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7 Tips for Effectively Engaging a Virtual Audience

Author, speaker, and executive coach Dima Ghawi teaches the basics of delivering a dynamic presentation that keeps your audience tuned in and wanting more.

Presentations, speaking engagements, and panels are great opportunities for authors to reach new audiences, promote books, and share key messages. The COVID-19 pandemic has moved many of these events online, making it more difficult to connect with people and capture their attention.

(Should writers use social media?)

To help you face these challenges, here are seven tips on how to effectively engage with a virtual audience for a dynamic presentation that successfully promotes your book and your brand.


1. Send out a survey before the event

Virtual presentations provide an opportunity to be more intentional with our messages and key points. By surveying attendees before the event, we are able to learn more about our audience and gain a greater understanding of the specific topics they would like us to cover. This allows us to customize our key points and deliver a powerful presentation tailored to the audience’s needs.

2. Prepare your virtual stage

Our stage has moved from an auditorium or conference room to our home, and we must become our own AV team. It is important to make sure the internet connection is strong and reliable, the lighting is soft and bright, and the audio is clear. When I am hosting a virtual event, I connect directly to my router instead of relying on a wireless connection and use lighting accessories to make sure my space is well-lit. Natural light is also a great option if you do not have the extra equipment; just make sure your lighting is in front of you, not behind you.

The web cameras built into our computers work well for virtual presentations; however, if you prefer using an external camera or more than one computer screen, make sure the screen with audience comments is close enough to your camera so you can maintain consistent eye contact instead of appearing to continually shift your gaze.

It is also important to test the audio in advance to determine whether an external microphone is needed. Setting up in a small, quiet room with soft surfaces can help to prevent an echo and unwanted background noise.

3. Create a space with minimal distractions

In addition to preparing for the technical components, we must also make sure the area is clean and organized. We can create a space that supports our brand by including some relevant items in the background, such as a copy of our book, promotional materials, or even a symbol that represents a character. Whatever you choose, make sure to keep it simple.

We should also plan to minimize potential interruptions and prevent pets, children, or family members from moving around the room. However, sometimes things do not go to plan, so if there is an unexpected event, do not dwell on it for too long; make a joke and keep moving forward!

4. Generate conversation and use shorter slides

According to a study by Microsoft, people have an attention span of only eight seconds. Other research shows that an audience’s first lapse in attention during a presentation happens within the first 30 seconds. Trying to connect virtually with an audience creates even greater challenges because people have more distractions and are more easily able to multitask while leaving you on in the background. Dialogue is key to creating an inclusive and engaging environment that keeps everyone involved.

As presenters, we must ask and answer questions to intentionally draw in focus. Taking a poll and requesting that attendees leave answers in the comments is a great way to make sure people feel included in the conversation. We should also make sure our slides are concise; the focus should be on generating discussion instead of sharing lots of bullet points.

5. Use storytelling and humor

In my keynote presentations, I share my message through personal stories to connect with the audience and capture their interest. Telling stories and using humor allows us to both entertain and engage; we are able to draw people in and hold their attention. Appeal to your audience through adventure, emotion, and personal experience to make a memorable impression.

6. Be mindful of your body language

As storytellers and presenters, our body language helps to convey our messages and share our ideas. When we speak on stage, we are able to move around, gesture to the audience, and use props to engage the crowd. Virtually, we are limited to a certain area, but we can still create energy through our voice and gestures. We should position our camera at eye level and make sure to look directly into the camera when speaking to capture attention and to create a connection with those tuning in.

As authors, we want to generate interest in our book and create excitement as we tell our story. To do this, we must vary the cadence of our voice, bring energy to the presentation and match it appropriately to our topic. We should stand to allow ourselves to move freely instead of being rooted in one space. This will encourage us to use natural hand gestures and movements as we present. Studies show that standing helps us to focus better and for longer periods of time. When we stand, we are able to grab everyone’s attention and we hold more authority. Even though a virtual audience is only seeing us from the chest up, the free movement and tall posture we demonstrate when standing allows us to gain this authority.

When I present to a virtual audience, I stand 1 – 1.5 feet away from the camera, so I can be seen from the chest up. As a general rule, you want your head to take up roughly one-third of the screen with your shoulders and upper body also showing. This will give us enough room to move around, use hand gestures in frame, and remain close enough to read the comments on the computer screen.

A standing desk or laptop stand will enable us to raise your computer to eye level. When using an external camera, use a tripod for some added height. If you prefer not to invest in the extra equipment, a stack of books can help do the trick.

7. Practice, review, and improve

Virtual events are new to many of us, and it can take time to get accustomed to speaking to a screen. This will be the “new normal” for a while, so we can use this as an opportunity to work on our craft. We can practice by recording test videos before we present and by recording our live presentations to review later. Reviewing this footage is helpful for identifying areas of improvement moving forward.

While we face new challenges, virtual presentations are a unique opportunity to connect with our audience directly from our home to theirs. We can use our space to create an inclusive environment for learning, encourage engagement through storytelling and body language, and promote our books by sharing a captivating narrative that keeps our audience wanting more. 

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