Crafting Content for Virtual Communication: Keep it Short and Interesting
By Nicole Lowenbraun
You’ve been on the audience end of virtual gatherings for the past couple months. So, when it’s your turn to lead one, you know what you’re up against...
Between kids, pets, back-to-back virtual meetings, email inboxes, Tiger King, and copious amounts of quarantine snacks—it’s no wonder everyone is feeling distracted.
According to Forbes, more than 80% of American employees have reported feeling significantly more distracted since they started working from home. Yikes.
The good news is your content—what you say—can grab your audience’s attention and keep them focused. Here are 5 simple ways to adjust your virtual content and keep people engaged.
Keep Your Presentation (and Sentences) Short
Because everyone is multi-tasking while working from home, it’s important that your virtual engagement is concise. When it comes to your overall presentation length, keep it short.
In–person 60+-minute meetings were difficult, but virtually, it’s practically impossible to pay attention. Your audience has too many other things to pull them away. Maintaining engagement for 30-minute talks is more doable—and 15 minutes is even better.
Think about what details you really need in your virtual communication, and offer the same message in a more concise way. Your audience will appreciate getting that time back, and they’re more likely to hear everything you say, not just bits and pieces.
Keeping it short not only matters at the presentation level, but also at the sentence level. Your audience might have difficulty absorbing lengthy sentences.
It’s sometimes difficult to know how longwinded your sentences are when you read them. But when you speak them, you might identify verbose language.
If you find your sentences sound long, create your content in smaller chunks. Remove conjunctions such as “and” and “so,” and see if you can limit each sentence to 10 words max.
Your audience is more likely to hear your message if it’s presented in shorter bursts.
Create a Strong Introduction
Research shows that speakers have about 30 seconds to capture the audience’s attention before they decide whether or not to pay attention.
Instead of simply introducing yourself by name and title or telling them what the presentation is going to be about, create a strong, interesting, memorable introduction that engages your audience from the very beginning.
Try one of these techniques in your virtual communication to grab your audience’s attention:
- An analogy can be a powerful way to simplify your content and ensure understanding from the start.
- A statistic can wow them and get them to pay attention. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so consider showing a powerful visual instead of speaking.
- Use a quote from an interesting person.
- And our personal favorite…tell a story.
All of these are immensely more engaging than a boring, expected introduction.
Incorporate Stories Throughout
There’s a reason we liked bedtime stories as kids and ghost stories around a campfire—they’re engaging!
At Duarte, we believe stories connect people like no other content can. When we can’t be in the room together, stories make us feel as if we are.
Stories are also likely to keep your audience interested and engaged, no matter how many virtual distractions surround them.
Stories don’t have to start with “Once upon a time” to be effective. They don’t even have to have the expected beginning, middle, and end.
Here are several story types to consider for your next virtual communication:
- A personal story: We think the more personal, the better. Audiences tend to connect well with vulnerability.
- A customer story: If you’re uncomfortable with a personal story, consider a customer story–let the audience see themselves in the shoes of people that have been there before them.
- A business story: Talk about a time when you were in the audience’s shoes. Talk about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
- A quick anecdote: Story snippets are impactful as well. Something along the lines of, “I was chatting with my colleague yesterday, and she said…” is sometimes all you need to make your content feel story-like.
Use Contrast to Engage
As great as stories are, if that’s the only type of content you use, they’ll lose their impact. Instead, surprise your audience!
Keep your virtual communication dynamic by using different types of content to create contrast and keep them engaged.
As Nancy Duarte shows in her book, Resonate, great speaker’s capture attention by toggling back and forth between what is and what could be. So, don’t only tell your audience about the solution—talk about the problem and then the solution.
Talk about the before picture and the after picture. Compare the past with the present. Talk about the current reality and future possibilities.
If you have all stories in your content, throw in a data point for more analytical appeal. On the flip side, if you have a tech-heavy presentation, throw in a story for more emotional appeal.
Give your audience something they weren’t expecting, and their ears will perk.
Connect the Dots with Transitions
Transitions are short sentences that tie one content segment to the next—and they’re critical to your audience’s understanding of your content. If you don’t connect messages for them, they’re likely to miss something important.
Be sure to avoid the dreaded, “So on this slide, we’re going to talk about…” That transition won’t make your content flow, it will bore your audience to sleep.
Instead, make your transitions natural and conversational. A slide change doesn’t mean your content has to feel separated and siloed.
Think of your content as one, seamless, connected story—even when you’re advancing slides. Helpful transitions are ones that answer the rhetorical question your audience might be asking in their heads.
For example, your audience might ask, “How are we going to implement that?” and your transition could be, “We’re going to implement this in two ways.”
Answering the assumptive questions are a great way to connect the dots.
Finally, make your transitions interesting. Rather than using the same, expected transition, think of a way to build some suspense for your next slide by teeing it up before you click on it.
For example, “We’ve been waiting for months to reveal this new plan to the team, and we’re excited to unveil it now.”
Unique and unexpected transitions will grab their attention and get them ready to hear what’s next.
Virtual communicators can’t keep distractions at bay for their audience—those are here to stay for the foreseeable future. But we can grab their attention and make them want to listen to us by using great content.
So, remember to keep it short, write a powerful intro, use stories, create contrast, and have strong transitions to keep your audience focused during your virtual communication.
For more on this topic, watch the recording of Comm Together: Crafting Content for Virtual Communication on YouTube.
Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente
Communication, Presenting, Virtual communication