By Ian Hawkins

If you are presenting to an audience on a virtual platform, you need to have a strategy to stop people dropping out.

We have all been guilty of not giving a speaker our full attention, even when we are in the same room. This problem is magnified when the speaker is presenting over an online meeting platform.

As an audience member, you might feel guilty.

As a speaker, you are in trouble.

Help is at hand from EBS+, an offshoot of the Toastmasters International club, Early Bird Speakers which meets each week in Holborn, London.

EBS+ is an extra meeting, held online to accommodate members who are not yet ready to return to face-to-face meetings, international guests, and regular members who wish to flex their skills in the online environment.

To answer the question of how to maintain audience interest, EBS+ members were happy to share their wisdom based on experience as speakers themselves and having observed and coached other speakers over many years.

Do not use too much information on each slide. Overloaded slides are boring and distracting; slides which are regularly refreshed with new information will keep the audience’s attention.

Remember that your visuals tell a story: consider using pictures as well as words.

Use a template so that your slides all have the same visual language: you don’t have to be a designer, you just have to look well put together.

Manage the space
As the speaker, you are quite within your rights to tell people how to set up the screen so that you are seen as you intend. On Zoom, you can ask people to ensure that you are ‘pinned’ – You don’t want everybody looking at a grid of people not speaking. You can also ask them to adjust the ratio of your picture and the slide you are showing.

This is another reason for having bold slides: you want the message clear even if the slide is small.

Check that your microphone is good, if hearing your voice is a struggle, people will check out. The same goes for the light: don’t sit in a dark corner.

We are used to hearing stories: if you are giving a presentation that is more factual, try to inject some story element to it.

A story has a beginning, middle and an end.

Make sure that you do not leave people hanging, unless a cliffhanger is what you are going for deliberately.

As the narrator, you are the most important person in the story: why are you telling it? What skin do you have in the game? Did it happen to you or somebody else? The audience will want to know.

Make it memorable
Unless you are absolutely sure of the expertise of your audience, sometimes it makes sense to go back to first principles: if you are going to introduce an acronym or jargon, define it early on.

The same goes with names: repeat, repeat, repeat.

Try to find details that make character stick in the memory. These don’t have to be big, they can be small, telling moments in someone’s life.

Bring passion and intensity to the meeting. It’s too easy in the online world to forget it is a performance. Actually, you need to raise your game a bit. People will pick up on your feelings, so if you are bored, they will be too.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a member of Early Bird Speakers, it’s free to attend as a guest at one of our meetings which take place every Thursday morning at 7am at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ, Holborn, London.

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