Your webinar audience isn’t all there


Image © Simon Adams, used with permission

We live in a noisy world – literally and figuratively.

When you’re conducting a webinar, you may find your audience ready to withdraw from everything else, mute their phones, turn off all alerts and quit email, just to focus on you.

You may.

It’s more likely that your audience will try to attend your webinar alongside everything else they are doing.

They will want to multi-task. You will want their full attention.

It sounds impossible, but it is possible to run a successful webinar under these circumstances; if you follow two simple rules.

From watching TV to interacting with friends, we live in a noisy, multi-stream information culture. People are increasing habituated to using Twitter while they watch TV, or seeing multiple streams of information alongside the sport or business news.

Whether it’s live voting on talent shows, or TV screens simultaneously showing the results of three different sports while discussing a fourth, information-rich culture is now mainstream.

Consciously or not, your audience expects it.

This profoundly affects the way people attend webinars. Many participants are used to dealing with plenty of information at once. Some even feel cheated or under-stimulated without it. Unlike their counterparts 20 years ago, almost none of your attendees will feel comfortable sitting quietly and listening to a presentation for 40 minutes.

Fast switching focus

According to Microsoft Canada’s 2015 Attention spans report, people have learned to deal with this information overload with short bursts of highly focused attention. We typically focus on something, and if we don’t find it worth our attention, shift focus to something else. 19 per cent of online viewers will switch within ten seconds.

Does this mean you need to pull a rabbit out of a hat every ten seconds?

No. This absolutely does not mean that presenters should resort to snake oil, blarney and theatrics. Apart from anything, this would be self-defeating. Nobody can listen to that sort of presentation without being turned off eventually.

The answer for keeping attention is simple to describe, but can be difficult to do. And it can be related in two words. If you want to keep people’s attention there is just one thing you need do.

Be useful.

This is the first rule. When an attendee is focusing on the event, she must find something useful in it. That could be what the presenter’s saying, what’s on display, or the text the attendees are reading on screen or in the text chat area. Be useful, be valuable – if possible, across a range of media simultaneously. The attention will come.

 The implications of noise

Most webinar delegates work in a noisy environment. They are often attending webinars in open plan offices, with other applications as well as the webinar software open on their screens. They may well be interrupted by work colleagues during the event, physically or via the phone, and they are only ever seconds away from checking their email.

This noisy environment is something you will have to take into account when designing your talk. Your presentation will need to be engaging and clear. To do this, structure and momentum are vital. I’ll deal with each of these in forthcoming blogs. Here, though, I’d offer this advice.

Pitch it right – and go easy on yourself

One consequence of our noisy, busy lives is that a webinar is not the place to expect contemplation or reflection.

So don’t.

Instead, use the webinar for something it suits – good conversation, conveying information, showing something new.

And if people are going to switch focus rapidly, have them do in within the webinar. This is the second rule. Make your content as compelling, as interactive and as engaging as you can, over a variety of media (voice, visuals and chat). Imagine that you’re running the morning TV news, with a live interview, a ticker with updates running across the screen, and a new story every few minutes. Keep it moving.

Finally, go easy on yourself. In today’s noisy world, you simply will not get everyone’s focus.

Rather than be unhappy because you didn’t attain 100% engagement throughout a webinar, feel good about what you did achieve – and then work on improvements for the next one.

This post is based on an extract from my ebook Webinar Master. Click to buy the book

2 thoughts on “Your webinar audience isn’t all there

  1. Ah yes: “Be useful.” That’s also my catchcry at work, to engage people on Jive (our Enterprise Social Network).

    Here’s one thought I have about how to do that, in a webinar or elsewhere: Include a few quick, concrete tips on using tools of the trade. For instance, when talking to aspiring writers (or people learning English), you might tell them that typing “define such-and-such” in their browser’s address bar (or Google) let’s them look up any word’s meaning, synonyms, and pronunciation.

    People are often thrilled to learn something new – especially if they can use it. Keeping tips concrete makes it very likely that people will walk away with something new and usable. So, as well as keeping them focused, that’ll encourage them to share your name and message, too!


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