi­ence. In this post, we share some insights from some of the most renowned marke­ting autho­ri­ties, who have kindly taken the time to tell us how they make online presen­ta­tions more engaging.

Top Challenges with Online Presentations

For many presen­ters, virtual presen­ta­tions are new and it may present a lear­ning curve. Regard­less of your presen­ting expe­ri­ence, when you’re new to online presen­ta­tions it’s common to feel unfa­mi­liar with the following:

Visua­li­zing a Virtual Audi­ence — Being unable to see the audi­ence face-to-face could put a presenter off, as he/she is unable to make eye-contact and know that they are listening.

Distrac­tions & Multi­tas­king — When enga­ging in a virtual presen­ta­tion, it is easy to lose the atten­tion of the audi­ence members to email, social media, and any other distrac­tions. (However, due to a constant state of “connec­ted­ness” nowa­days, this is even a problem in face-to-face presentations.)

However just like any new task, nerves are quickly replaced with expe­ri­ence and skills. Learn how to engage your audi­ence online, and the chal­lenges will quickly become a thing of the past.

What Do The Experts Recommend?

I recently spoke with seven expe­ri­enced webinar hosts who regu­larly hold online presen­ta­tions – some who have presented to thousands of online atten­dees in just the last 12 months alone.

As a company who provides online presen­ta­tion soft­ware, it was very inte­res­ting and insightful for me to speak with and learn from these online presen­ta­tion pros.

As a user of online presen­ta­tion soft­ware, you will no doubt feel the same and gain some valu­able tips for how to best engage an online presen­ta­tion audience.

Get Off on the Right Foot

As a presenter, it is important that you lead by example and set the tone for the presen­ta­tion from the get-go.

1. Pre-Record Your Presentation

Gini Diet­rich, CEO of Arment Diet­rich, Inc. and author of Spin Sucks regu­larly hosts webi­nars targeted at PR and marke­ting profes­sio­nals, but she admits that presen­ting to a virtual audi­ence who you cannot see is not always easy. “You don’t know if they’re laug­hing at your jokes or rolling their eyes at you. You can’t tell if they’re bored. You don’t know if they’re multi-tasking,” Gini explains.

Her stra­tegy, there­fore, incor­po­rates what she calls “enga­ge­ment checks” that help you keep a finger on the pulse of your audi­ence to see how you’re doing and whether you need to course correct.

As her first enga­ge­ment check, Gini recom­mends pre-recording your presen­ta­tion. ”There are several bene­fits to it, inclu­ding having a back-up if tech­no­logy fails you (we once lost live audio during a presen­ta­tion), being able to tweak things you don’t like, and being avail­able for ques­tions while the recording is playing. The latter is the most important, because people have ques­tions that pop up, need more detail, or some­times they just want you to spell out some­thing you just said. Running a pre-recorded video during the “live” portion of the webinar allows you to attend to all of that.”

“Use “enga­ge­ment checks” to figure out how you’re doing and if you need to course correct. Some ways to do that include: Pre-record your presen­ta­tion, use social media to take ques­tions, enable the chat box.”

GINI DIETRICH, CEO, ARMENT DIETRICH INC.

(Read about Gini’s second and third enga­ge­ment checks, “social media” and a “chat box”, below.)

2. Be Ready for Questions and Problems

Stef Miller, Marke­ting Manager at User­Tes­ting is an expe­ri­enced webinar host, and often shares her profes­sional expe­ri­ence in user beha­vior and user expe­ri­ence (UX) to her online audi­ences. When I spoke with Stef about enga­ging with an online audi­ence, she was strongly in favor of webinar hosts having a process for hand­ling ques­tions. When User­Tes­ting and Stef host an online presen­ta­tion, she usually has an addi­tional team member who listens along. “When new ques­tions are submitted through the plat­form they prio­ri­tize and add them to a previously-shared google doc with me so we can make the most out of our exper­tise and be respon­sive to attendees.”

