When the Coronavirus hit us last year, the whole world was thrown into an unprecedented crisis.
The world came to a sudden stop; many events were cancelled or postponed until further notice.
Event organizers and speakers were brought to a standstill: they didn’t know how long this could last, and there was no immediately obvious plan B for something this big.
With no clear indication of when physical events would resume, everyone started to look at other options. Perhaps there was a plan B after all, one which did not require postponing — all you had to do was pivot to virtual.
While virtual events have been around for quite some time, they quickly become the go-to for all events. But running events, and speaking, online is very different from running events and speaking at real-life events. In the past year, the bar for virtual events has risen higher than ever before. While, in the first few months of the lockdown, there was a lot of room and grace for wobbly events, now, audiences are looking for speakers and event organizers who know how to excel at virtual.
Maintaining audience engagement can be an uphill climb initially. It’s not surprising that an audience member whose interest has wandered would be using their phone, doing some other task, or paying attention elsewhere during the course of a speech.
While audience engagement is a challenge in the digital world, if you work on certain factors, it is a challenge you can overcome. Here we look at experts’ best advice for making successful virtual presentations.
The top 6 tips to become a better virtual speaker
1. Body Language
In virtual presentations, as in face-to-face presentations, body language is an essential element.
Sometimes, how you say something leaves a bigger impact than what you say.
Therefore it is important that your camera is at eye level, and you look directly into the camera rather than the screen. This way, it seems to the audience that you are making eye contact with them.
Take the time to position yourself properly, ensuring that your head, neck and shoulders are completely visible and squared facing the camera. You don’t want to be too close to the camera, nor do you want to be so far away that the audience has a hard time deciphering your facial expressions.
Work on your energy levels, and try to pass your enthusiasm and excitement on to your audience.
Lighting plays an important role in how you appear on screen.
While natural lighting is good, you will almost always need additional lighting.
Make sure that light shines on your face, and be mindful that there should be no strong shade being cast on your face.
Never have a strong light source behind you (e.g. a window) as this will reduce your visibility. If possible, use strong but diffused light sources, lighting your face from the sides or above, but most importantly, from in front of you.
The best thing would be to adjust your lighting and try out different angles and positions before your presentation to see which light settings will make you look best on the screen.
3. Choose the right background
Backgrounds are important for any event, but they have become all the more important in the digital world.
Make sure that, whatever background you use, it shouldn’t be too distracting for the audience.
Instead, choose a crisp, clear background which looks professional and goes with the overall setting of your presentation.
If you have a designated office space at home, you can set up your space in an appealing way for your presentations. Be sure to try out your background before your actual presentation so you can see what it looks like on screen.
Alternatively, if you are limited in what you can do with your office space, many platforms offer a variety of digital backgrounds. Look for one that is neutral, professional, and once again, goes with the overall feel of your presentation.
4. Engage your participants
Audience engagement is at the heart of any event or presentation.
But how do you engage with an audience who is remote from you, sitting behind a screen?
For starters, it is essential to remember to break down your talk into various components.
Studies have shown that after 10 minute of listening to a speaker, audiences struggle to maintain focus. Variety is key to engagement.
Schedule the variety into your presentation. For every 10 minutes that you talk, organize a complementary activity, like a poll, insights from different speaker (this is where co-hosts and guests can be very useful), a short video or audio clip, a brief break to answer questions in the chat box, or switching tactics by telling a story or joke.
Look for ways to make the session interactive. There are many smartphone apps available that can help you in this regard.
The best way to plan this is to map your entire talk. In her recent World of Speakers podcast appearance, Sarah Weise suggested that you shouldn’t have similar things happening throughout the talk; you should weigh the highs and the lows.
Eric Sims suggested that you can have someone introduce you before you appear on screen to talk, or even have a guest panel so that the audience gets to listen to different voices as well as yours and that helps break the monotony in any virtual presentation.
If you are using slides, ensure they are not too text-heavy, and rather, are visually stimulating. Remember, slides are there to add to the presentation, they are not the presentation. The crux of the presentation still needs to be delivered by you.
5. Know the technology
Vinh Giang advises that it’s best to invest in some specialist equipment like cameras and lighting to help you perform better as a virtual speaker. Just make sure you know how to use it, as it looks very amateurish is to be seen fumbling with your equipment on screen.
You should never be figuring out your equipment in front of your audience. The best thing you can do is to set everything up in advance and have a dry run of your entire presentation as it would be on the presentation date. That’s everything, from you dressing up to look the part professionally, to the exact lighting, camera, and microphone that you will use on the day.
If you have an ethernet cable, that’s the best thing to use for your internet connection, as physical cables provide a more stable network than wi-fi. Do your soundcheck, present your slides, and most importantly have a back-up plan ready, because sometimes, no matter how much you have practiced, technology can let you down at the last minute.
6. Ask for help
Sometimes it’s best to have a co-host or a producer, or even a friend, who can lend you a hand. It is always a great help to have someone on board who can manage your chat boxes, your waiting room, and break rooms while you’re presenting.
This way you are not distracted during your presentation, and can instead completely focus on your delivery.
It is also a great idea, and should be part of your back-up plan, to give this designated person a copy of your slides, so they can share them from their computer should you encounter any problems with yours.
Also, if for some reason your internet connection fails, your support person can also engage with the audience until you get back online.
Presenting virtually can seem daunting at first, but by following the above-mentioned tips, and with a bit of practice, you too will find that you can smoothly navigate the virtual speaker’s world.
- World of Speakers E.71 COVID-19: Mitch Jackson | Navigating the Coronavirus as a public speaker
- Captivate your webinar audience and create an engaging online event
- Mastering video presenting and conferencing: Act like a pro
- Mastering video presenting and conferencing: Setting up a pro space
- Going virtual: 20 resources for presenters and speakers
- World of Speakers E.79 COVID-19 Special: Topeka K. Sam | Amplifying your message online
This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.