Connect With Your Audience in Online Presentations

Connect With Your Audience

Today we’re trading places. Not you and me. Rather, you and your audience. We are putting ourselves in their shoes for a moment. This way, the next time you present, you’ll be better equipped to connect with your audience and improve your online presentation impact. Here we explore three traps presenters can fall into, plus tips to make sure your own presentations shine.

Throughout my career, I have sat through thousands of presentations. Some have been good, while others were downright boring: as in, snore-inducing boring. What makes a presentation jump out, so that we pay attention to every minute? And why do other presentations push us to multi-task, refill our coffee, and tick a few items off our never-ending To Do list?

The sad thing is, many boring presentations are being given by smart, talented people who have great ideas to share. But there’s a gap between the information they want to convey and what message the audience receives. There are three main traps people fall into when presenting, which can result in losing their audience.

Trap #1: Too Much Information

Have you ever struggled to pay attention to a presentation? Most likely, one of the reasons is that you’re receiving more information than you can process. A classic example that comes to mind is a presentation I once attended by a highly accomplished engineer. This expert is a well-respected senior leader in a large company. He’s the go-to person for innovation and product development. Yet, he struggles to convey his deep knowledge to the management board and business media in language they can understand.

Moreover, his presentations are dreaded by employees because he discusses highly technical topics in multi-slide presentations filled with bullet points, which he reads one at a time. There is enough information in a single presentation to fill an entire book. Meanwhile, his audience simply wants a high-level update on the status of his division’s latest initiatives.

Many people stuff too much content into their communication.

I can guarantee you, this leader is far from alone in his presentation challenges. Many people stuff too much content into their communication. We’re so excited about our work, we end up giving everything away. Jam-packed slides or talking too quickly is the quickest way to lose your audience’s attention.

Trap #2: Why Should Your Audience Care?

It’s our job as a presenter to deliver value. People tune into us because we have knowledge or information they want to hear. Everyone’s time is precious these days. We all compete with a lot of noise out there.

If you’re not crystal clear on your communication objective and delivering this to your audience, they will likely turn down the volume on your presentation and take care of other business. Worse yet, they may just move on completely and leave you in the dust. This is easier than ever to do in a virtual work world.

One way you can ensure your content is relevant is to ask yourself: why should my audience care? What’s in it for them? Before you dive into what you want to say, put yourself in their shoes. This way you’re more likely to identify their information needs and tailor your messaging accordingly to connect with your audience.

Trap #3: Why Not Say Things As They Are?

Have you ever heard the expression to “call a cat a cat”? Essentially, this means to say things as they are. The business world is filled with fancy words, such as synergies and optimization and actionable and key takeaways. Each industry has its own lingo. As experts, we can unknowingly slip into using these meaningless filler words. After so many years in the corporate world, I often catch myself making this very mistake.

Our audience doesn’t necessarily come from our industry or area of expertise. Can you think of a time you attended a presentation where you didn’t understand a single word of what was being said—and the language being spoken was English? Chances are the disconnect had nothing to do with how the person spoke, or their tone of voice, or your understanding of the English language. Usually the problem lies in too much lingo or technical terminology. Quite simply, the messaging isn’t appropriate for the audience.

As experts we can underestimate how much we know about a given topic. What seems obvious to us can be completely new to people outside of our field. When we deliver a presentation we need to connect with our audience where they are, and bring them on a journey with us.


Check out this Simply Comms video with communications leader, Aimée DuBrule, to learn more.


How Do You Keep Your Audience’s Attention?

Now that we’ve seen some of the traps presenters fall into, the question remains: what can I do to make sure I connect with my audience? The first thing is to determine the expected value you offer them. What is your communication objective? Based on that objective, what information does your audience need to know?

Once you’ve got a clear picture in mind, there’s another step before you start preparing content. Picture an audience member in your mind and ask yourself:

  • Who is this person on the other end of your presentation?
  • Where are they located?
  • Are they likely to have a lot of distractions in the background?
  • Are they working from home?
  • What time of day will they be tuning into my presentation? Is it before lunch, after lunch?
  • What day of the week is it?

All of these factors affect the energy and attentional levels of your audience, and you’ll want to refine your content accordingly.

How Does My Audience Feel About The Topic?

Lastly, after you get a clear picture of your audience’s environment, you can turn your attention to their receptivity. How do you expect they feel about your presentation and the topic? Are they likely to be excited to hear what you’ve got to say? Or is this a mandatory weekly check-in meeting? In the first case, you have the advantage of a captive audience right from the beginning. If you are presenting to a neutral, or potentially hostile audience, you’ll have to work harder to earn their attention.

Our audience doesn’t owe us anything: it’s our job to earn their attention.

An important thing to keep in mind is how much your audience knows already about the topic you’re presenting. If they are outside of your field, be sure to give more context; include less complex detail; and get straight to your main point. If you’ve already covered this context in the past, you can provide a quick summary and move into detail more quickly.

The most important thing to remember is that our audience doesn’t owe us anything. It’s our job to earn their attention. When you put yourself in their shoes you can better understand how to grab their attention and keep it.

Do you struggle to connect with your audience? How much time do you dedicate to analyzing their needs before preparing communication content? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to send in other communication questions so that we can address these in future posts.

Published by Aimée DuBrule

Corporate communications expert, host of Wake Up Shake Up podcast and founder of CultureRISE. During my 20-year career, I've worked across three continents with multi-national corporations, NGOs and agencies, leading communications programmes in the consumer goods, health, technology and travel sectors. My specialties are executive communication coaching, corporate branding, reputation management and crisis management.

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