Thue Madsen, Marke­ting Opera­tions Manager at Kiss­metrics, also commented on the impor­t­ance of trans­pa­rent webinar hosting. Thue, who has hosted over 50 webi­nars in the last year with more than 15,000 atten­dees, says that if you ever encounter tech­nical diffi­cul­ties you should acknow­ledge those issues. Of course, to avoid and mini­mize those problems it’s important that prior to any online presen­ta­tion you test your internet connec­tion and invest in a good micro­phone – some­thing that Thue was quick to recommend.

“When new ques­tions are submitted through the plat­form they prio­ri­tize and add them to a previously-shared google doc so we can make the most out of our exper­tise and be respon­sive to attendees.”

STEF MILLER, MARKETING MANAGER, USERTESTING

3. Introduce yourself as an authority figure

Use the first slide to intro­duce yourself, and explain the struc­ture and the objec­tives of your presen­ta­tion. Speak with autho­rity and confi­dence right from the start. Anne­marie de Jong, an Opti­miz­a­tion Consul­tant at Opti­mi­zely, is an expert in inst­ruc­ting marke­ting profes­sio­nals via online presen­ta­tions on how to create the optimal expe­ri­ence for website visi­tors. She believes that it is important for your audi­ence to see you as an expert in the field and does so by empha­si­zing creden­tials and expe­ri­ence to create a strong start. “I start by high­ligh­ting that I am an Opti­miz­a­tion Consul­tant who has helped nume­rous enter­prise orga­niz­a­tions in opti­mi­zing their web and mobile customer expe­ri­ence to increase conver­sions and revenue.” she explains.

“Make sure the audi­ence sees you as an autho­rity on the subject that you are talking about. When you intro­duce yourself, make sure that you empha­size the creden­tials and expe­ri­ence that you have.”

ANNEMARIE DE JONG, OPTIMIZATION CONSULTANT, OPTIMIZELY

4. Set expectations from the very start

Once Anne­marie has intro­duced herself, she goes on to setting expec­ta­tions for the session to ensure her audi­ence make good use of their time. “For example, list the 3 goals of the presen­ta­tion and also reem­pha­size the target audi­ence (which was hope­fully also done in the promo­tion of the webinar). This will ensure that people get their “money’s worth” and also likely increase their satis­fac­tion with the session.”

Thue Madsen seconds Annemarie’s view­point on setting expec­ta­tions in an online presen­ta­tion. “Inform your audi­ence of the presen­ta­tion format and whether the presen­ta­tion will be recorded for later play­back. And notify the early atten­dees, when the live presen­ta­tion will begin.”

“Set expec­ta­tions by informing them of the format, Q&A time, replays or record­ings, when the event will start, etc. And… test your internet connection!”

THUE MADSEN, MARKETING OPERATIONS MANAGER, KISSMETRICS

Create an Enriching Experience

Good content will keep your audi­ence engaged, and there­fore, it pays to invest time and money in crea­ting a profes­sional-looking, well thought-through presentation.

5. Include Plenty of Rich Visuals

It’s impos­sible to success­fully prepare a killer presen­ta­tion without consi­de­ring the visuals. After all, you want to obtain and keep the atten­tion of your audi­ence for the entire dura­tion of the presen­ta­tion and your visuals play a key role here. Create visually-rich presen­ta­tions and your viewers will want to stay on the screen.

“Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in your brain than text, while only 20% remember text.”
- Neo Mamma­lian Studios

Stef Miller had this to say about crea­ting presen­ta­tion visuals: “People who are willing to give us their time and atten­tion deserve a great show! Never skimp on enter­tai­ning and beau­tiful presen­ta­tions.” If you get this right, great visuals are not only a great benefit to your audi­ence but can help you reach people even beyond your audi­ence. Stef explains: “We find that slides that are desi­gned to maxi­mize sharing — desi­gned with a ‘tweet’ in mind — perform really well.”

