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Tips to keep your online audience focused rather than distracted

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by Startacus Admin


Presenting online? Haritosh Srivastav from Toastmasters International shares some fab tips on how to keep your audience interested and engaged

When you are giving an important presentation online, whether this is to investors or customers the one thing you don’t want is for them to get distracted. You want their full attention.

pexels-photo-4458418.This isn’t as easy as it might sound. According to a survey by Prezi and Harris Poll, while attending an online presentation 28% of the audience sends text messages, 27% check their emails and 17% fall sleep. So, the question becomes how you keep your audience involved and prevent them being distracted? 

Let me share some quick tips startup founders can use to keep audience members focused on what is being said, rather than on distraction such as their mobile phones: 

Video, audio & images

We have all endured slides with 40 lines of text – and they aren’t engaging. The great advantage of an online presentation is that it gives us the ability to easily replace text with relevant video, audio, or images. You can show a recording of an event, product images, or play a portion of a relevant podcast perhaps one with customer testimonials. 

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


“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” – Robert McKee

As humans we all crave a good story and storytelling is a great tool for startup founders to employ. Whether it is a pitch, a sales presentation or a keynote speech, 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: 

  1. Set up the scene with a vivid description

  2. Describe the characters

  3. Set up and show the conflict

  4. Take the audience on a journey that resolves the conflict.

  5. Finish with a key takeaway message.

photo-1616587226960-4a03badbe8bf 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. Your founding story could be a good place to start.

Engaging activities

A great advantage of being online is that you can do a live audience poll or beautiful word cloud in a matter of minutes. Such activities are easy and fun. They stimulate the brain enough to keep attendees from getting distracted.  

Here are few sites I personally love to use: 


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. Not everyone likes to speak up or interrupt during a presentation and chat can really help the presenter engage with those quieter people. 

Here are some ways you can use chat features: 

  • Do a quick dipstick survey of audience, e.g., “Please mention in chat where you are joining us from”.

  • Ask audience about their point of view e.g., “Do you think we should go to the next section or discuss this aspect a little more?”.

  • During pauses or breakouts you can have a personal conversation with a participant and address an issue they have, without having to distract others.

photo-1586985564150-11ee04838034 A note of caution here. As a presenter or moderator, you need to keep tabs on what is being discussed or chat can have the opposite effect and actually become a distraction.  Should this happen, bring the conversation back to the matter presented or restrict the chat to ‘host-everyone’ only. Most of the major online platforms have a mechanism to do that. 


“Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy” - John Cleese

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 few ways you can 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.

  • Add a funny picture or meme on the slide. Depending on the audience you may find that a funny meme can lighten the mood. It can be a personal picture or something you found funny online. For example, sometimes I will add a Dilbert cartoon between slides to inject some fun. Remember to respect the copyright licensing and privacy on any material taken from internet. 

  • Acknowledge technical issues. We have all been to presentations where there were technical issues like your PowerPoint not opening, no sound, etc. If this happens it a perfect opportunity to insert a funny line: “I have always had relationship issues with PowerPoint, I think we need to see a counsellor.” This can break the tension and help you to relax while the issue is being resolved.

  • Funny anecdotes. This one might require some practice, but sharing a funny anecdote or personal experience as part of your presentation can help to draw the audience to you. 

Advanced Features

photo-1612831455359-970e23a1e4e9.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. 

A few options to explore include: 

  1. Breakout Rooms. Having breakout rooms allows you to increase audience interaction. For example, for a team meeting give pairs of people a breakout room with different challenge to discuss before feeding back to the full team.

  2. Virtual Background. It can help make you look more professional, and it helps act as a form of privacy particularly if you are presenting from home. 

  3. Livestreaming. Many of the virtual platforms allow you to broadcast direct to YouTube, Facebook etc. and, depending on your business, this can be an interesting way to reach audiences you might not normally connect with.  

When you are under pressure building your startup working on your online presentations is just one more challenge.  However, you need to establish credibility and trust with your investors, customers and other stakeholders. Given this it is well worth using these tips to practice, get feedback. You’ll then give engaging presentations that will help build and maintain relationships, and your startups long-term future. 


Haritosh SrivastavHaritosh 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


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Published on: 31st August 2021

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