I received my highest rating last month, and it was from an unlikely source – a virtual audience.

Over the years as a communications coach at a globally ranked business school in Africa, and privately, in my training practice, I’ve improved my in-person sessions. I’ve done so by regularly researching and reading countless resources. Then I’ve consistently applied the knowledge to hone my delivery. As a perpetual learner, I keep updated on the latest insights on communication. Consequently, I’m often regarded as knowing my onions.

Yes, I know from experience what works, and what might not be as effective. I’ve also been at both ends: disappointed by a rating of a 4.3/5 (considered below the benchmark of 4.4/5 by a tough organisation), but also encouraged by the highest I’d gotten – a 4.6/5 until last month. And those ratings were for in-person seminars and workshops (before the pandemic).

Until last month. 

In December  2020, I delivered two sessions on the ‘Winning with Influencing and Assertiveness Skills’ seminar for executives from different sectors in Nigeria. The seminar was fully virtual, so I understood the particular difficulty of capturing the attention of the audience and keeping them engaged. Therefore, before the programme, I challenged myself to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable experience that would be packed with value. Then I changed elements in my delivery and content.

The outcome was astonishing: a 4.9/5 average and the highest I’ve ever received in my training/coaching/facilitation business.

I remember the day I received the email. As I stared at the evaluation that I received from the seminar organiser that listed the figures and comments from appreciated participants, I had an ‘aha’ moment: what a virtual audience really desires.

Below are the three critical needs your virtual audience members secretly wish you’d address:

  • The need to be informed (in an entertaining way)
  • The need to be convinced that your recommendations will make their lives better/happier/more productive/more successful
  • The need to be listened to

When you tackle these needs of your audience, you amplify your virtual sessions. So, whether such programmes are presentations, pitches, training sessions, team-building sessions or myriad other activities that are now delivered virtually (because of restrictions and safety concerns about the pandemic), you’d be assured of top-notch delivery.

Without further ado, let’s break them down:

1) The need to be informed – in an entertaining way

You don’t need to dust off your old guitar and regale them with your (rusty) skills, or serenade them with your (questionable) tone, or feel pressured to ‘perform’ some artistic feat to grab their attention.

What you do need to have is a thorough knowledge of your subject. Next, strive to deliver your strongest points (and not good-to-know tidbits) by asking yourself the foundational question. And do so with some flourish or with a ‘wow’ effect at the beginning. Don’t waste the first two minutes by focussing on some drivel.

So, for my first session, after the initial chitchat, I dove right into the topic. I leaned forward, closer to the webcam, changed my tone, and asked:

‘Image having the ability to…kind of like having a superpower…How much will that skill be worth to you at this point in your career?

Based on the theme I’m focussing on, the above question often tweaked for relevance, is my go-to choice to set the tone of my sessions. It always signals to the audience that my programme will be different. And ‘different’ is gold in attention currency, particularly for virtual audiences.

The delivery of that question counted as the ‘entertainment’ and led to an engaging discussion. And as you can see from the participants’ feedback in the images below, one comment referred to how I captured the audience’s attention.

For this technique to work, distil your premise into a short, punchy statement or question, and deliver with some flourish. If you’ve got a prop, an audio clip, some sound effect, or a short video (one to two minutes at the maximum), then use it.

But ensure your nonverbal skills – tone, volume, eye contact, movement (if possible) complement your messaging.

Get your audience hooked as early as possible, and within the first two minutes of your session.

2) The need to be convinced of your recommendations

Again, you need to be confident in your expertise. Decline invitations to speak, train or facilitate sessions if your knowledge of the topic is limited. Attempting to speak authoritatively on issues you don’t have a firm grasp of is a recipe for disaster and a waste of your audience’s time.

So, assuming you have considerable knowledge or experience of the topic, you’d need to articulate how your recommendations will produce favourable results for your audience.

But there’s a skill to this point, and it isn’t about throwing good information about and hoping the audience members will appreciate or retain it. Remember that people under the current lockdown are overwhelmed by data overload, and the constant deluge causes them to take zero action.

So, cut to the chase: Spell out succinctly how your solutions will improve their lives.

Use Aristotle’s three pillars of persuasion below: logos, pathos, and ethos, to convince the audience of your messaging.

a) Logos (facts, logic, reasoning)

Logic and facts are useful tools of persuasion:

Maintaining a healthy diet will reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

But that’s not enough for your audience to take action, so you need to get to their hearts via emotions.

b) Pathos (emotional slant of the audience)

Appeal to your audience’s emotions:

Many people lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, including my best friend’s family. And an underlying heart condition meant that they lost their matriarch within a day from the onset of grave symptoms. My best friend, who’s still grieving, has now vowed to change her family’s diet.

Now, you’re making an impact, but you need to signal why you’re qualified to address them and why they should listen to you.

c) Ethos (credibility)

Weave in your qualifications and experiences to build trust in your profile and your credibility.

In my x years of active practice and award-winning research, it saddens me to see how lives could be saved if people changed one minor aspect of their diet.

When you know your material and use Aristotle three pillars of persuasion in some measure, you’ll provide value and paint a picture of how the audience members’ lives/careers/businesses will be improved by adopting your recommendations.

Participants (like those in the highly-rated sessions I recently delivered) should leave energised and be eager to apply what they learned in your programme.

3) The need to be listened to

I prioritised engagement with the audience members over the number of points I wanted to tick off on my list.

I asked questions, ensured every participant spoke, kept an eye out for comments in the chat section, addressed those comments, encouraged attendees to share their experiences, and asked them to comment on their colleagues’ contributions.

I also invited them to provide insights about aspects I knew little about based on individual or collective knowledge.

When your audience feels listened to, they’ll believe that their opinions/experiences matter. Then there’s the added benefit of class participation producing new ideas that everyone, including you, would appreciate.

So, focus on your audience and tweak your content accordingly to ensure relevance.

Remember that your success is always hinged on the experiences of the participants and how you connected with them during your sessions.


You’ve most likely been advised to focus on your audience and to deliver value based on their needs.

That’s an excellent recommendation. It’s why prioritising your audience’s needs remains uncontested as my number one rule for effective communication.

But winning over a virtual audience is another hurdle to overcome. After all, you’re competing with multiple distractions, ranging from the understandable (urgent work emails, unreliable internet, kids, partners, pets, etc.) to the ridiculous (notifications from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.).

That’s why addressing the three critical needs of your virtual audience highlighted in this article is a sure-fire way to grab their attention and ensure they’re engaged throughout your sessions.

Wow them first, then relax and await the results and high ratings that you deserve.

Did you know?

This blog is a multi-award-winning site. Since 2017, it’s been ranked by different organisations.

So far, it’s been named ‘Top 30 Communication Blog’ (Feedspot, 2017-2020), ‘Top Business Communication Blog’ (Business First Impression 2018-2019), and ‘Best Communication Blog’ (Expertido).

But in 2021, Feedspot, the reputable online ranking authority, expanded its description. It has now featured the Rethinking Business Communications Blog as one of the ‘Top 40 Communication Blogs, Websites & Influencers in 2021’. This blog’s also the only website from Africa that’s listed. Woo hoo!

Check out Feedspot’s ranking.

Over to you:

Do you need help in boosting communication skills? Sign up here for my free quarterly newsletters and learn best practices. When you sign up, you’ll receive my evergreen resource on giving persuasive presentations. Ensure you download that document and refer to it before any high-stakes presentation or speech.

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N.B: First image is courtesy of Alexandra Koch via Pixabay. Images of participants’ evaluation and scores provided by Lucille Ossai. Fourth image is courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Final image is courtesy of Stux via Pixabay.

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