How to Avoid Five Common Online Presentation Pitfalls

By Heather Baldwin

What’s your biggest complaint about doing online presentations? If you’re like most presenters in a recent online poll, your answer is that it’s hard to know if audience members are engaged. After all, you’re doing most of the talking and you can’t see their eyes, so how do you know if they’re listening intently to you or checking emails and reading reports? The answer’s simple – create a presentation that avoids the following pitfalls, says Janine Kurnoff, president of Beaverton, Oregon-based The Presentation Company, LLC and an online presentation expert.

Pitfall #1: Drowning your audience in bullet points. If your slides look like a page from War and Peace, you’re going to lose your audience. Instead, think of ways to represent your thoughts graphically or, in Kurnoff’s words: “Think visually when presenting virtually.” For example, one company with which Kurnoff worked used to talk about its three areas of business by showing three slides that were full, top to bottom, of bullet-pointed text. Snore! Today, that company presents the same information on a single page with three big, colorful boxes, each stating a specialty area and giving a quick summary of the company’s capability. The new page is not only visually engaging, says Kurnoff, but presenters can use it to interact with prospects by asking which of the three capabilities they’d like to discuss first.

Pitfall #2: Assuming your audience is paying attention. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to assume they’re not paying attention and to keep taking their pulse throughout the presentation. The most common tools for taking audience pulses, says Kurnoff, are polling, which is great when you’ve got more than 10 participants and want to canvass opinions, check previous experience or provide a call to action such as asking what prospects need next from you; and seating chart activities, such as asking participants to change their seat color to blue if they want to hear about X next or to red if they want to learn about Y. Other ideas include hands up, text Q&A and live Q&A activities.

Pitfall #3: Relying on your voice alone. Your voice may have the soothing lilt of a jazz station DJ, but it’s not going to be enough to keep your audience mesmerized. You must augment your voice with onscreen annotation tools, which serve as your virtual body language, says Kurnoff. Kurnoff is a fan of using the highlighter tool to highlight text as she’s speaking. The movement onscreen keeps the audience’s eyes on the screen and keeps everyone focused on the same topic, she explains. Not comfortable using these tools? Start now, she advises. “Get comfortable with the highlighter and go from there,” says Kurnoff. “But don’t overuse these tools.”

Pitfall #4: Forgetting to capture the goods. You can capture oodles more information in a virtual environment than you can live, so don’t forget to do it. For example, you can save the poll log, the text questions that were asked, who asked the questions, what kind of follow-up information each attendee requested and so on. The ability to capture this kind of data, says Kurnoff, is a big reason why virtual presentations are gaining so much momentum.

Pitfall #5: Relying on one presenter only. Kurnoff is a big believer in the buddy system. A buddy, who might be another sales rep, an engineer, a tech specialist or whoever would best complement your presentation, enables you to concentrate on giving the presentation while he or she handles text questions and serves as your eyes and ears to make sure everything is going okay. If your buddy is one of the engineers who designed your product, for example, he or she also could answer prospects’ technical questions. Your buddy doesn’t even need to be in the same room. In a virtual environment, your buddy could be halfway across the country. Having someone in the same room is helpful, however, so you can use hand signals and jot quick notes to each other in a manner that’s less distracting than a private online chat, says Kurnoff.

For more pitfalls to avoid when presenting online, visit