‘How do you keep people engaged online?’ That’s has been one of the questions I’ve been tackling over the last couple of months. A lot of my work has shifted (obviously!) from delivering keynotes to running coaching sessions and workshops with clients, and I’ve really enjoyed unpicking what, exactly, it takes to keep, and maintain, attention in an online environment.
Here’s the key phrase to remember: Online, everyone has the attention span of a 3-year-old, and the memory of a 90-year-old.
Just ‘telling people stuff’ doesn’t work online. It never really worked in the ‘real world’, it’s just that at meetings, people didn’t tend to have children running around, a cat to look after, the and the TV on in the background! Everything you do now in meetings, presentations, webinars has to involve two stages – capturing attention, and then keeping it.
The single biggest thing I’ve noticed is that change is what’s interesting to the human brain.
Most of us have a ‘Ooh – what’s that shiny new thing over there?’ brain.
Try a little experiment – take something small, like a pebble or a coin, place it in the palm of your hand and look away. You’ll notice, very quickly, that you stop ‘feeling’ the object so much – it starts to disappear from your consciousness. However, move it slightly and it will ‘come back’ into your awareness. Why? Because our brains focus on things which change – particularly things which move. Anything which moves can be either a promise or a threat.
Knowing this is a huge advantage for you when running online meetings, sales pitches, webinars and presentations. To keep attention, you have to keep changing things up.
Here are six ideas to help you be more engaging quickly and easily:
Speed and tone of voice – slow down, speed up, take a pause. If you’re low-pitch, try a higher pitch sometimes and vice-versa. There’s no right or wrong, but keep changing. Recording yourself and listening back is a great way to improve your vocal delivery. And yes – I know that everyone hates listening to their own voice, but you’ll get used to it, I promise!
Slides. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re using slides, then use more of them but with less information on each one. Avoid putting up slides with lots of info, which you then explain – people will get so bored that they’ll resort to anything to distract them. Instead, think of your presentation more like a TV News broadcast – they keep your interest by frequently switching from image to image. Do the same with your slides. If you’re constantly saying things like ‘And as you can see on the next slide …’ it’s easier to keep the audience’s attention. Also remember that images are nearly always better than text. Instead of boring numbers about ‘growth’, could you use an image of a tree? Or even better – a tree which animates to grow leaves when you mention ‘growth’?!
And – of course – you always have the option *gasp* of not using slides.
Switch it up – try to have a ‘big change’ every 10-15 minutes if your meeting or presentation is a longer one. A big change is something like sending people to ‘breakout rooms’ to discuss a topic, for example. Or, if you’ve been using slides, then pause the deck and speak directly to camera for a few minutes. If you’ve been talking for a while, then stop for Q&A. If people have been passive, get them involved in something interactive, like adding to a whiteboard, or making suggestions. A ‘big change’ can even be a break (everyone will love you if you give them breaks!)
Shorten. Be kind to your attendees – it’s hard for any of us to maintain attention for long, especially in an online environment. Be ruthless with your messages and points – make them as punchy, and as short, as possible. One of the huge advantages of online meetings is that it’s so much easier for people to attend – you don’t have to spend an hour on something anymore. Ask yourself – is it better to split this up into three 20-minute focused meetings, rather than trying to do it all in one hour?
Sight. Humans are visual creatures, we respond well to images. Can you change your environment (move the laptop during the call?) How about using some ‘props’ to make your point? Instead of just using slides, can you draw your idea? When talking about a region or country, could you show a map or memento?
Spontaneity: Most of us like (pleasant) surprises. If you can introduce something your audience isn’t expecting into your presentation, it will make it more engaging. Phrases such as ‘You probably weren’t expecting this, but …’ make a meeting or presentation much more intrguing.
Avoid being quirky for the sake of it, but adding an unusual fact, a different style, or something that your team doesn’t expect will always make for a more engaging and memorable experience.