Know that saying about technology being great until it quits working? Imagine delivering a webinar and the audio cuts out. How would you know? You’re lost in whatever point you were making. Eventually a message in the chat pane will catch your eye.

We can’t hear you!

In an environment where you typically can’t see your audience and they can’t see you, where the normal factors that add energy to a presentation are missing, like eye contact and body language, it’s easy to do the worst thing you can do as a presenter – forget there are real people dialed in.

The bottom line is this: While audience engagement is harder during a webinar, it’s just as important as when you’re standing in front of a live crowd.

Some tips to keep everyone from minimizing your show and moving on to other tasks:

  1. Turn your resume into a story. Since you only get one chance to make that first impression, your opening is critical. Don’t just list your credentials and assume everyone will be on board. Use a quick story to highlight your expertise, and to demonstrate from the outset that you’re an interesting speaker.
  2. Engage listeners by asking questions. Not just any questions, but questions that are thoughtful and challenging. If your subject is audience analysis, for instance, don’t just ask who they target. Invite them to chat about the process they go through to identify and tailor messages for specific audiences.
  3. Take their pulse. You can do this with poll questions or by asking participants to address a perilous situation. Say your subject is crisis communications. Pose a scenario, and then provide a poll question with a list of possible first steps. Or, to make it more stimulating, leave it open-ended. What would your first move be in the following scenario to limit the damage?
  4. Surprise them with a quiz. One or two questions would help ensure everyone is staying focused. If your subject is social media, you could ask which big city police department invited citizens to send in photos with themselves and a cop. This NYPD debacle was one of the major Twitter fails of 2014 and would likely get everyone sharing how they felt when all those nasty tweets hit the fan.
  5. Get the list of participants in advance and try calling on people by name.
  6. Do an impromptu analysis. Impromptu to your audience, that is. You’ve already found a news story, passage, or some other product related to the webinar that you’ve loaded onto a slide. Hit the clicker, summarize what they’re looking at, and ask everyone to weigh in.
  7. Leverage your voice. Research as well as our own experience tells us that vocal variety is a must. So practice your instrument. Change up your pacing. Make sure you sound interesting as well as interested. Use verbal flags and strategic pauses. Some presenters find that standing while delivering a webinar adds energy and passion to their voices. And a passionate voice is infectious.
  8. Hand it off. If possible, use two presenters. Two voices will add variety to the presentation, plus take some of the pressure off of you.

Of course all of these tips are like spices. Overdo it and you’ll ruin the meal. Used deftly, however, they’ll help you and your webinar achieve high scores while avoiding the dreaded drop out and drone on.

Steve Piacente Bootlicker and Bella BEA1 300x293 10 Ways to Tighten Your PitchAuthor Steve Piacente (@wordsprof) has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella, the story of a widow’s quest to uncover the truth about her husband’s death on an Afghan battlefield. Bootlicker, a prequel focused on a dark secret that imperils a historic election, came out in late 2012. Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the same position for the Charleston (SC) Post & Courier.  He is now creative director at The Communication Center in Washington, D.C., teaches journalism classes at American University, and is at work on his third novel. Previously he served as deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C. Contact Steve at His novels are available at