“People who are willing to give us their time and atten­tion deserve a great show! Never skimp on enter­tai­ning and beau­tiful presentations.”

STEF MILLER, MARKETING MANAGER, USERTESTING

6. Be Interactive with a “Worksheet”

Find crea­tive ways to collect feed­back about your presen­ta­tion, or to interact further. Our fifth presen­ta­tion expert is Brandon Turner. As the VP of Growth at BiggerPockets.com, Brandon has perso­nally hosted 50 webi­nars in the last 12 months on dozens of topics with more than 70,000 attendees.

“For enga­ging my audi­ence, I like to create short one-page work­s­heets that I will email out before the event. This simple work­s­heet takes less than five minutes to create in Google Docs and is a simple “Fill in the blank” work­s­heet with 5–8 ques­tions that can be easily answered by someone watching the presen­ta­tion,” he explains.

“This work­s­heet accom­plishes a few goals: first, it makes the listener pay close atten­tion, as to not miss one of the ques­tions. Next, it encou­rages the reader to stay all the way through the end of the presen­ta­tion. Third, it enforces the key points I want them to walk away from, thus incre­a­sing their reten­tion. Finally, it allows me to build up anti­ci­pa­tion before the webinar begins, as the subscriber typi­cally opens the work­s­heet to scan it when they receive it, thus making them curious about what the answers are.”

The team at Kiss­metrics have an inte­res­ting and very effec­tive way of getting their audi­ence members to interact during an online presen­ta­tion: “We really like contests where we hide little gems in the presen­ta­tion for the audi­ence to find,” adds Thue Madsen.

“This work­s­heet makes the listener pay close atten­tion, encou­rages the reader to stay all the way through, enforces the key points, and allows me to build up anticipation.”

BRANDON TURNER, VP OF GROWTH, BIGGERPOCKETS.COM

7. Address Questions on the Go

Another way to engage with your audi­ence keep their atten­tion on the web presen­ta­tion mate­rial is to answer ques­tions on the fly. Tim Paige is a believer in striking while the iron is hot. Tim is a Conver­sion Educator at Lead­Pages, an expe­ri­enced webinar host, and an expert in online sales and conver­sion rate opti­miz­a­tion. “One of the biggest game chan­gers for me was to start answe­ring ques­tions in real-time, as the presen­ta­tion goes on. Doing this, as opposed to only answe­ring ques­tions in a Q&A at the end, has worked wonders for keeping people around until the end of the webinar (average 97% stick rate from begin­ning to end), conver­sions to sales (200% bump on webi­nars where ques­tions are asked throughout), and audi­ence feed­back. People feel like you’re addres­sing their indi­vi­dual issues, so they connect with you more… and it’s a handy way to prove that the webinar is *actually* live.”

Tim makes a very good point about the impor­t­ance of main­tai­ning a “live” feeling in your online presen­ta­tions. When you ask ques­tions, consider pausing while you wait for an answer. Like­wise, when you make an important state­ment, pause for 3 seconds. This will remind your audi­ence of the live nature of an online presen­ta­tion and that they are expected to respond at times, rather than listening to a one-sided conversation.

“Answe­ring ques­tions in real-time has worked wonders for keeping people around until the end (97% stick rate). And it’s a handy way to prove that the webinar is *actually* live.”

TIM PAIGE, CONVERSION EDUCATOR, LEADPAGES

8. Tell Stories

Anec­dotes, legends and any other type of rele­vant stories can help engage your audi­ence. A story can acti­vate a response in the brain (neural coupling) whereby they perso­na­lize the story.

Crea­ting a personal connec­tion via stories to engage with the audi­ence is a powerful tool for presen­ters such as Shaun Nestor. Speaker, entre­pre­neur, and Digital Marke­ting Mentor, Shaun consults 1000s of busi­ness owners about web marke­ting, in person and via webi­nars: “Even the most skep­tical parti­ci­pants want a genuine connec­tion with the presenter; don’t just share boring “about me” slides; share some­thing about you! Tell a story that creates a human connec­tion. If the audi­ence knows you can relate to their current situa­tion, not only will they remember you, but they’ll buy from you.”

