Focus is key in a successful presentation. During a live presentation this focus is principally under the control of the presenter. In an online presentation where distractions may be mutiple and outwith the control or even knowledge of the presenter, this focus is even more important. It is essential to recognise this in the construction and delivery of the piece for the presenter and for the audience who also must engage differently.
The focus of a live audience is a presenter, a stage and supportive media. The nature and setup of lecture theatres and presentations are such that the majority of focus is directed at this triumvate. On line, the focus of the audience is markedly different and there is dramatically reduced attention; concentration is easily lost. The modern belief in muti-tasking in such events is entirely misplaced. There is limited social impact to restrict this and very few tools are within the control of the presenter.
The delivery platform du jour (Zoom, Webex, MSTeams etc) is effectively the stage for the presentation and should be as uncluttered as possible. The majority of platforms, however, are designed almost entirely counter to this concept. A multitude of complex, moving and constantly changing images including faces, backgrounds and motion is impossible to disregard. In a live presentation, the vast majority of participants will be facing in the presenter, on line they are facing each other. Any change will be interrogated.
The webpage itself tantalisingly offers alternative views, choices and distractions of setup before one even considers the presentation and presenter themselves. Email, messaging and other live tabs in the browser may distract the audience member unless silenced. Potential for alternative engagement with an open computer is huge and as it will go unnoticed by the presenter and the majority of the audience will be even more common than those seen using their telephone during a live presentation. Attention can be directed before the piece to options for reducing such interference; this is seldom followed.
Outside of the device itself there are a plethora of opportunities for even minimal distraction; right now if you look away you will be immediately drawn to something of lesser value in your environment. Normal social cues within a lecture theatre reduce such activity but in the privacy of one’s study, bookshelves, the desk and even the window to outside all beg for attention. None of this is under the direct control of the presenter.
Overcoming such barriers to effective engagement is the responsibility of the adult learners. The presenter must further support this by the nature and delivery of the presentation; focus is key. The message (p1) must be as engaging as possible and attention to a single key message achieved by progress through aspects of Bloom’s Taxonomy will hold the attention. The media (p2) must change and provide direction and flow of the piece. The delivery (p3) and interactivity must take account of the challenges of online communication such as muted microphones, divergent chat topics and time lag but constantly re-direct and re-engage the audience. Focus is key for both presenters and audience in this new media.