Tips for Presenting Virtually During Work from Home
I love speaking to groups. I especially love doing this in person. I get energy from the room, and I love the interaction with a live audience. Many of you may feel the same way, but as the novel coronavirus continues its relentless path around the world, our ways of working and interacting are having to undergo a change. We are being forced to eliminate face-to-face interaction in order to keep people safe and slow the spread of the virus.
So, how can we still get our messages out to the world? We can move our presentations to the web. We can create virtual presentations in the form of short videos, webinars, and as Seth Godin likes to say, “we can start conversations.”
Presenting virtually is different than presenting in-person on several levels. One difference is that depending on the type of virtual presentation you are giving, your audience may or may not be able to see you, but you can never see them. This can be disconcerting as a presenter. All of the feedback and energy you get from a live audience is missing, which can lead you to wonder if and how your message is being received.
Another challenge is keeping your audience engaged. Audience engagement is difficult enough with a live audience, but with a virtual audience, the challenge goes to a whole other level. In-person audiences can obviously turn you off mentally, but virtual audiences can literally turn you off, with the click of a mouse or a tap on their phone. If your audience can see you, there are certain techniques you can use to keep their attention. If they cannot see you, there are other techniques to employ. In this post, I’ll share some tips that will help you to be successful no matter what kind of virtual presentation you are giving.
Let’s start with some tips that apply no matter what kind of virtual presentation you are giving. I’ll follow with some specific tips that apply to being on camera or not.
Tips for All Types of Virtual Presentations
- Keep it short. Even when presenting in person, it is challenging to hold the audience’s attention. As I mentioned above, when presenting virtually that challenge increases significantly. In-person we can use gestures, intentional movement, and eye contact to connect with the audience and pull their attention back to us, but when presenting virtually, many of those tools are missing or reduced. In the virtual realm, it’s better to cover less content and keep the total length of your presentation to 10 – 15 minutes.
- Stand. Whether or not people can see you, you should stand when giving your presentation. Standing ensures that you can breathe from your diaphragm and that energy is able to flow easily through your body. It also makes it more likely that you won’t lean on a table or surface, which never looks professional. Use your hands to gesture, even if they can’t see you.
- Use lots of signposting language. Signposts are simple words that trigger the brain to pay attention. They are things like “That’s all I have on xyz, now let’s move on to...” or “Now, I’d like to explain…” This language helps your audience follow your presentation and keeps them with you.
- Use language to create intimacy with your audience. Use “you” and “your” when referring to things. If you are communicating with a team, use “we” and “us”. Each person should feel like you are speaking directly to them. Instead of “Can everyone hear me?” say “Can you hear me?” It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference.
- Prepare. When presenting virtually, the technology has to work. If it doesn’t, you have no presentation! Take the time to test the technology you plan to use. Either do a dry run several days in advance or at a minimum, start 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time of your event, so you can work out any bugs. It’s a great idea to record yourself giving the presentation and then play it back to yourself. What do you hear or see that you would like to change?
- Silence, please. Remove any and all distractions from the area you are working in. Silence your cell phone, turn off email and other notifications, and don’t rustle any papers.
- Don’t go it alone. It is awkward at best to try to field questions and deal with technical issues all by yourself. Enlist the help of a moderator or assistant to field questions that come through the chat or text to tally the poll results and to assist with any technical issues that might arise. If people are asking questions verbally, ask them to state their names prior to speaking.
Tips When They CAN’T See You
- Change it up and keep it moving. Keep slides simple, clean, and colorful; use graphics and images as much as possible, minimize the number of word slides. Use more slides than in a normal presentation and move them along. Don’t stay on any one slide for more than 20 seconds. The audience needs a new image to wake up the brain.
- Involve your audience. Use engagement tools to involve the audience (raising hands, polls, quizzes, asking questions in chat, etc.). But don’t use these tools just for the sake of using them. If you insert a poll, make sure the question fits with the content and is relevant.
- Consider bringing in a guest speaker or co-presenter. The change in voice and style of having two presenters can keep the presentation interesting and keep the audience engaged, but you need to choreograph the interaction - only one of you should be speaking at a time. Resist the temptation to interrupt each other or talk over each other. Joking around too much is also not a good idea. It can make the audience feel excluded
- Use your voice to communicate passion and energy. If people can’t see you, your voice is all you have to keep your audience engaged. Your voice needs to be dynamic and engaging or you will lose people. If you don’t naturally have a lot of “music” in your voice, you can practice by reading a script using exaggerated emotion, volume, etc. (I have often used Steve Job’s commencement address in my classrooms). Stand up and move around as you speak using a wireless headset. This may help you to generate the right amount of energy in your voice.
- Slow down and pause. Speaking at a measured pace - not too fast, not too slow - will hold people’s attention. Learn to pause for 2-3 seconds at the point of transitions or when you have made an important point. Because your audience is dependant on your voice, a silence will catch their attention and bring their attention back to you.
Tips When They CAN See You
- Maintain eye contact. When presenting virtually it’s important to look directly at the camera during the entire presentation. Don’t look down at notes or anywhere else. The minute you break eye contact, people lose interest and if you are looking all around (for example, if you have more than one screen and you have notes on a screen that causes you to look from one screen to the other) it is distracting to the audience. They will remember much less of what you say and may tune you out entirely. Direct eye contact also engenders trust and sincerity. You can’t see them, but they can see you, and maintaining eye contact with them will help them trust you and believe your message.
- Stay still and in front of the camera. Don’t shift on your feet. Balance your weight on both legs equally and keep the lower body still. Make your gestures a bit higher than usual so that people can see them. Make them intentional and keep them contained. Be sure not to move to a place off-camera, where your audience can’t see you. This comes across as amateurish and unprofessional.
- Smile. Or at least keep your facial expression pleasant and neutral. This is where practicing on video and watching yourself can really pay off. You might notice that you look overly serious or that you are frowning in concentration. Work to relax your face and smile at appropriate moments. Practicing your presentation several times and getting very comfortable with the content will help you to relax and come across naturally.
- Logistics. Wear neutral clothing but avoid black. Black swallows you up on camera (just ask my friend and expert videographer Carrie LeZotte. Make sure you are well lit from above. Be mindful of what appears behind you. Make sure it is not messy or distracting.
I hope you will find these tips useful as you engage in more online presentations. As always, questions and comments are welcome.