This might come as a shock, but when you're delivering a presentation in a virtual meeting, your viewers are doing something other than giving you their full attention.  

According to a Wall Street Journal survey, they're doing all sorts of things--washing their clothes, walking the dog, tending to the garden, exercising, emailing, or watching TV.

You can convince people to pay attention by using a technique that I learned in the first day of graduate school in journalism. I used it for the next two decades in my broadcast career and in my work with CEOs and senior executives. 

Answer the one question every person in your audience is asking themselves:

Why should I care?

First, some tough love. Nobody cares about your presentation, slides, or brilliant idea. They care about themselves--their hopes, their goals, their dreams.

Psychologists and researchers have found that the motivations that drive most people fall into a small number of categories. In business, most people are motivated to:

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Gain status, fame, power, or recognition
  • Achieve purpose

Many sub-goals are also motivations but fall into the big categories. For example, if someone expresses the goal of 'getting promoted,' what they really want is more money, status, and recognition. Many employees express the desire to be a part of a company that has a social conscience and 'does the right thing.' The desire is part of a larger motivation to live a life of purpose. 

In a virtual presentation, make sure your audience knows exactly what's in it for them, and make it clear in the first 30 seconds. 

For example, "In today's presentation, I'm going to show you the specific steps you can take today to xyz [raise your sales by 20 percent, get promoted to senior management, trim your department's expenses by 30 percent].

You'll note that I'm being specific. People are more likely to pay attention if they see a specific reason for your presentation and not something vague like "do better at your job."

Here's how it worked for one senior sales professional who I recently spoke to. 

Bret is the vice president of sales for a large, publicly-traded company. He was preparing to speak to nearly 1,000 sales professionals in the company's first-ever virtual conference. 

In the first version of Bret's presentation he wanted to open with a review of the previous quarter's sales numbers.

"Are they bad?" I asked.

"Yes, the numbers show a decline because of Covid."

"Does everyone know the numbers?"

"Yes, they were made public in our last earnings call."

By starting with old news--and bad news on top of that--the VP hadn't provided a good enough reason to keep his audience's attention.

"Let's start with motivations. What's on their mind and why should they care?" I asked.

"They're anxious about their quotas," he responded.

"But we've figured out a creative way to adjust their quota to take advantage of new markets that have emerged because of the Covid lockdowns. If they follow the plan I'm rolling out, many of them might make more money than they did last year, and the rest are still likely to reach their quota."

The sales leader had just crafted his new opening, giving the audience a reason to care and a reason to pay attention to every word.

All it took is one simple question: Why should your audience care?

Don't give your virtual listeners an opportunity to tune out. Appeal to their motivations in the first 30-seconds and they will hang on to your every word.