Engaging with your invisible audience

Most of the members of our presenting team understand the unique challenges of maintaining high levels of engagement with audience members who are distributed across the planet. They know just how hard it is to break through that virtual barrier. It’s hard even while leading a single stand-alone webinar; imagine the challenge of keeping audience members’ attention and energy high across a program that spans four days and two dozen events.

This page offers perspective and advice on how we as a team can help make a virtual conference not just useful and worthwhile, but valuable and rewarding.

From 30,000 Feet

Our seminars will all be staged by Streamyard, the software that works with Vimeo to create the streaming feed that beams each seminar into our virtual platform. Every keynote, every breakout, every time we go live with anything, we create an event within Streamyard, and as with a Zoom meeting, a unique URL is created for that event.

As the presenter, you will be provided with that URL, which will take you backstage. Once there, you will work with a broadcast manager to enable your sound and audio, get positioned properly in the frame, and converse about any particular aspects of the seminar. Your manager will take care of all audio and video tasks from this point forward, so presenters can focus on their storytelling and hosts can direct traffic and monitor the Chat.

Preparing for your seminar

The conference has established minimum standards for the technology you will use and the strategies you will employ to communicate. Here are the most pertinent ones:

We want to be live: By now, most of us have attended virtual conferences in which all of the seminars were pre-recorded. In our opinion, that does not meet the standard for promoting interactivity (perhaps the most precious commodity of all for a virtual event). Presenters never have the same energy level in a pre-record as they do with a live presentation, and the Chat becomes disconnected and often takes on an incongruous and sometimes bizarre life of its own. 

If you feel your seminar has a legitimate need to be pre-recorded or if you know that your Internet connection cannot be trusted, please advise ASAP. Otherwise, we want this conference to feel as real and vital as possible, and that starts with our presenters speaking live whenever possible.

You will all be hosted: Every keynote and every seminar session will have an active host/moderator. That person will introduce you, converse with you, ideally engage in some human repartee, and above all, be monitoring the Chat for you. Your host’s job is to make sure that you are in the loop with what your audience is talking about, bringing relevant questions and comments to you, and promoting that interactivity that we all consider to be so vital.

We will assign moderators well in advance, so that you can confer with that person ahead of time. We want the two of you to be familiar with the general outline of the seminar and find a few places where you can banter, discuss, maybe even debate. The more that our audiences hear secondary voices and see additional faces, the better.

Crank up the bandwidth: If at all possible, run Cat5 Ethernet from your router to your computer. That’s always going to be more reliable than Wifi. Try to turn off all other services that require connectivity. On your own computer, think about the things that want to pop up, notify you, remind you, and generally annoy you at the least opportune time. More to the point, kick your kids off of Netflix and send them to the backyard.

That said, we don’t mind if the dog barks, the doorbell rings, or a little one needs your attention. That is very human, it is evocative of the situation we all find ourselves in, and it could even be endearing. As long as you don’t be this guy.

Backdrops: We are generally opposed to the use of virtual backgrounds, unless they are professionally done, which most are not. The Zoom virtual backgrounds fall well below our minimum standard — we do not want your arms disappearing from your body if you happen to move them away from your torso. If you know how to green screen correctly or if you own a physical backdrop, that would be fine. But really, we recommend you simply place your camera at eye level and just clean up the area behind you!

Lighting: If you have natural light to take advantage of, please do so. By that, we mean sunlight that is in front of you or to the side of you, not behind you. In all likelihood, you will still want to fill in a bit of light and there are two affordable products that we have been testing, both available on Amazon:

This clip-on light is USB powered and provides adjustable light from any angle. If you have sunlight on one side, this will fill in nicely on the other side. And at just $20, you can buy two of them if you do not have access to natural light.

A bit more elaborate is this pair of Dolphin Lights that would cover off any lighting needs for a webinar. They cost under $40 for the pair.

Video: Generally speaking, the built-in webcam on your notebook computer does not meet our threshold. There are certainly exceptions, and if you have one, you probably already know it. If you do use a built-in, position it at eye level, which probably means you’ll need to prop up your entire notebook.

We have been testing out the Razer Kiyo, which we found on eBay and other retailers for under $100. It is almost as good as the Logitech units and is much cheaper, and most important, easier to find.

