Are people multitasking during your virtual presentation? Yes. And here’s why that’s OK

According to a recent State of Virtual Meetings report from polly.ai, 43.8% of meeting attendees say they very frequently or always multitask during virtual meetings and an additional 40.3% multitask occasionally. That means that almost three-quarters of the attendees could be multitasking while you present!

In the days of in-person meetings nowhere near that percentage of people multitasked because everyone else could see and it was socially unacceptable. With virtual meetings, no one else is there to see you check your email or catch up on messages with the boss. No social shame makes it much easier to do. People can’t tell if you are looking at the meeting platform window or something else on your screen. And with more cameras off in virtual meetings, no one else can even see what you might be looking at.

The same report asked the multitaskers what they are doing when multitasking. Not surprisingly, the top answers were work related. Checking email was cited by 68.3% of the respondents and messaging by 50.2% of those who replied to the survey. If you are wondering, checking social media was only cited by 19.5% of the respondents.

Virtual meeting presentation with email and chat apps on screen

When someone checks their email or replies to a message, they are likely keeping their mental stress level in check. They won’t come back from the meeting with a daunting list of emails or messages to reply to. By sending a quick reply someone else can move forward which improves productivity overall. I saw people tapping out quick replies more during in-person meetings in the last few years so it is no surprise that this trend grew during the move to virtual meetings.

Should this multitasking concern you as a presenter? I don’t think so.

Because someone quickly replies to a message or email doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to what you are saying. Actually, with that request now answered, they can focus more on what you are presenting instead of being stressed about the volume of requests they will have waiting.

Attendees are going to multitask anyways, so there is no use getting upset as the presenter. Trying to lay down some strict law about only focusing on your presentation is counterproductive.

Knowing that you are having to compete harder for the attention of virtual meeting attendees can help inspire you to look at ways to make your presentation more engaging. Here is a list of articles I’ve written that can help:

8 ways to engage your audience when presenting in a Microsoft Teams or Zoom meeting

4 more ways to engage your audience in a virtual presentation

Collaborate with others using PowerPoint on the web in a virtual or hybrid meeting

7 ways to improve virtual sales presentations by using URL links in the meeting chat in Teams or Zoom

6 ways to improve virtual sales presentations with content other than PowerPoint slides

If someone asks you a question that you already answered, don’t get upset. They may have been quickly replying to a message. Offer grace and understanding and use the question as an opportunity to reinforce the message to everyone.

Attendees will multitask when you are presenting in virtual meetings. The research shows that this is today’s reality. Don’t get upset at it, accept it. Move forward and make your presentation successful anyways.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 1.2 million times and liked over 12,000 times on YouTube.