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Online business events have boomed since the pandemic began, as marketers have turned to webinars and digital presentations. And although live events are slowly returning, many offices are maintaining remote or hybrid work styles—which means virtual participation is here to stay.

But marketers should resist the temptation to simply add a livestream to their in-person events without otherwise altering their approach.

Fully 89% of remote workers say they multitask when watching online presentations, Canva's recent study of US employees found. They cite distractions such as completing unrelated work (42%), social media scrolling (28%), and online shopping (25%), indicating that many are struggling to focus.

So, if marketers are to successfully deliver live events and make the most of speaking opportunities, it's important to understand how to engage remote audiences. By understanding why people get distracted and how to best combat distraction, marketers can make their hybrid event speaking slots more worthwhile.

Keep people stimulated with visuals

Distraction usually happens when people are trying to escape unpleasant feelings such as boredom, fatigue, or stress. Minimizing those emotions is one of the most important factors in ensuring people stay engaged—particularly remote workers, whose boredom levels are likely to be high.

A hefty 54% of workers say online presentations regularly include too much data, and 52% say presentations have uninspiring visuals, Canva's research shows—so it's no wonder people are finding it hard to focus. Just as strong visuals play an important role in promoting engagement across social channels and advertising, the visual quality of remote events and presentations counts, too.

By introducing engaging photos, graphics, and colors, as well as animated assets such as videos and gifs, presenters can introduce moments of humor, surprise, and visual stimulation that act as a counterweight to potential negativity. It also introduces a sense of variety, making boredom less likely to take hold.

Make remote audiences feel included

People tuning in from home miss out on the social interactions that take place at live events, and that sense of being on the periphery can increase stress levels. Three quarters (78%) of those surveyed by Canva agree that fostering inclusion and participation across remote and onsite employees is a challenge.

Joyful connections between people increase levels of our pleasure hormone, which immediately reduces anxiety and improves concentration. That insight can be applied when presenting at hybrid events by complimenting the audience and directly addressing remote attendees to make them feel included.

Another way to create rapport with an audience is to ensure presenters have a human story and allow them space to show their personality.

Technology can also be used to engage people across remote and in-person environments. For instance, audience members can be encouraged to participate in a quiz, submit questions using their phones, or take part in a poll.

Keep it short and shareable

Most presentations and speaking slots stretch for an hour or more, but overly long presentations are a common frustration for audiences, as the Canva research found. If your online event consists of one long slide deck with little variety, you can be sure that most people will have tuned out by the end.

Rather than looking to fill a predefined hour, think about ways to strip down the information to its basics, and decide your time frame around that. If a presentation can't be shortened, incorporate breaks at regular intervals to ask questions, or add a mix of media formats to break things up.

It's also important to think about what happens after your presentation. Most virtual events are recorded so they can be shared online for audiences to consume in their own time. If a presentation is particularly interesting or engaging, giving it shareability could lead to a much bigger audience than the event itself had.

Giving people the ability to watch when they want also allows them to focus on the parts of the presentation most relevant to them.

Get used to the hybrid event experience

Marketers have reacted quickly to make their events suitable for remote workers, and 59% said they expect to keep working from home to some extent, Canva's research shows. That means marketers have the new challenge of catering to both live and remote audiences at once, and a strategy overhaul is needed.

As circumstances change, we can already see how large tech companies are bringing new visual and shareable aspects to their presentations to engage audiences across various work environments. Ultimately, those that get ahead of the curve and produce the most engaging hybrid events for customers and prospects are most likely to get the brand recognition and sales leads they desire.

More Resources on Hybrid Events and Presentations

The Hybrid Future: How B2B Events Are Evolving

Creating a Better Audience Experience: Oli Gardner on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Business as Unusual: Shifting Live Events to Digital and Hybrid Experiences

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Hybrid-Event Presentations: How to Balance Engagement Across Remote and In-Person Audiences

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image of Michelle McQuaid

Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author with 25+ years of global leadership experience working with boards, managers, and employees to help them move beyond their fears, improve their resilience and wellbeing, and build authentic and productive connections.

LinkedIn: Michelle McQuaid

Twitter: @chellemcquaid