Keep your online audience involved so they are not tempted by distractions

tips to prevent your online audience getting distracted

Though online presentation has been around for some time, its usage has skyrocketed during the last year. We all have been in hundreds web meetings, but the biggest issue remains engaging and retaining the attention of the audience.


According to a survey by Prezi and Harris Poll (, while attending an online presentation 28% of the audience sends text messages, 27% check their emails and 17% fall sleep.


So, how can you how you keep your audience engaged and involved and prevent them being tempted by distractions?


Use images, audio and video


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:



Use Chat


Chat features have been around a while but are probably one of the least used tools for effectively engaging your audience. It doesn’t require any set-up and is always effective at keeping an audience engaged. 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 dipstick survey of audience, e.g., “Please mention in chat where you are joining us from today”.
  • Ask audience about their point of view on the matter, e.g., “Do you think we should go to the next section or discuss this matter a little more?”.
  • During pauses or breakouts you can have a personal conversation with a participant and address an issue they are struggling with, without having to distract others.


A note of caution here. As a presenter or moderator, you need to keep tabs on what is being discussed or chat can have the opposite effect and actually become a distraction.  If that happens, be sure to 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 to do that.


Engage in Fun Games


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:


Include Storytelling


As the storytelling expert Robert McKee says: “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today”


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 teaching students, a good story will always add to your presentation.  The best stories are personal first-hand experiences. As a rule of thumb, 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 effectively, it can build an instant connection and rapport with your audience.


Make Use of Advanced Features


As the technology evolves, new features are always being added. Therefore, as a presenter, it’s important to check you are using the best possible features for your presentation and your audience.


A few options to explore include:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Tickle their funny bone


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.
  • 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.
  • Funny anecdotes. This one might require a bit of practice, but relating a funny anecdote or sharing a personal experience as part of your presentation can help to draw the audience to you.


By thinking about your audience as you prepare for your online meeting or presentation you can build in the ideas above. That way, on the day, your audience will not not get distracted and will stay engaged.



Haritosh Srivastav is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs.


Share this...
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *