Five mistakes that people typically make during virtual presentations and online meetings – and how to avoid them.
April 21, 2020

The current crisis means that all of us are suddenly holding more meetings and doing more presentations online. The number of daily active users on Zoom has increased by  378 per cent year on year on the 22nd of March. Meanwhile, its monthly active users have increased by 186 per cent, according to data from app intelligence provider, Apptopia.

Suddenly, we’re all having to upskill and that’s probably why we’ve seen numbers for our virtual presentations and virtual meetings training courses increase so significantly over the last couple of weeks.

We’re a niche, agile media training consultancy and companies like the fact that because of this we can provide online training courses more quickly, flexibly and cost effectively. They also appreciate that with Communicate Media, the person you speak to is the person who delivers your course and so you know exactly what you’re commissioning with no high pressure salespeople getting in the way.

Organisations are beginning to realise that, of course, anyone can download an app and do a meeting or presentation. But that’s not the same as doing it well. If you’re not delivering those presentations or running your meetings effectively on Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and Hang Outs then you’re wasting an opportunity.

Here are five mistakes that people typically make during virtual presentations and online meetings – and how to avoid them.

1. The camera is too low.

I am sure your nostrils are lovely, and you’re very attached to them, but I really don’t want to see them. Whether it’s online media interviews, virtual meetings or presentations by Zoom, we’ve seen up a lot of people’s noses over the last few weeks. One point we make during our virtual presentations courses is that it’s important to raise your computer so that it’s at your eyeline. You’re therefore looking straight into the camera. Avoid the temptation to look at yourself on the screen. If you’re going to do a lot of communication online, it’s worth investing in a good quality camera. The same is true of a microphone.

2. The background is distracting – and embarrassing.

Suddenly thousands of professional people are getting an insight into how their colleagues live. On our virtual meetings courses participants have told us about views of colleagues, clients’ and suppliers’ bedrooms, kitchens and even laundry rooms. “I could clearly see a pair of Y-fronts on a pile of washing behind this guy’s head during the whole meeting,” one woman told us. “And I’m not sure that they were clean, either.”

Whether you’re delivering a presentation or doing media interview online you need to make sure that your background doesn’t distract from what you’re saying. It needs to complement not just your message but also the mood of your meeting. This is your chance to be get creative. Fresh flowers are always a good bet. A few books also work, although it’s probably best to replace that Danielle Steele blockbuster with something from the Harvard Business School. A simple, elegant print can look good too. You’ll also have to think about lighting. We were sent an online pep talk by a boss who looked to be speaking from the bowels of the earth. Not very inspiring. You need to light the room more than you would normally. Borrow some lamps from other parts of your home and make sure that the background is illuminated and that there’s light shining on your face from an angle rather than straight on.

We always recommend a rehearsal before any appearance, be it a meeting or presentation, and a dry run like this will help you to get the lighting and your set design right.

3. It’s too long.

This is probably true of almost every meeting and presentation but if you’re expecting people to look at a screen it’s even more important. According to a recent survey
around two thirds of us do other work or send an email during a conference call while just over half eat or make food.

Even more than when we meet face to face, online meetings have to be shorter, more concise, and more focussed. So, tell your audience in an email confirmation how long the meeting will take place, what they’ll get out of it and what they’ll be expected to contribute. Then repeat that at the start of your appearance – and stick to it.

4. They haven’t rehearsed.

We always tell people during our presentation courses to practice, practice, practice until you’re bored of practicing and you just want to go out and do it. In particular, it’s essential to work on your opening and closing comments. This will give you self-assurance as it provides a good launch and if you’re losing your way or lacking in way through your performance at least you know where you’re going. It works for your audience too because it tends to be the start and conclusion of a presentation or meeting that we remember.

With virtual presentations and online meetings, you also need to check that your equipment works. Record your rehearsal so that you can watch it back. One CEO we work with even has her laptop next to her desktop in these situations so that if something goes wrong with one computer she can switch quickly and seamlessly to the other.

5. Remove online distractions.

This includes switching off your email and instant messaging service. We were told of one CEO who held a Skype meeting with their team and who left their email app on. The participants clearly saw a message come in which was headlined “redundancy notice period.” How were they supposed to concentrate after seeing that?

Clear up your desktop if you’re sharing a screen and make sure that if you’re working from home everyone else in the house knows that you mustn’t be disturbed. You know the famous video but here it is again just in case you might possibly have forgotten it.
Finally, David Berman, President of Zoom Video Communications, Inc recommends clicking on the “Mute upon entry” option on the app. “This makes sure that your participants join with their sound off, so you don’t get background noise that can disrupt the flow of your presentation,” he says.

We’re all are having to become more and more familiar with virtual presentations and online meetings. While many of the fundamentals of communicating face to face apply here too, such as preparation, a focus on the audience, storytelling and energetic delivery, ensuring that you’ve mastered the extra requirements is essential.

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If you or your company require professional advice or media training, get in touch by giving us a call on 0800 1777080 or emailing us or to find out more about our media training, crisis communications and presentation courses.

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