Engaging the Online Audience

Learning Objectives

Summarize ways to engage audiences in online settings.

In many cases, when you speak online you cannot see your audience. Perhaps you are recording a speech that won’t be watched in real time. Of if you are speaking in real time to an audience, you may not be able to see or hear your audience because their cameras or microphones are not turned on.

And if you can see your audience, it may be a very different kind of experience than you have when giving a speech to a live audience in a classroom. Your audience may, for example, appear in tiny boxes on the screen and, if so, you may only be able to see a portion of your audience at any one time. This reality can make it challenging to remember you are speaking to an audience rather than to a computer screen.

All the principles of audience analysis discussed in Module 4: Considering the Audience apply to online speeches. If you can, try to learn about your audience to better understand their beliefs or attitudes about the subject of your speech.

Presentation aids like slides can be very effective when used online. However, resist the tendency some speakers have to make their speech essentially a narrated slideshow where their face is seen only briefly, if at all, in the beginning and end of the presentation. Instead, use slides selectively to emphasize key points or show visuals that will help explain important concepts.

Some software that speakers use online provides the speaker opportunities to get interaction from an audience. The software you are using might allow you to poll your audience about a question. Or you might be able to ask for virtual “raised hands” in response to a question. These tools can be valuable ways to engage your audience and solicit feedback from them.

You may have access to real-time text chat or you may have the ability to allow audience members to speak and respond to questions. If you do have these options, be aware that using them takes some practice and they can be distracting to pay attention to. If you use them, you may want to use them selectively and only at certain points in your speech so they don’t distract you from your message.

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