Audio: This might be the most important of all. Audiences will forgive fuzzy video if they can hear you well, and once again, almost every built-in microphone on a notebook computer will fail to meet our standard. Many members of our presenting team use and love their Yeti microphones.

We would prefer that you not appear on camera with a headset whose microphone is right in front of your mouth and whose ear coverings could keep you warm in Alaska. Almost any stand-alone USB microphone will make the grade, and while simple Airpods or equivalent are a fine look, you might not need them at all, as audio playing directly through your computer speakers should work just fine for our streaming platform.

Software Demo

Several of our seminars will revolve around technique and will feature the interface. You might be driving PowerPoint on a 27-inch monitor, but by the time our audiences see it, it might be about three inches across. Some of them might be watching you on half of an iPad. Or on their phones. Heaven help them if they need to follow your cursor as it clicks on little ribbons and miniscule icons.

If you will be showing the interface from a Windows-based PC, go to Settings | System | Display | Scale and Layout. From there, find the drop down below Change the size of text, apps, and other items. Set the percentage to 150% or 175% and see if you can get comfortable with it. The PowerPoint interface will change and fewer screen elements will be visible; you will want to practice with it. But your audience will love you for it.

Enlarging interface elements for software demo will be appreciated by all.

Mac users will find similar controls under Display Preferences.

For those showing the interface for technique-centric topics, juggling our slides, the UI, your notes, and the studio poses a challenge. Troy Chollar put together this tutorial video to help you face that challenge with your two-monitor setup.

The conference template

All members of the presenting team should have received the conference template and the typefaces that it requires. The first two slides include notes and instructions — in short, we want webinar-friendly slides that are uncluttered, devoid of small type, and easy on the eyes of those whom we will be asking to stare at a screen for four hours a day.

We require that you use one of the two title slides for your first slide and the Takeaways slide as your last slide. Use of interior slides is at your discretion — if you would prefer to use a different design for them, that is okay. If you choose your own slide design, we hope you will follow the less-is-more philosophy for text and reserve verbosity for a print-formatted handout (which our template provides).

Designing your slides and creating your narrative

If we were at our hotel and you were preparing to speak before 75 folks sitting before you, we would advise you to pack as much content into your hour as possible. Make their heads explode!

The advice this year is different. We will not have captive audiences, we will not have 100% attention, folks will be ducking in and out, and they will be half paying attention in the hopes that you will cast off a pearl or two.

And that should actually be your objective: give them two pearls of wisdom in 45 minutes. If you do that, they will remember your seminar. If everyone does that, that will be about 60 pearls of wisdom across four half days, and the Summit will be remembered as the best damn conference that they never boarded a plane to attend.

Don’t fill your slides with content. Don’t speak a mile a minute. Don’t try to condense 60 minutes of content into your 45-min slot (or your 30-min keynote slot). And don’t run long! Far, far, far better to deliver a few incredible and brilliant points, tell a beautiful and unrushed story, finish 10 minutes early, and provide your audience with the privilege of an unhurried Q&A that is comprised entirely of their spontaneous questions. If you pull that off, you will distinguish yourself from 99% of the people leading webinars today. Your audience members will love you for it.

Take advantage of your meeting hosts. Banter with them, let them ask questions of you, invite them to challenge and even disagree with you. Ask the audience what they think of this little controversy you have spawned. Create a poll to settle the debate. Audiences will love you for that, too.

Audiences will also love to see your work. If you create slides that are uncluttered, clean, and devoid of detail, they will actually not be terribly useful as a downloadable reference. But if you switch to the template’s Notes page, you will see that it has been formatted with the express purpose of serving as a PDF handout. Place all of your details there, for your own use and to create handout pages for your audience. If you want to send them your slides, too, that’s fine, of course. But you’ll really impress them if you show that you understand and appreciate how they prefer to receive detailed information.

When you are ready to send us files to complement your presentation, enter the platform and note that your profile on the left includes a &Document Upload notation. Click that to enter the Upload Center, scroll down to Documents, and click the ADD link on the right side. You can add as many files as you like or upload one large .zip file.


Presenters need to read the Meeting Hosts section of this Help document so as to maximize the potential of good team rapport.