Zoom presentations – how to keep your audience engaged

17 Sep 2020 | Research & Business Knowledge

In the post Covid world, we are finding that we are increasingly conducting meetings and presentations online – but how do you keep your audience engaged when they are in disparate locations and possibly subject to all sorts of distractions? This was a question posed on the e-group, and which generated a lot of helpful suggestions from the ICG Hive which we have summarised here.

  • The key is engagement; if they are on video during the presentation, at least they can’t be doing their emails or IM’ing colleagues (possibly about your presentation!) but if they are just on audio bear this in mind i.e. they might not be focused on you and you need to find a way to get them to stop messaging/checking their email, proofing a document etc … Having the opportunity to see at least some reactions is such a help and limits the amount of diversionary activity by the less engaged.
  • Unfortunately it seems a lot of clients are having bandwidth issues when working from home and they often switch off video even when they are genuinely interested, so being on audio only is not a foolproof engagement check.
  • The part I’ve found hardest is that on some video platforms (eg Google meet) you can only see your screen (unless there’s a setting I’ve missed!) and it can feel like you’re presenting into a black hole. Sometimes (depending on platform) when sharing my screen I have “lost sight” of the participants – and given that most seem to sit with their microphones on mute (and they sometimes switch video off as well to save bandwidth) it really feels like talking into the void – there just isn’t the visual feedback of a nodding head or whatever you would usually get. I really miss being able to spot the odd furrowed brow where it’s clear someone doesn’t agree/ understand even if they’re keeping quiet.
  • I’d suggest keep asking questions of the audience and requesting feedback; permit questions throughout – essentially, don’t make it a broadcast exercise.   One tip is to ask people to save questions for the end of a section, but not right until the end. This avoids being constantly interrupted, but also means people are expected to contribute at certain intervals. You could have some questions prepared to ask them at these points – eg. how close is this to what you expected, what would you have expected to see differently, what does this mean for the business do you think, etc. etc. That way people feel more included, but also it will mean they will potentially listen more closely if they think they have to take part in a discussion at some point.
  • It might also be a good idea to set rules about the chat function as well – I’ve had some people use that rather than interrupt, which can be helpful if you have a way of dealing with it mid-flow, or really distracting if you don’t…
  • Otherwise it’s all the normal good presentation stuff – don’t read the slides, keep the slides clean colourful and relevant, tell a story, focus the slides (and hide a lot), bring in lots of extra insight and illustrations from the research in your voice over and so forth.  Maybe add some polls and some other interactive exercises if the content permits. Several presenters should help too, as long as the story flows nicely.
  • Mentally breaking anything down into smaller components works wonders for keeping people’s attention, so it is probably worth saying up front that there are X number of sections and each will take X amount of time, so you manage expectations and people aren’t sat there thinking god, how much longer 😉
  • If it is a monster then a comfort break halfway through could be suggested upfront (ie. with your specific client) – it might be appreciated and would give everyone a chance to check emails / go to the loo so they don’t just switch off and do those things as you’re going through!
  • Beware of video or audio clips- make sure you check it works (with the sound, which is usually the problem) in advance – that ‘audio permitted’ box is quite hidden for shared content in Teams and in Zoom  (bottom left hand side of the share content element usually – and disappears too quickly, especially in Teams).  Test it in advance with a colleague, or your immediate insight contact.  They want to look good too 🙂
  • And on a positive note, it may be that the online enviornment improves things. Particularly with senior teams there is less of the boardroom sparring (i.e. asking a question just to show to the CEO that your smarter than the last person who asked a question….) and they do genuinely listen and wait until the end for questions.