Six ways to prevent your online audience getting distracted

a year ago   •   4 min read

By Haritosh Srivastav
Haritosh Srivastav of Toastmasters International on ways to liven up your presentation

A survey conducted for Prezi by Harris Poll (, showed that while attending online presentations, 28% of the audience send text messages and 27% check their emails. A staggering 17% even fall asleep. So, the key question becomes how you keep your business audience involved and prevent them becoming distracted?

Here are some tips to employ for your business presentations and online meetings.

The chat feature

Chat features have been around a while but are probably one of the least used tools for effectively engaging your audience. Not everyone likes to speak up or interrupt during a presentation and chat can really help the presenter engage with those quieter people.

Here are some ways you can use chat feature:

  • Do a quick survey of audience, e.g., “Please mention in chat which issue you are most concerned about in relation to…”
  • Ask audience about their point of view e.g., “Do you think we should go to the next agenda item or discuss this matter a little more?”
  • During pauses or breakout sessions have a personal conversation with a participant and address an issue they are struggling with

A note of caution: as a presenter or moderator, you need to keep abreast of what is being discussed or chat can have the opposite effect and actually become a distraction.  If that happens, bring the conversation back to the matter presented or restrict the chat to ‘host-everyone’ only. Most of the major online platforms have a mechanism for this.

Video, audio & images

We all have seen those slides with 40 lines of text – and they aren’t engaging. The great advantage of an online presentation is that it gives us the ability to easily replace text with relevant video, audio, or images. You can show a recording of an event, an illustrative picture, or play a portion of a relevant podcast.

Here are a few useful sites that provide copyright free images and videos:

Stimulate with Fun

Nothing engages your audience more than a fun game. And once again, online presentations make this easy. You can do a live audience poll or a fastest finger first or beautiful word cloud in a matter of minutes. Being fun and easy, such activity stimulates the brain enough to keep attendees from getting distracted.

Here are few sites I personally love to use:

An effective story does not have to be long. It could be as short as 30-seconds. But done well, it can build an instant connection and rapport with your audience.

Use stories

As humans we all crave a good story. And this applies to online presentations too. Whether it is a sales presentation, a keynote speech, or team meeting a good story will always add to your presentation.  The best stories are personal first-hand experiences. Generally, good storytelling should follow these five steps:

  • Set up the scene with a vivid description
  • Describe the characters
  • Set up and show the conflict
  • Take the audience on a journey that resolves the conflict.
  • Finish with a key takeaway message.

An effective story does not have to be long. It could be as short as 30-seconds. But done well, it can build an instant connection and rapport with your audience.

Include Humour

We all miss those times when we used to get together in a conference room or at a convention and had a good laugh together. While online presentation does make it difficult to have those in-person laughs, there is always a place for inserting a pinch of humour to make your presentation lively. Done right, it can enhance your presentation and increase your audience retention.

Here are a few ways you can use humour in your online presentation.

  • Self-deprecating jokes. Taking yourself lightly can allow your audience to connect and relate to you. But, do not ruin your credibility by making fun of your expertise etc.
  • Add a funny, hilarious picture or meme on the slide. Adding a funny meme or relevant joke can lighten the mood. It can be a personal picture or something you found funny online. For example, sometimes I will add a Dilbert cartoon between slides to inject some fun. Remember to respect the copyright licensing and privacy on any material taken from internet.
  • Funny anecdotes. This one might require a bit of practice, but you giving a funny anecdote or sharing a personal experience as part of your presentation can help to draw the audience to you.
  • Acknowledge technical issues. We have all been to presentations where there were technical issues like your PowerPoint not opening, no sound, etc. Those may be a perfect place to insert a funny line: “I have always had relationship issues with PowerPoint, I think we need to see a counsellor.” This can help to break the tension and allow you to relax while the issue is being resolved.

As a side note, never make fun of your audience. It is unprofessional, can lead to awkward conversations and even ruin your reputation.

Check Advanced Features

New features are always being added. Therefore, it’s important to check you are using the best possible features for your presentation and your audience.

A few options to explore include:

  • Virtual Background. It can help make you look more professional by concealing all the clutter in the background and it helps act as a form of privacy if you are presenting from your own home. It can also be used creatively, for example, use the background instead of one of the slides.
  • Breakout Rooms. Having breakout rooms allows you to increase audience interaction. For example, give each breakout room a different challenge to brainstorm. Once the agreed time is over, a representative from each room presents them to all audience.
  • Livestreaming. Many of the virtual platforms allow you to broadcast direct to YouTube, Facebook etc. and it can be an interesting way to reach audiences you might not normally connect with.

By using these ideas as you prepare your business presentation you’ll increase your audience’s engagement and retention, prevent them getting distracted and ensure that you achieve the outcomes you need.

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