Why your online presentation’s context calls for focus

Conference presentations are great because you have some control over the context.  You can adjust the lights and quiet the room.  You can walk around, carrying the gaze of your audience with you.

At this moment, how are you reading this post?  Are you sitting in your office staring at a desktop screen filled with tabs and the occasional blinking light?  Are you sitting on a bus or a train?

As much as I would like, I cannot eliminate all the other distractions that surround you while you read this post.

All I can do is focus.

In this post…

  • I’ll talk about the full screen web of the past;
  • and why you can no longer assume that your presentation will be viewed full screen;
  • I talk a little about your mobile audience;
  • and wrap up with what you can do about it.

Also, if you would be so kind.  When you’re done, could you comment and let me know how you are reading this post?  I’d love to know what I’m competing with right now.

The full screen web

When you think about the person experiencing your online presentation, what does it look like?  Are they sitting at their computer sipping coffee and carefully reading your offering?  Do you have their undivided attention?

Now don’t be too hard on yourself, because sometimes that is the reality.  But often it’s not.

In the early days of the web, when graphics were limited and screens were small, websites were viewed full screen.  If someone visited your site you could reasonably expect that they were looking at your site.

The web is no longer full screen

You can no longer expect that your reader is seeing your site in all its full screen glory.  If they’re looking at your site on a desktop or a laptop it’s likely there are other tabs open, the screen is minimized, and there are blinking lights signaling emails, tweets, or a range of other distractions.

The context of your online presentation is often chaotic.  It’s not the same as standing in front of a room you can quiet.

Sometimes the canvas is limited

The only time you can feel more comfortable about what your reader is seeing is in the mobile world.  The screen is just so tiny.  Of course, even smart phone web browsers have tabs and a system tray.

And that’s not even mentioning the physical context.  Is your mobile reader on the bus?  Are they sitting in a crowded restaurant?  Are they walking down the street?

Focus, because you can’t control the context

You don’t have control over the context with which your presentation is seen.  Accept it.  And once you accept it, start to understand the chaos, and let it change the way you present.

You craft the presentation.  The format, the visuals, the sentences.  Strip away any distractions, like irrelevant widgets and unnecessary paragraphs.   Craft your presentation in a way that puts all the focus on the ideas that are important.  Maybe write deductively, but more importantly, just be direct.

Because unlike the context, focus is something you can control.


  1. Anjie Raber on January 7, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Hi Chris,
    Great post. Although I don’t blog, I think your point is an important one for any kind of presentation–strip away distractions. Certainly easier said than done (at least for me.)
    I read your blog on my comupter at my desk and it looked a lot like your picture under “How your blog actually looks…”
    Happy New Year!

    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Anjie, happy new year to you too 🙂

  2. Jen Sulewski on January 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Read it on my iPhone on the train ride to work.

    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Awesome, thanks for commenting Jen 🙂

  3. Sheila B Robinson on January 7, 2014 at 9:22 am

    You’re right Chris, there are a lot of — oooh, you should see the gorgeous tile they’re using on this bathroom remodel on HGTV. I have it on in the other room. Hang on a sec; someone just texted me, and a notification of a new work email just popped up. I’ll have to switch over to that screen for a moment. Be right back – coffee’s out. Lemme just pop a new K-cup into the Keurig and I’ll get right back to you and finish this comment.

    So, you get the picture. I’m reading this at home on my 15″ laptop, my favorite place to read blogs. I sometimes read on my iPad, and almost never on my phone. I’m the youngest of the baby boomers – a digital immigrant for sure, one who embraces most technology, but will still complain that the smart phone screen is too small for my aging eyes. On the computer, I usually have upwards of 20 tabs open on 4 browser windows, plus any number of documents I’m working on as well. I’m monitoring 5 email addresses. Yeah, I know. The latest research on multi-tasking doesn’t support this approach.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with the idea of focus. The more you limit the noise on your site, the more attention someone like me is able to devote to it. 🙂

    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Thanks Sheila 🙂
      It’s exhausting when you write it all out, isn’t it?

  4. Paulie D on January 7, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Feedly, while running Stylish Firefox extension. Normally one of the silent untracked folks who read purely through RSS. Visiting to comment and say I enjoy reading.

    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Thank you Paul for the visit and the comment. On lots of sites, I’m silent untracked folk too.