In fact, by expe­ri­en­cing the same brain acti­vity as the rest of the audi­ence and the speaker, ever­yone reaches the same ‘wavelength’ — a handy tool for presen­ters. An emotio­nally-charged story can help the brain release dopa­mine, which will help the listener remember more accu­rately. “Be tangible in your examples and use real expe­ri­ences from your life to prove points. This enhances buy-in and makes it easier for the audi­ence to run with what they are lear­ning on their own,” said Thue Madsen.

“Tell a story that creates a human connec­tion. If the audi­ence knows you can relate to their current situa­tion, not only will they remember you, but they’ll buy from you.”

SHAUN NESTOR, DIGITAL MARKETING MENTOR

“When students are asked to recall the spee­ches, 63% remember the stories. Only 5% remember any indi­vi­dual statistic.”
– Chip & Dan Heath, Winning With Words

Be a Rockstar Presenter

9. Be Organized

When you feel in control of your topic and your tech­no­logy, it shows you in a posi­tive light. And the oppo­site applies if you’re not orga­nized. If you step into any presen­ta­tion unpre­pared, in person or online, it will show.

With dozens of online presen­ta­tions to his name in just 2015 alone, Thue Madsen believes an online presenter needs to find a routine and stand by it in order to be at the top of their game: “Create a process and stick with it. This will make plan­ning easier, the content better, and will boost your confi­dence. Most import­antly, the deli­ver­ance will be much better received both by the audi­ence but also by part­ner­s/co-presen­ters.”

However a webinar is not only about the time spent spea­king to your audi­ence. As part of this process, take into account what needs to be done before and after the online presen­ta­tion. Thue explains, “You don’t want your audi­ence to simply step in and out of your presen­ta­tion, as a stan­da­lone event. You want to create an expe­ri­ence, and you can accom­plish this with a clear plan for both pre and post tasks.” This might include sending out a presen­ta­tion agenda, some mate­rials to read up on, or a “work­s­heet” (as suggested above by Brandon Turner) to your audi­ence in advance. After­wards you can send a thank you note or an email with links to the presen­ta­tion recording, for example.

“You don’t want your audi­ence to simply step in and out of your presen­ta­tion, as a stan­da­lone event. You want to create an experience.”

THUE MADSEN, MARKETING OPERATIONS MANAGER, KISSMETRICS

10. Start Strong, Finish Stronger

One of Anne­marie de Jong’s recom­men­da­tions above was for presen­ters to intro­duce them­selves as autho­rity figures in order to create a strong start. Kicking off the web presen­ta­tion with tech­ni­ques to ensure a strong start is undoub­tedly important to remember. It’s also key that you use tech­ni­ques to finish strong.

“The start of your presen­ta­tion will get your audi­ence to engage with you and your mate­rial. But it’s the end that they will remember,” explains Thue Madsen.

If you start your presen­ta­tion with the inten­tion of covering three main topics or ques­tions, wrap it up with a summary of the respec­tive answers and lear­nings. Be even stronger by rela­ting each answer to one another, where appli­cable. Finally leave a call-to-action: if you have further upco­ming webi­nars, addi­tional course mate­rial, etc. that you want your audi­ence to move on to, be sure to make this clear and promi­nent at the end.

11. Use Social Media

One truly strong benefit of any webinar is its medium: the internet coupled with social media. The internet means you can present to just about anyone, while social media creates an inter­ac­tive two-way commu­ni­ca­tion channel. As her second “enga­ge­ment check” for online presen­ta­tions, Gini Diet­rich uses social media to keep an eye on the level of enga­ge­ment, live as it happens.

