5 ways to capture attention in your virtual event

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As far back as the 1800s, researchers figured out that “vigilance” — the ability for someone to intentionally sustain their attention on something – is never 100%. And this was long before the interwebs came around! Every webinar presenter understands the challenge.

The good news is that growing your skill as a “director of attention” in webinars and virtual events isn’t hard, it’s just different. It also just so happens that GoTo’s features make it easier than ever, to create great webinars.

Open and arrange your “at a glance” tools

A pilot’s cockpit has a dashboard to give her readings of systems and sensors. But how useful would they be if they were hidden?

The skills below are for better using tools, polls, chat, and the attention meter. They’re powerful tools, but they’re even better if you can glance at them like a dashboard.

GoTo not only gives you the tools, but it does more than that — you can arrange them (and even undock them) to personalize how your “cockpit” looks. And if you care to make it even more powerful, consider using an additional display or monitor.

Use “framing” early to push the “adaptation trigger”

How long will an audience give you to prove whether or not they should listen? Not long.

One powerful way to improve webinar attention span, as Ben Parr notes in his book Capitvology, is to adapt your introduction. To do this, he suggests, you need to find their “frame of reference” or way of seeing the world and adjust to it.

The beautiful thing about doing this in a virtual event is that it’s easier than when you’re in-person. Here’s why:

With webinar software, you can use a poll to know exactly what your audience prefers without having to pause to count raised hands. Or you can use chat and see every participant’s “nametag” equally…even those sitting in the “back row.”

For best results, when you close the poll and share the results, make a comment that specifically ties results to what the audience can expect. “Oooh, it looks like Y is more important than X and Z. We cover Y toward the end of the presentation, and when we get there, I’ll be sure to also share why Y will help you do…”

Verbally guide attention with explicit instructions of where to go and what to do

How you use language can influence webinar attention to detail and behavior. For instance, say you want to build rapport by asking attendees a question. You could just ask them, and GoTo Webinar makes it easy to submit their answer.

But you send a powerful signal to their brain when you tell them how to do it. Even if they’ve used GoTo 1000 times and know exactly where the question pane is, use a phrase like “Tell me what city you’re joining from using the questions pane on the right-hand side of…”

This also works with explicit directions such as, “Look right at the camera…see ?” or “What do you see on the right side of the slide?”

When using polls, think, “popcorn principle.”

One frequently asked question is, “How long should you leave a poll open?” When you launch a poll, results begin trickling in, then come in quickly, then begin slowing down again. You want all the responses you can gather, but once most attendees have voted, they just sit there waiting.

As it turns out, the pattern is one that you find in microwave popcorn. The instructions tell you wait until popping slows down, but not waiting until it stops (or you’ll burn the popcorn!).

Your goal as a director of attention is to sense momentum, and GoTo Webinar’s polling feature lets you watch results come in in real time. I typically sense momentum slowing when you about 2/3 of the audience has voted, and I close the poll (and then share results) when about 75-80% of the audience has voted. This gives you a great sample of your live audience without waiting too long.

“Break state” when the Attentive meter indicates attention wanes a bit

When in-person, a glance at the audience gives you an overall sense of attention in the room. But what about online? More importantly, what do you do if you sense attention waning a bit? GoTo Webinar’s “Attentive” meter (in the Dashboard panel) gives you a big-picture view of your audience (i.e., “93% of your audiences is ‘attentive’”), and here’s how to take action.

Should you see attention waver, to re-gain their attention you need to “break state” as it is called in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). In other words, do something that interrupts the current sensory or cognitive pattern to, in a sense, snap them out of where they’re at. This could be an unusual pause, asking an “out of the blue” question, or nearly anything else that strikes them as unexpected.

Bonus tip: Don’t worry about the exact Attentiveness number as that can change from day to day for a host of reasons. What is important is to gauge a baseline of where THIS audience is at and keep an eye on it over the course of your presentation.

The bottom line

Learning to grab and keep attention isn’t new, but adapting those skills to a new environment such as a webinar may give us something new to think about. In other words, skills need good tools.

Fortunately, GoTo Webinar gives you all the tools you need to personalize your own dashboard and “talk with” instead of “talk at” your audience.

The rest is up to you.

Roger Courville, CSP is an analyst, award-winning author and speaker, and Head of Strategy at Virtual Venues, LLC. Since joining the webinar in industry 
in 1999, he’s delivered consulting and training for organizations as diverse as Australia Institute of Training and Development, Fedex, Colgate Palmolive, and, of course, GoTo. Now as part of V2 he works with a team to design and deliver unique virtual and hybrid events for clients such as Nike, PNC Bank, Square, and the New York Stock Exchange.

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