  5. Ann K. Emery on January 7, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Since we’re all making guilty confessions… I typically just “read” the pictures and headers in blog posts, and skim a paragraph or two if it’s a topic I really like.

    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Thanks Ann. That’s why I like cartooning. If the cartoons reflect the points I make in the text, at least my points will come across even if the text isn’t read.

      There are other ways to do this than cartoons. Of course, that’s another post entirely 🙂

  6. Kathleen Lynch on January 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Hi Chris,
    I read your post on my external monitor but within my email program. So, my screen showed my email folders down the left-hand side, but the rest of the screen was your blog post.

    I liked it, btw.


    • Chris Lysy on January 7, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Thanks Kathy 🙂
      It’s really interesting to see all the different ways this post is being read.

  7. Molly Engle on January 7, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Chris, Focus may be the answer. I lost focus and found I switched out of your post at the point where you said, “when you’re done, could you comment…yeah, I went back later, much later, and saw the cartoons. I blog and this was an important piece for me…I still think that 500 words is too long.; breaking up the post with headings and shifts helps. I wonder if reading more than 500 words is the issue. And if it is being viewed on a smart phone, help…(I don’t have one…). Keep up the thinking and the work you do…maybe those of us who are truly technopeasants will adapt…and Happy New Year!

    • Chris Lysy on January 8, 2014 at 6:47 am

      Thanks Molly, Happy New Year to you too 🙂

      I’m not sure I’d go with the 500 word limit. I likely wouldn’t go longer than 500 for any individual point/sub-point, but I’ve seen successful multi-part posts that have a lot more words.

      Of course, what’s success? You can get the point of this post by just looking at the cartoons and the headers. If you can communicate the main point just through your reader skimming your post, the rest of the words can just be added value. It’s ok if they don’t read all 500 or 1000 or whatever.

  8. Cameron Elliott on January 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Chris,
    I read this old-school-style on my laptop email client. Great post! I also got a lot out of your “deductive presentation” post which you linked to. Writing inductively is a hard but essential habit to shake for us dyed-in-the-wool researchers.

    • Chris Lysy on January 8, 2014 at 7:05 am

      Thanks Cameron!
      Making the switch is definitely tough. It’s easier if you can accept the idea that many of your readers are not going to read everything you write.

  9. Kevin on January 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    I read the post on my tablet while watching my 4 year old son at the library.
    Great points to think about.

    • Chris Lysy on January 8, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Thanks Kevin!

  10. karen on January 8, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Ha!I start reading blogs on my phone 90% of the time. If it’s super interesting I’ll check it out on my computer if I can’t view it properly. I started reading the first time at work yesterday and got busy. Started again last night while watching an awesome series ‘Getting On’ on HBO Go with my sister. My Internet was shotty last night so here I am….finally making my comment (sitting indian style in bed on my phone) when I should be getting ready for work.

    Lol that was fun Chris!

    • Chris Lysy on January 8, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Awesome Karen, thanks for the story 🙂

  11. Tamara on January 9, 2014 at 4:19 am

    I read this on my laptop while sitting next to my boyfriend on his couch. He interrupted me once to talk about something he was reading on his laptop.,,,

    • Chris Lysy on January 9, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Thanks Tamara!

  12. Ann Price on January 10, 2014 at 10:23 am

    in my comfy chair with coffee while listening to MQP on youtube…..

    • Chris Lysy on January 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Interesting Ann, two simultaneous presentations. Is the MQP video worth a listen? If so, please share the link 🙂

  13. Erica Heath on January 14, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Sitting at my desk at work with the large screen. Having a chili lunch and paging rather lazily through my emails.

    • Chris Lysy on January 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks Erica, definitely paints a familiar picture.

  14. Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss) on January 15, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Great blog, Chris!

    You’re right about focus being vital. In fact I use a model called the FiRST framework, and the F stands for “Focus attention”. You can find an overview here [link].

    Comments (and backlinks) very welcome!

    When it comes to writing, I try to not only cut surplus paragraphs (as you say), but even surplus syllables. (So it’s ironic that most of my posts end up being quite long! I struggle with publishing just a bite-size post from a longer piece. Hopefully the headings, lists, callouts etc make them fairly easy reading.)

    To answer your question: Online I usually read at a desk, in a maximised browser window on a laptop, but with many tabs along the top. (I like to use almost the full screen, and I hate distractions that move or flash.)

    • Chris Lysy on January 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Thanks Craig,
      Cutting syllables, now that’s dedication.