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The Newbie Blueprint for
Virtual Presentation Success
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the way most of us work. It appears this will continue at least into the near to medium future. Presently, almost half of the workforce has shifted to a home office and, by all accounts, Work-From-Home (WFH) is here to stay.
Not only have businesses seen how much time, money, and other resources can be saved by shifting operations to their employees’ homes, but a considerable proportion of workers across a range of industries are happy with this work life iteration and have likewise expressed satisfaction with this new approach to employment.
There are some aspects of work, and certain jobs, where being remote has presented an entirely new focus on how important professional tasks are carried out. For presenters, motivational speakers, trainers, and other roles which traditionally have involved props such as microphones, laser pointers, flip charts, and spacious stages to pace up and down, the shift to virtual presenting has been tricky to navigate. After all, the message still needs to be transmitted with appropriate power and persuasion, and audiences still need to be influenced, albeit via a screen and the far end of an internet connection.
This particular task becomes one of not only effectively communicating your message with the same power and conviction you’d achieve from a stage or the front of a conference room, but to actually learn to use the screen and your home space to your advantage.
So, how do you turn these hurdles into opportunities for greater effectiveness? Let’s take a look at the key adjustments you’ll need to make in order to boost your confidence, increase your presence, and ensure the online audience is engaged, even though you’re ensconced in the comfort of your home.
Keep the Focus on You
Virtual presentations require real stage-setting and preparation. We can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to not only prepare what you’ll be saying but also dedicating appropriate time that your space does the presentation justice.
You’ll need to:
Take advantage of natural light. A window or other source of natural light creates a more organic presence that eliminates, to a large extent, the possibility of distracting, silhouettes or shadows. Test your webcam prior to the presentation to see exactly how you and your space will appear on your audience’s screens.
Dress for success. How many times have you heard that one? It’s good advice. Consider choosing neutral colors and unpatterned clothes - vibrant colors often look gaudy and create a real distraction via a webcam!
Fix your seat so you’re not moving around, which is another supreme distraction. Watch for potential sources of glare such as jewelry or glasses. Does your chair squeak? If so, invest in a can of WD-40!
If you haven’t gone through the process of securing your home network against hackers, do so well in advance of your presentation. The last thing you want is to suffer a zoom-bombing episode or something similar.
Use Your Toolbox
The vast majority of virtual presentations will benefit from a toolbox of slides, co-presenter link-ups, pre-recorded content, and visual effects. Used sparingly and with common sense, such tools deliver a considerable impact and help create a memorable presentation. However, keep the following in mind:
Video content is quickly ruined by rookie errors like forgetting to turn your mic off during a breakaway, so be sure to do that… and then don’t forget to turn it on again once the video has ended!
Pre-recorded video, animations, and associated images should be integrated into your slides to complement your rhythm and back up your points, but shouldn’t be used as distractions.
Short and snappy slides, featuring limited text, are best used to highlight points and ease note-taking.
Consider bringing in non-technical support tools, such as a remote co-presenter, to boost audience interest and engagement. If you go down this route (and we highly recommend it), be sure to rehearse handovers and check your links - nothing exasperates more than a long wait for a connection!
Verbal and Non-Verbal Language Tips
The way you speak and use body language to communicate draws more focus in a virtual presentation than a physical one. Body language is especially potent in virtual presentations, as all eyes will be on you via your screen, and your audience will be paying attention - whether consciously or not - to what you project.
Good speaking skills include expressing yourself clearly and concisely, making use of accurate enunciation which allows your audience to follow every single word.
Your tone, too, is key. The human voice is a remarkable tool. Use it to achieve the right tone, add gravitas and allow more serious points to come across with greater impact. Exaggerated vocal patterns used infrequently also drives home key messages.
Sit up straight, make ‘eye contact’ with your webcam, and talk with your hands in the same way you would if you were on the stage. Gestures help communicate the flow of your words and points, and encourage audience engagement more than you might imagine.
Create Personal Connections, Remotely
When speaking via internet, it’s very easy to forget that a real audience is out there, one that still requires an effort on your part to make personal connections that allow your message to land effectively. An online audience unfortunately is susceptible to the same shortened attention span as any other web users. As such, your task is to make every second count by keeping in mind the following:
Visualize your audience from the first moment of your presentation to your last. You aren’t speaking to a webcam - you’re speaking to those who have taken the time to tune into your webcast. Some presenters keep a photo of audience members to help maintain this focus!
Never forget that your audience is comprised of real people, each with their own reasons for tuning in. Using pronouns like ‘you’ and ‘we’ rather than referring to people as ‘the audience’ or ‘everyone’ can help forge that all-important personal connection.
As in the previous paragraph, make eye contact with your audience via the webcam. It’s really worth making this point twice, as so many fail to do this, often with the predictably negative result of audience tune out.
Connection Time is Precious. Make the Most of it.
In the ongoing Age of Covid, the basics of good visual presentations remain. Make the most of every second and keep the following in mind.
Plan your key points, or even sketch a full script of your presentation if you think that will help. Awkward silences and ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ are always bad policy in a virtual presentation.
Roll out engagement tools to establish an interactive experience. One such option is instant polls that allow you to gather feedback and collate the views of your audience.
Lastly, enjoy yourself. For most presenters, getting back to doing what they do best - even remotely - is something to look forward to.
Preparation, Delivery, and Virtual Presentation Success
We get it: the home office is no replacement for a fully AV-kitted out stage or conference room, and webinars do have a tendency to make even the most professional presenter feel a little stark and exposed.
However, with the right approach, the right preparation, and a bit of applied know-how, there’s no reason why virtual presentations can’t make every bit as much impact as physical ones.
Go forth and do just that!
About the Author
Brian Skewes is a technologist into deconstruction. Over two decades of self-employment, he has accumulated a wealth of inadvertent real-world lessons related to building, running, and preserving a small company.