Have you ever been excited to attend a webinar? Maybe the presenter was an author whose books you really enjoy. Or maybe you were hoping for a few take-aways so you could apply what you learned to a real-life issue. You got on the webinar, ready with your pen and paper to take notes, and then…it was so boring. What else could you do but work on email and other tasks while the presenter droned on and on?

Have you ever been the presenter, and felt as if you were losing your audience? Here are some tips that can take a session from boring to engaging.

In every presentation, there are three key elements that need attention: verbal, vocal and visual. Let’s look closely at each element and the preparation it needs to produce a successful virtual session.

The Verbal Element

The verbal element is the words you chose. In virtual sessions, the words you don’t choose are even more important. For example, how engaging are the words “I,” “I’m” and “my”? Consider “I’m going to show you” and “I’m going to talk about” versus “We’re going to explore…”

When choosing your words, ask yourself, “Are my words audience-focused or me-focused?”

It’s also important to be aware of some common phrases that actually tell your audience to tune out:

  • I’m going to get through this really quickly. = This isn’t important, so you can work on other tasks.
  • I forgot that I was supposed to show you this slide. = I’m disorganized, so don’t bother to pay attention.
  • I hope this will be valuable. = I haven’t really thought about this from your perspective.
  • To be honest… = I haven’t been truthful before now, so disregard what I already said.
  • Unfortunately… = This information is no good for you; turn on your selective hearing.

The Vocal Element

The vocal element pertains to the way you say the words: the tone, enunciation, volume and confidence of your voice. When a presenter starts the session with the words “Can you hear me?” I start to worry, because if they didn’t bother to do a sound check, I wonder what else their presentation will lack.

Dale Carnegie Digital, where I’m an online producer, has a process of preparing and testing each session to ensure that the sound and technologies are working. Having a second person to help with the technical component allows the presenter to focus on content and driving engagement.

In any presentation, virtual or face-to-face, consider:

  • If you speak too quickly…participants will stop listening.
  • If you speak too slowly…participants will stop listening.
  • If you do not enunciate your words, and they can’t understand what you’re saying…participants will stop listening.

Before you give any presentation to an audience, record it and listen to it. Ask yourself, “Would I want to listen to me? If not, then what do I need to change?”

The Visual Element

In any presentation, the visual element receives the most attention (according to Albert Mehrabian’s work). When the presenter isn’t in-person, the screen becomes the only focus point.

How long does the average person pay attention to something that is not directly related to him or her? The answer has been tested and researched and is the same as the length of the average television commercial: 30 seconds. If you are not visually engaging learners about every 30 seconds, they will likely tune out.

In every online presentation platform, there are built-in tools to help engage participants. Here are a few favorites:

  • Use feedback tools, like the “hand raise,” to ask questions or ask the audience to respond to the content. For example: “Give me a green check if you like engaging webinars, or a red X if you prefer to be tuned out.”
  • The chat feature is an excellent tool for engagement. You can use it for audiences of any size, and it comes in handy when your audience is muted for the entire session. Participants have a voice through the chat. You can ask for examples and then use that information to customize your content. Using this tool, you don’t have to just hope that your content will be valuable.
  • The polling and quiz features of some platforms are also great at helping you understand an audience that, for most cases, you have never met before. These tools do a great job of creating that “I’m not alone” feeling that many participants value.
  • Using whiteboard tools can increase engagement, because participants are literally creating content by writing on the slide. The easiest way to use the whiteboard tool is to create a fairly empty slide (with a title and maybe some headings) for the participants to write on. This tool works well to show pro/con lists and comparisons or to brainstorm ideas.

The next time you need to lead a virtual session, remember your verbal, visual and vocal elements. When you prepare with these key points in mind, you’re on your way to an engaging session.