As far back as the 1800s, researchers figured out that “vigilance” – the ability for someone to intentionally sustain their attention on something – is never 100%. And this was long before the interwebs came around! Every webinar presenter understands the challenge.
The good news is that growing your skill as a “director of attention” in webinars and virtual events isn’t hard, it’s just different.
Use “framing” early to push the “adaptation trigger”
Your audience won’t give you long before they decide whether or not you will deliver something interesting and useful. One powerful way for you to improve the odds, as Ben Parr notes in his book Captivology, is to use a “framing trigger” such as adaptation.
In short, “adaptation is about identifying your audience’s frame of reference and adjusting to it.” And this is arguably done more easily in a virtual event than in an in-person presentation!
Here’s why: In a webinar, you can use a poll to know exactly what your audience prefers without having to pause to count raised hands. Or you can use chat and see every participant’s nametag equally…even those sitting in the “back row.”
For best results, when you close the poll and share the results, make a comment that specifically ties results to what the audience can expect. “Oooh, it looks like Y is more important than X and Z. We cover Y toward the end of the presentation, and when we get there I’ll be sure to also share why Y will help you do…”
Framing Your Story
In order to capture you audience’s attention, you have to have something worth talking about. Constructing and framing what you plan on saying is arguably the most important part of your preparation.
As humans, we relate best to stories. The hard part can be figuring out where to start and end your story based on your audience. One place to start might be to consider how much your audience knows about the topic. As you frame your message, think of the examples you can provide to justify the time and attention you want your audience to give to your story. Think about how the elements of your story impact your audience, with what they already understand and value—and address these specific areas as needed.
The biggest problem I see in initial drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground. So limit the scope of your presentation to what can be covered succinctly with specific examples in the time provided. Don’t be afraid to go deeper. Give more detail. We don’t need to hear about your entire field or industry, instead focus on how your experience relates to your chosen framing points. The audience "bought" the ticket not just for the hot topic but to see how it applies to your unique perspective. So tell that story and send them away with a new sense of purpose.