The Coronavirus has prompted all kinds of organisations to ask us for advice on how to give a virtual presentation. The courses we provide that teach people how to deliver presentations on Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing facilities have been growing in popularity over the last few years but over the last two weeks demand has exploded.
Companies like the fact that as a niche, agile media training consultancy we can provide online training courses more quickly, flexibly and cost effectively. With Communicate Media, the person you speak to is the person who delivers your course and so know exactly what you’re getting.
Last week we delivered an intensive, two-hour course with follow-ups for each participant after the main session. Participants dialled in from London, Manchester and Boston, Massachusetts. “It was brilliant,” one person told us afterwards. “I really feel ready to deliver presentations to my teams virtually now. I’m so much more confident. The tips and techniques you gave us were so useful.” It was great to hear.
We’d love to see you on one of our delivering virtual presentations courses soon but, in the meanwhile, here are some of the tips and techniques that our delighted participant benefited from.
1. As always, think about the aim of the presentation
Why are you doing it? Is it to sell something? To align your team around a goal? To introduce a new way of working? To warn about something or to persuade your audience to sign up for something? When you think about it, most presentations are about some form of persuasion. Whatever the subject, be clear on what you want to do in your presentation and make sure that you include a strong call to action.
2. Be brief
We recommend this anyway. There’s a reason why TEDtalks are never more than 20 minutes. Keeping the attention of your audience in a room is hard enough but when you’re presenting online you need to work even harder. So, keep your virtual presentations to about 10 to 15 minutes or less. As we say with our business writing courses good writing isn’t when you’ve added everything you want, it’s when you’ve taken away everything you can. Once you’ve agreed your time limit, stick to it. Rehearsals will help you to do this.
3. Make it clear if people can ask questions
If they can, when they’ll be able to. Ideally, this should be after you’ve spoken. Having a colleague to MC the event will allow them to sort through questions so that you can focus on answering them. Have someone else ready to post a couple of questions if you don’t get an immediate response. Also, tell your audience at the start if you’re going to share the deck or other information afterwards. Your colleague can also manage any polling you do among viewers, something that adds to the interest.
4. Keep your slides brief and minimal
It’s even more important when presenting online, than when you’re presenting in person, to keep your slides brief and minimal. Think newspaper headlines or short sentences. Reveal your points rather than including them all on one slide. Even better keep it to graphics and visuals only.
5. Remove distractions
Remove anything distracting from the background of the place that you’re presenting form. Ensure that it and you are well lit. Again, this is where a rehearsal comes in. Think about what you’re going to wear. With virtual presentations you can be slightly more casual than when presenting face to face. Keep your look smart casual. You should ensure that what you wear complements and enhances your message rather than detracting from it.
6. Look into the camera
Make sure that you keep looking into the camera of the computer and not at yourself on the screen. You’ll probably have to raise your machine so that your audience isn’t looking up your nose. You can even invest in a good quality external camera if you’re planning to do a lot of virtual presentations.
7. Add ‘Light and shade’
You have to work harder to add energy than you would in an auditorium or meeting room. Communications technology compresses and deadens your voice. Don’t shout at your audience but do add extra variation or “light and shade” as we call it. Emphasise key words. Smile when appropriate. In the radio sections of our media training courses we say imagine that you’re sitting next to your best friend in a pub or across the kitchen table from them and you’re telling something that you know they’re dying to hear. It might be a bit of juicy gossip or a fascinating fact that is relevant to them. This will help you to add enthusiasm and energy as well as warmth and intimacy. You audience will just have to listen.
8. Stand up – if it’s relevant
Why do people always assume that they need to be seated during an online presentation? Standing up improves your posture and vocal delivery as well as adding authority. Better still do both – sit when you’re aiming to be warm and encouraging or when you’re telling a joke and then stand when you’re doing the big picture stuff and delivering your call to action. Again, rehearsals will allow you to make the transition seamlessly and ensure that the lighting, voice and framing within the camera work for both positions.
9. Don’t apologise – and don’t hope
Even in face to face presentations people often use qualifying phrases such as “I hope you’ll find this useful” or “At least that’s the idea.” In virtual presentations this is even more common, as is the temptation to start with an apology for the fact that you can’t be there or that the technology will make it tricky for some people to see and hear. Don’t do it. Be confident.
10. Prepare and rehearse
We’ve said a number of times here. Do a practice run, record it and play back not just for colleagues but also for family and friends. The latter will be unfamiliar with your messages and so you’ll know whether those messages come across properly. They’re also less likely to hold back when it comes to giving feedback on your delivery. In particular, learn the opening and the conclusion very well – as well as you know your address and post code, we say. This will give you confidence and it’s the start and finish of your presentation that most people pay attention to and remember.
Will virtual presentations become the norm rather than the exception? Certainly, business and professional communications will not be the same after this crisis. One thing is clear though – presentations and meetings by Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are set to increase, and we all need to up our game when delivering them.
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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.