As organisations all around the world began working from home, almost entirely overnight, we entered a new virtual age. Everything now is virtual, from team meetings, university classes, client calls and even our own learning solutions. It’s critical that organisations and their people are able to be agile and quickly adapt to this new way of working.
It’s crucial not to let physical distance get in the way of communication. Being able to deliver clear and engaging presentations has always been an important skill, and it remains important today, even in this new landscape. In the past, we’ve shared a lot of advice on how to improve your face to face presentations – and, no doubt, we will again in the future – but right now, we want to help everyone understand how to deliver brilliant virtual presentations.
1. Remember that most of the rules are the same
The first thing to know about creating a virtual presentation is that the core principles of any presentation with any type of audience remain. You should always begin the planning process by considering your audience, your key messages and what you want people to leave thinking about.
Knowing what you’re aiming to achieve with a presentation helps you structure it in the best way. Have a strong opening; add flavour, such as relevant examples, stories or humour; and have a memorable closing. Understand how to create a clear and concise slide deck, that doesn’t overwhelm or distract.
All of these things are the same, no matter how you’re delivering your presentation. There are some things to do differently, but the essential elements don’t need to change.
2. Keep the audience engaged
One of the biggest challenges with a virtual presentation is that it’s much harder to make a personal connection with your audience. In person, you can make eye contact or walk up to someone, but in a virtual space, you can’t reach through their screen. It’s also easier for the audience to get distracted. You wouldn’t use your phone sitting in the front row of a physical presentation, but when online, replying to emails feels much more acceptable for some reason.
Find places in your presentation that can become interactive. For example, if you have two graphs, you could show them the first one and ask what they’d expect the second one to look like. Discuss their replies, and why they might think the way they do. When you reveal the second graph, ask whether they’re surprised and what they think these figures mean.
By getting your audience to join in, answer questions or give their opinions, they stay focused. Partly because you’re actively bringing them in, but also because they don’t want to get caught out as the one who wasn’t listening.
Another tip is to keep your slides changing more than you might do in person. An audience’s attention increases when there’s something new to see, so by switching frequently, they don’t have time to get bored of the old slide.
3. Your voice is even more important than usual
In a ‘normal’ presentation, the words you use and how you say them are incredibly important. These are the cornerstones of your performance and will determine whether or not you’re heard and understood. However, when presenting virtually, you often lose a lot of your body language and face to face connections – making your voice your primary tool.
In theory, the words you say shouldn’t need to dramatically change to accommodate the virtual presentation. When you can see your audience’s cameras and they can see each other, it will probably feel more like presentations you’re used to. However, when you can’t see your audience (and particularly if they also can’t see each other either), the whole experience can feel more intimate – on both sides. It’s almost like a one on one meeting. In this case, speaking like you would to a larger physical audience might feel inappropriate.
When speaking, consider the strength of not just your own but also your audience’s internet connection. In person, you can hear if the microphone is working or the acoustics of a room, but this time you’re simply giving an output. Speak as clearly as possible, being careful not to rush anything, giving even those with the worst connections the best chance to follow along.
4. Consider how you look
There’s the old joke that you don’t need to get dressed below the waist if you’re sitting down on camera. Don’t test this theory if you’re presenting (or ever!). Getting dressed properly will make you feel more prepared and will avoid any embarrassment if you do need to stand up. Additionally, what you wear and how you appear will affect your audience’s first impressions of you. If it’s one of their first times attending a virtual presentation, they could be sceptical of the whole thing, and you don’t want to give them any further reasons to doubt your performance or the system itself.
Your virtual body language is no less important when delivering virtually than it is when you do it in person. Make sure your gestures can be seen on the camera – so stamping your feet probably won’t be as effective as facial expressions or moving your hands.
Be aware that a camera focused directly at your face can amplify every facial movement and expression, so be mindful of how you react or where your eyes wander over to. Similarly, check your lighting and background ahead of time. You want to be well lit, but not so much you look shiny, and properly in frame. Don’t have anything distracting or awkward behind you when you talk – you want people listening to you, not wondering what knickknacks are on your shelves.
5. Explain how questions will work
One of the trickiest parts of running a virtual presentation is answering questions. The first thing to note is that not every system allows audience interaction, so before the presentation you may want to explain to your audience how it’s going to work. If everyone’s on webcam, can they just speak up or raise a hand? Do they need to send a chat message? Setting this out in advance will help clarify it and give them a chance to think about what they want to say and how to say it. It also stops people trying to interact or interrupt you in disruptive ways. This is especially important when you want audience participation during the presentation in a different way than you want questions submitted.
When answering questions or running a discussion, be mindful of delays and lag. Give people speaking extra time to finish to ensure you aren’t accidentally interrupting them. Keep track of who has or hasn’t been talking – it’s much easier to blend into the background when you’re not all in the same room together.
6. Check the tech
Nothing ruins a virtual presentation faster than the presenter’s microphone not working or a camera that won’t turn on. We always advise getting to the room for an in-person presentation early in order to check things work and get comfortable in the space. It‘s exactly the same for virtual presentations.
Write yourself a checklist to make sure you’ve tested everything you need before starting. Have you sent out the correct link? Is your laptop charged? Do the slides load properly? Don’t leave anything to chance.
We have many more learning solutions based on adapting to virtual working, take a look. For more guidance on improving your presentation skills, click here.