5 ways to engage your audience at an online presentation


Earlier this month, I attended a fabulous show put on by Touchstone Theatre as a co-presented by the frank theatre company called “Morag You’re a Long Time Deid”. Touchstone has been developing and presenting Canadian plays for over 45 years. I have seen a number of their plays and enjoyed every one. Frank has been queering the stage since 1996. I saw a great production of theirs called “How to Fail as a Pop Star” that was part of this year’s Push Festival. I discussed what I learned from that show in this post.

After Dennis Joseph did the most moving Cultural Protocol I have been in some time (complete with eagle down), the play started and ended started with the lead character, Sam, talking with a couple of audience members as if they were both at the bar. At various times, Sam interacts with other members of the audience. The play tells an amazing story of Sam trying to figure out why no one would talk about her grandmother. Part way through the first half, they invited everyone to find a partner and join in the Scottish dance. I was very fortunate to dance with Dennis Joseph as my partner. After the show was over and the bows were taken, they invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. So much fun.

Engagement is equally important in a presentation. This is particularly so in an informative presentation. Often these presentations can be full of dry, technical information. Without some effort to engage the audience, you will lose your audience and they won’t remember your important information.

Often presenters think it is harder to engage an audience online. It is difficult. Indeed, one article I was reading indicated that it is 10X more difficult to engage an audience online. There is no question that you need the use some of the same tools and some different tools to engage your audience online. While the audience engagement at the play I saw was in person, there are ways you can engage your audience at an online presentation as well.

Five things you can do to engage your online audience

  1. Using stories to engage your audience
    The best way to engage your audience whether online or in-person is to include stories in your presentation. This is even more important when you are doing a presentation online as people are more likely to be distracted or attempting to multi-task. Stories connect you emotionally to your audience so they focus on you and pay attention to you as the presenter. They also will trust you and feel connected to you. All that helps with audience engagement. Check out my blog post on Why connecting with your audience is hard – and one thing you can do that will make a big difference.  I recommend my clients start with a Challenging Story (see my post here) and follow that up with a Springboard Story (see my post here). Stories are also important when you get to your key information so that your information will be remembered.
  2. Simplifying your slides
    Slides that are crammed with text or data doesn’t work with any audience, online or in-person. Like stories, simplifying your slides is even more important online as they will only have a small picture of you. You can do much more with intentional movement to engage your audience when you do an in-person presentation. I recommend my clients have an Image and title on each slide and a maximum of 3 bullet points or 1 to 3 words. Check out my blog posts entitled “I believe PowerPoint can be an effective tool – here are 5 reasons why” and “7 signs that your slides are undermining your presentation
  3. Asking your audience questions
    When presenting online, it is even more important to interact with your audience and get them responding to you. One way to do this is to ask your audience questions and ask them to respond in the chat. These questions should relate directly to the purpose of your presentation. You can then have your co-host monitor the chat and let you know how people are responding.  I start my free monthly webinars with two questions: one for the audience to respond to and one for them to simply think about. The first is “Have you seen a presentation where the presenter overwhelmed their audience?” The second is “Have you done a presentation like that?
  4. Doing a poll
    One of the advantages of doing an online presentation is that you can do a poll (at least with Zoom and I assume with other systems). Polls are great especially if your audience is larger. You can have several questions in one poll or several polls to do at different points during the presentation. I have a poll set up for the first question I ask the audiences at my webinars. When I just have a few people in attendance, I ask them to respond in the chat (as discussed under Asking Your Audience Questions above). When I have a lot of people in attendance, I use the poll to summarize the results rather than having me or my co-host look through all the messages in chat.
  5. Playing a game
    Playing a game is great to reinforce the key information you are sharing and to make your presentation fun and memorable. I find my audiences really enjoy playing a game at the end. I use Kahoot for the games that I ask my audiences to play at the end of my presentations. Kahoot is great as there are different types of questions and the podium at the end of the game is really fun.

Need help engaging your audience online

I hope you find these tools useful to engage your online audience. If you want help with any of these tools, those are all things I help my clients with.

If you are interested in seeing me use these techniques to engage my audience online, join me at one of my free 30-minute webinars entitled “Learn Five Surprising Facts to Transform Your Presentations”:
• Monday pm (Pacific time) – https://monday-pm-webinars.eventbrite.com
• Thursday am (Pacific time) – https://thursday-am-webinars.eventbrite.com