3 Reasons Your Virtual Audience Doesn’t Engage
VIRTUAL TRAINING – Cindy Huggett, CPLP
You can fix the 3 typical reasons for disengaged learners
When was the last time you attended a virtual event when the facilitator asked a question, only to be greeted by silence? If you’re like most of us, it probably happened recently. It’s quite common, and also quite discouraging.
I’ve informally asked thousands of virtual facilitators to share their No. 1 challenge with virtual training. And formally, I’ve asked the same question in my annual State of Virtual Training survey. Over and over, I hear the same response: My participants aren’t paying attention, and they are not engaged.
There are three typical reasons why an audience doesn’t engage in virtual events. Let’s review each, along with ways to overcome them.
1. It’s Not Expected
Most audiences have become conditioned to presentation-style webcasts. A virtual presenter drones on without any expectations of interaction until they finally ask a question, and no one responds.
Because presentation-style, non-interactive virtual events are so common, most participants expect to be able to multitask while half listening to an online speaker. This can lead to mismatched expectations between virtual trainers who want engagement and audiences who want to stay passive.
Engagement starts by clearly setting expectations well in advance of the event. Include an accurate, detailed description in the program marketing. Use advance communication messages to explain details, such as “in this event, you’ll be asked to click, type and talk with your peers.” By letting the audience know in advance that they will be asked to actively participate, the likelihood of them doing so will drastically increase.
2. It’s Not Allowed
I’ve been in many online events where the virtual facilitator verbally says, “This is going to be an interactive event!” and then proceeds to speak nonstop for the next 20 minutes. By that time, the audience has concluded that they won’t actively participate, and they check out.
This challenge is most often a result of the virtual trainer taking over the conversation and not allowing participants the opportunity to talk. Either there’s too much presentation content to cover, or the trainer simply doesn’t allow space for conversation.
This barrier to participation can be overcome by addressing its two root causes. First, design and plan a highly interactive virtual event, one that starts with an activity and uses the platform tools throughout. For example, plan a poll question in the first minute of the event, and then have participants introduce themselves in chat or by webcam (even before the facilitator’s introduction).
Next, be sure to upskill virtual trainers on how to facilitate instead of just how to present. Teach them to focus on the audience, to not be afraid of silence and to think of the event as a dialogue instead of a monologue.
3. It’s Not a Priority
It’s natural for presenters to believe that their content is the most important thing. But attendees are often in the middle of their workday when they pause to log into a virtual event. They likely have a lot on their minds and a long to-do list. And of course, they are surrounded by distractions.
Unless audience members are internally motivated to attend and participate in the virtual event, it can be difficult to overcome this engagement challenge. However, skilled facilitators take time near the start to communicate the benefits of the topic. They help participants realize why they are there and how they will immediately benefit. They clearly establish the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) question, and use highly relevant, personalized examples and scenarios. As a result, attendees recognize the importance and adjust their attention priorities.
By adding these simple but powerful strategies in your next virtual event, you’ll experience a more engaged audience that learns new content and, most importantly, can apply it at work.
Cindy Huggett, CPLP, is a consultant whose books include Virtual Training Tools
and Templates and The Virtual Training Guidebook. Email her at