Keep your online audience engaged throughout your presentation

By Haritosh Srivastav, Toastmasters International

Although we have all had to get used to being involved with a large number of web meetings over the last year or two, the biggest issue remains – how to engage and retain an online audience’s attention.

Here are 6 tips to help keep your audience focused on your presentation, not their mobile devices:

Introduce Relevant Images, Video & Audio

Slides with 40 lines of text just aren’t engaging. A big advantage of an online presentation is the ability it gives us to easily replace text with relevant images, video or audio.

Here are a few useful sites that provide copyright free images and videos:

Try Some Fun Games

You can do a live audience poll or a fastest finger first or beautiful word cloud in a matter of minutes. Being fun and easy, such activity stimulates the brain enough to keep attendees from getting distracted.

Here are some sites I like to use:

Make Use of Chat

Chat features have been around a while but are probably one of the least used tools for effectively engaging your audience. It doesn’t require any set-up and is always effective at keeping an audience engaged. Some people don’t like speaking up or interrupting during a presentation. Chat can really help the presenter engage with such quieter people.

Here are some ideas for using the chat feature:

  • Do a quick dipstick survey of audience, e.g., “Please mention in chat where you are joining us from today”.
  • Ask audience about their point of view on the matter, e.g., “Do you think we should go to the next section or discuss this matter a little more?”.
  • During pauses or breakouts you can have a personal conversation with a participant and address an issue they are struggling with, without having to distract others.

As a presenter or moderator, you need to keep tabs on what is being discussed or chat can actually become a distraction.  If that happens, bring the conversation back to the matter presented or restrict the chat to ‘host-everyone’ only.

Tell a Story

As humans we all crave a good story. And this applies to online presentations too. Whether it is a sales presentation, a keynote speech, or teaching students, a good story will always add to your presentation.  The best stories are personal first-hand experiences. As a rule of thumb, good storytelling should follow these five steps:

  • Set up the scene with a vivid description
  • Describe the characters
  • Set up and show the conflict
  • Take the audience on a journey that resolves the conflict.
  • Finish with a key takeaway message.

An effective story does not have to be long. It could be as short as 30-seconds. But done effectively, it can build an instant connection and rapport with your audience.

Use Humour

We all miss those times when we used to get together in a conference room or at a convention and had a good laugh together. While online presentation does make it difficult to have those in-person laughs, there is always a place for inserting a pinch of humour to make your presentation lively. Done right, it can enhance your presentation and increase your audience retention.

Here are a number of ways to use humour in your online presentation.

  • Self-deprecating jokes. Taking yourself lightly can allow your audience to connect and relate to you. But, do not ruin your credibility by making fun of your expertise etc.
  • Funny anecdotes. This one might require a bit of practice, but you giving a funny anecdote or sharing a personal experience as part of your presentation can help to draw the audience to you.
  • Acknowledge technical issues. These may be a perfect place to insert a funny line: “I have always had relationship issues with PowerPoint, I think we need to see a counsellor.” This can help to break the tension and allow you to relax while the issue is being resolved.

As a side note, never make fun of your audience. It is unprofessional, can lead to awkward conversations and even ruin your reputation.

Familiarise Yourself With Advanced Features

As the technology evolves, new features are always being added. Therefore, as a presenter, it’s important to check you are using the best possible features for your presentation and your audience. How about including, for example a) Breakout Rooms for small group discussions or b) Livestreaming. Broadcast direct to YouTube, Facebook etc. This can help you to reach audiences you might not often connect with.

With practice and using the above tips you can keep your online audience fully engaged during presentations and meetings.


Haritosh Srivastav is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit