This is the fourth and final installment of a series designed to make online presenting less intimidating and more effective.

As online presenters, we are often distracted by the nagging fear that our audience is tuning out or just not getting what we are trying to share with them. I hate to tell you, but your fears are probably justified. And the reason has nothing to do with the specific technology you’re using, but how your online presentation is structured. You want to be more of a prosecutor and less of a detective.

The Difference Between Remote and Live Audiences

I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment, but first let’s look at why remote audiences might tune out more easily.

An online audience has a harder time remaining focused over a long period than an audience in the room with you. We don’t have the physical proximity, the eye contact, or the need to be polite and not seem like a jerk preventing us from multi-tasking or just tuning out completely. Plus, we pay attention differently on screen. There’s frequently a disconnect between what we’re seeing and what we’re hearing, and if we have to rely more on the auditory cues than the visual, we lose concentration much faster.

Online presentations need to be shorter, more to the point, and highly focused. Think about most of the webinars you’ve attended. The very things presenters do, work against how our brains work and make it more difficult for the audience to stay engaged:

  • We worry about getting everything in, so we tend to front-load our presentations with context and data. If you’ve ever sat in a webinar and wondered, “what’s the point?” you know what we mean. The longer we go without knowing what and why, the harder it is to stay engaged.
  • Because we as presenters don’t want to get off track, we often tell our audience to hold their questions until the end of the presentation. This means you’re asking them to listen longer without engaging than you would in a same-room presentation while they deal with more distractions. It’s counter-productive.
  • In a real-world presentation we often use visual aids and body language to help convey our message and make our presentation compelling. If all the audience hears is a disembodied voice and the same PowerPoint slide for five minutes, is it any wonder they tune us out?

Detectives v. Prosecutors

The TV series Law and Order  offers a great example of the differences in problem solving and communication between those trying to solve the crime and those who have to explain it at trial. If you don’t remember the show because it’s been off the air for a while, go look it up (and get off my lawn!).

The detective (you’re Lenny Briscoe in this example)  starts with a problem –there’s a dead body on the floor–and then follows all the clues until they reach a conclusion. As viewers we enjoy following along as he puts the pieces of the puzzle together and solves the mystery. Some of the clues lead to the killer, some are dead ends, but we follow each and every one of them. At long last someone is arrested. It’s a satisfying ending.

A prosecutor, though, works differently. Jack McCoy starts with the conclusion: The defendant is guilty and we’re going to prove it. Then he presents only the most compelling evidence that supports their case.

Audiences can find both satisfying, but as a busy worker with a lot on your plate, which do you prefer? Most people are like jury members. They’re more of a captive audience who want to know the facts that will enable them to render a verdict and get back to their lives. The same is true with remote audiences: Tell us why we’re here and don’t bother us with a lot of irrelevant data. Get to the point and tell us what we need to know to make decisions and do our work. 

Think Like Your Audience

Both Lenny and Jack served critical roles in solving and prosecuting crimes. One put together the pieces of the puzzle and made the case and the other presented it to the jury.  For those of us who do analysis and research, we tend to work more like detectives, gathering relevant data to solve the problem, and so we present in the way that works best for us, rather than what the audience needs.

Like Briscoe, you might be a great detective, but remember, to get a conviction, you need to present like McCoy.

The next time you’re planning an online presentation, remember to think more like a prosecutor: “Here’s what we think you should do, here’s why we think it.: The detective’s “here’s all the stuff we learned, and here’s what it means” might seem more natural to you, but it’s not what the jury…err, audience wants to hear and you may lose them before the surprise ending

If you’re thinking this applies to in-person presentations as well, you’re not wrong. Your audience may just be too polite to tune out in front of you.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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