Public Speaking in an online world: What has 2020 changed?

Looking back to before the Coronavirus pandemic took a toll on our lives, on the surface things seemed a lot simpler. Well, the level of simplicity of things pre- and post-Corona is debatable as one could argue that things were a lot easier back then because we’d had years to perfect them. On the other hand, many technological advancements have been made since the dawn of COVID-19, not just to make life easier but also to keep people safe.

The move to the online world is one of the changes. Almost everything now is done virtually — jobs, schooling, and public events. To curb the spread of the virus, physical distancing is a measure put in place by many countries. This means that people can no longer host physical events any time soon, or at least until things cool down.

These measures have not stopped people from hosting events as there are now many (and better) platforms to host events virtually.

So what has changed? Is public speaking the same as it was before the pandemic? What are some of the things that public speakers have to consider when giving a talk online? This post will comprehensively cover the answers to these and many other questions that you may have regarding public speaking in a post-Covid world.

The difference between online and traditional events

It takes a lot of training and experience to become a public speaker. However, there are slight differences when it comes to presenting to a virtual audience. Luckily, there are many platforms for online courses that you can use to learn the relevant tips and tricks to make your online presentations successful.

Before all this, physical events needed advanced prior planning — something that could take months to pull off. You needed to get a suitable venue for the event, ensure that the guests have good accommodation where necessary, and plan for transportation and security.

Organizing for a virtual event is very different and depends on the technology used. For instance, since there’s no physical registration of participants, the organizers need to have a reliable digital system to do all that. They also have to consider other factors such as accepting virtual payments, the platform used for the event, and requirements such as lighting and good internet connectivity.

The other key difference concerns the main speakers. Before the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, physical public speaking skills such as maintaining eye-contact with the audience, making good use of the stage, and adapting your delivery and content to audience reaction in order to maintain engagement were very much appreciated and demanded.

When presenting online, you are not always able to see your audience, moreso with large audiences. You may not have the opportunity to switch your presentation methods in response to how the audience reacts. Furthermore, there obviously isn’t a stage to walk around on or eyes to look into.

With all these things missing when presenting online, you need to develop a strategy that will enable you to ace your virtual public speech.

5 Tips to help you present virtually

You may already be skilled in public speaking, but for presenting online you should consider the following tips:

Adapt the content to this new medium

You need to analyze your content before delivering a talk virtually. There are various ways to engage the audience in a physical setting, such as asking them questions, making jokes, telling stories as part of your messaging, etc. However, even though you may wish to make a joke or tell a story, you may lack feedback from the audience. Therefore, it is better to take less risks with your content.

Luckily, platforms such as Zoom have features that help you engage with your audience during your presentation, such as polls, breakout rooms, chat, hand raising, etc. These enable speakers to keep their audiences active throughout their presentations. You will need to adapt to these new mediums of communication to help you deliver great content to your listeners.

Speak directly to the camera lens

Maintaining eye contact is one of the most important skills you need to master as a public speaker. However, when presenting online, you are not able to look your audience members in the eye as you speak to them. Instead, maintaining eye contact while presenting virtually requires you to look directly into the camera lens. Note: If your camera is not aligned with your screen, looking at your screen may be interpreted by your audience as looking away from them. So, while it’s natural to look at your screen, you should train yourself to look into your camera by default.

This way, your eyes will appear to be looking directly at your viewers. They see that you are interested in speaking to them, and they end up paying closer attention.

Assume the camera is always on

By now, you must have heard horror stories of people forgetting that their cameras and microphones are on and doing embarrassing things without knowing that someone else might be watching them. Do not fall prey to this.

Before hosting any virtual meeting, you should be adept with all your equipment and know how to turn features on and off. Whenever you need to do something without others seeing, you should ensure that your microphone and camera are turned off.

Brevity

There is no room for fluff or meandering when making an online presentation. If it is a virtual event, you need to be precise and to the point. Ensure that your speech or presentation has a flow that the audience can follow without getting lost.

You should also note that audience members are not prohibited from leaving and there’s no social pressure to keep them there. So be sure not to bore them with too many irrelevant stories. Focus on the main message.

Talk through disruptions

At times, especially during bigger events, there may be many tools and software features that you need to enable to be at your best. However, we all know how technology is, and the fact is that it might fail us or, more likely, we may fail it at some point.

If you do not have a backup team to help you during such situations, you can talk through the disruptions as you work to get the problem fixed. If you’re having trouble sharing your screen, you can keep the conversation going or simply tell them things like, “Please give me a moment as I share my screen. Thank you for your patience, everyone.”

The audience might be more willing to wait for you as you work on your technical hitch, unlike when you decide to just go quiet without letting them know why. It is also crucial to master online video presentation tools so that you know your way around them, don’t make mistakes, and have some ideas about how to handle any technical hitches that occur during the presentation.

Bonus tips

  • Do a test run in advance — this is an important factor to consider, moreso if this will be your first time using a certain platform. It will help you to get familiar with the tools and software before the actual presentation.
  • Watch your background — you don’t want the audience’s focus to shift to whatever is behind you. Ensure that they only focus on you as you speak, by having a professional background, or at least one that doesn’t steal their attention. Some programs, such as Zoom, have a ‘blurred background’ feature, which blurs everything else in the video except the speaker.
  • Practice relaxation techniques — relaxing and staying composed is important in public speaking. Before the presentation, take a deep breath, and since you won’t be having the audience in the same room as you, you can light up your scented candles (if that’s your thing) to help you remain calm. Relaxation during (and before) a presentation will enable you to get all your talking points in order, and your message delivery will be on point.

Bottom line

Public speaking in 2021 is a lot different than before the pandemic struck. The focus has shifted to how we utilize online tools and software, and not just how we present our message.

As more and more people continue embracing this new norm, the world doesn’t seem to be going back to how things were, even post-pandemic. This is all thanks to the convenience virtual events have brought to us. Nevertheless, you will still need to stay ahead of the trends to boost your online presentation skills.

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Blog.

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