“Chris Penn always says a great way to test how you’re doing while you present is to put your phone on vibrate and wait for your pocket to move every time someone tweets some­thing you said. Like­wise, during a virtual presen­ta­tion, you can watch the tweets, on a given hashtag, during your event,” explains Gini.

12. Ask for Feedback

Gini Diet­rich is not alone when it comes to social enga­ge­ment with audi­ences. Stef Miller says she is always looking to improve her tech­nique and uses social media to gather feedback.

“Put your phone on vibrate in your pocket and watch the tweets on a given hashtag, during your virtual presen­ta­tion — great ways to test how you’re doing while you present.”

GINI DIETRICH, CEO, ARMENT DIETRICH INC.

“Ask atten­dees to tweet their opinions at you, include your Twitter handle at the bottom of each slide so they don’t have to search for a way to contact you. Invite them to connect with you through email so you can answer their ques­tions, or learn from their feedback.”

As her third “enga­ge­ment check” and a way of collec­ting feed­back, Gini recom­mends that presen­ters enable the chat box. Though this can be distrac­ting to some webinar atten­dees, it’s very, very helpful to the majo­rity. “It’s also really fun because it’s almost like you are live­strea­ming a Q&A session while your presen­ta­tion is being watched and absorbed.”

13. Speak Clearly

If you’re screen sharing and your audi­ence can’t see you, you may be tempted to slouch over the PC, but I want to encou­rage you to stand up when making an online presen­ta­tion. There is a reason why presen­ters stand up when they are making live presen­ta­tions, and this applies to presen­ta­tions over the Web as well. Your body posture has a real influ­ence over the way in which your voice projects.

Thue Madsen strongly urges online presen­ters to think about their speech: “Be sure to speak clearly and don’t talk to fast. This is the no. 1 comp­laint we hear – spea­kers get excited and run away.”

14. Drink Water and Coffee

It’s not easy to walk away from an online presen­ta­tion to grab a glass of water. But you’ll need it if you get a dry mouth, which is a common effect of nervous­ness. Keep a glass of water at your side.

Drin­king coffee prior to an online presen­ta­tion can also be advan­ta­geous. Caff­eine can help your presen­ta­tion style come across as more enthu­si­astic, and studies have shown that enthu­si­astic speech will win out over a talk that sounds forced. Larry Kim listens to hip-hop music and drinks an energy drink before a presen­ta­tion to boost his enthu­siasm – and he’s not alone. Stef Miller always drinks a small cup of coffee 30 minutes before a presen­ta­tion. “I’m not a caff­eine fiend by any means, but the extra boost of caff­eine helps my brain be sharp, and coun­ter­acts any nerves I feel leading up to an event. I typi­cally go into my quiet room where I will give my presen­ta­tion 10 minutes before the call and relax myself by perusing Instagram.”

15. Practice, Practice, Practice!

The well-known three P’s of marke­ting are product, price and place. If there are three P’s of online presen­ta­tions, they would be prac­tice, prac­tice, and prac­tice. During our discus­sions with the experts, Anne­marie de Jong was a strong propo­nent of prac­ti­cing your online presen­ta­tion style:

“Most people spend a lot of time crea­ting their presen­ta­tion, only to stumble while presen­ting. I recom­mend prac­ti­cing it in front of a mirror and doing a dry run with colleagues before the webinar. Not only is it important to prac­tice for content, but also for timing, as you want to make sure to respect the audi­ence and the time commit­ment they’ve made by not spea­king longer than expected.”

“Prac­tice in front of a mirror and do a dry run with colleagues before the webinar. Prac­tice for content but also for timing.”

ANNEMARIE DE JONG, OPTIMIZATION CONSULTANT, OPTIMIZELY

Finally, as my last personal tip to online presen­ters before signing off: be yourself. Include some humor and sound like you’re having a good time, because that will entice your audi­ence to also be plea­sant, respond and engage with you during the presentation.

If you’re using these tips for your next online presen­ta­tion, please be sure to let us know how it improved your audi­ence enga­ge­ment by leaving a comment below.

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