Think back to the last time you had a really good conversation. What did the other person do that made the engagement such a good experience? Did he have good (or even juicy!) information? Did she answer a big question you had? Did it feel like your listener enjoyed being there and was both physically and mentally present in the moment?
You grab and maintain audience attention - in-person and online - by immediately solving a mystery and giving the audience what it needs, by providing the audience something useful. The truth is you want to be able to hear a pin drop. Because you’ve researched and you know what the audience wants, you have people listening closely and ready to chime in as opposed to bored and waiting for the session to end. And it all starts with a shift in attitude.
Start by eliminating that feeling of just checking the boxes and getting through an online session. A little activity to illustrate this point …
*Borrow someone for a quick activity.
Is it possible my language led you down a path of a conflict-based approach?
Does your language or tone lead online participants down a path of silence? Remember the goal should be to open their minds. As opposed to having the attitude - subconscious or otherwise - of "I got to present a virtual session on X …," the attitude should be "How do I help them learn, understand, apply, use X?"
If you fail to make the attitude shift, then you run the risk of covering information as opposed to facilitating learning. Commit to focus on delivering information while also having audience members take the information you provide and engage in tackling real challenges right there in the session. Failing to remember you're there to help them learn, to help them see the usefulness of the information you provide can lead to you falling into a talk-and-click mode, losing the audience's attention, and reducing the amount of input from the audience. Setting up the session so it's a discussion with carefully crafted questions that call on listeners to pull from personal experiences, have original thoughts, and connect what they already know to what you are sharing will serve all listeners well so you hear from more of your audience members.
Without an attitudinal shift, you also run the risk of turning to a "talking" head presentation style because you are just trying to get through the information rather than trying to truly engage the audience in a conversation about what the information means to you (why it excites you ... why it's so special to you ...) and what it might mean for them. To avoid sounding dry and boring, reading slides or a script in a singsong fashion, an easy mistake to make that can cause listeners to tune out, create as much devotion to and care for the audience as possible, thinking to yourself "What would I want if I was attending this session?"
Keep in mind you're presenting for the benefit of others, not you.
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Be seen. Be heard. Be great!
*Masie, E. Open their fists. In E. Biech (Ed.), 90 world-class activities by 90 world-class trainers, (pp. 53-54). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
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Photograph credit: Bernard Hermant