Insights/ Presenting virtually – top tips and pitfalls

Author: Katie Curzon

However much you like (or dislike) presenting, it goes without saying that it is more impactful, and quite frankly easier, in the physical world. The ability to walk around a stage or room, make eye contact and gestures and create an emotional connection with the audience. Remove that physical presence, and it’s much harder to keep engagement.

The Powwow team work daily with different speakers and support them to be their best when presenting virtually. Here are our top tips for presenting to a virtual audience.

Physical environment - starting with the easy part – create a suitable and quiet space:

  • Your background: Keep it clear. Even if you’re the most engaging speaker, your audience will be looking at what’s behind you
  • Lighting: Avoid lighting directly above your head, or behind you as it creates a silhouette. Aim for a good light pointing directly at you. Natural light works well, or lamps at face level make a real difference
  • Camera positioning: Line up your camera so you’re not looking up or down into it, ensure it’s at eye level. Position yourself so your eyes are one third of the way down the screen
  • Posture: Whether you stand or sit, ensure you’re comfortable and look engaged
  • Suited and booted: Try not to clash with your background. Plain colours tend to work better on camera than patterns. Avoid jewellery or watches that might knock on the table or headset microphone
  • Your notes: Ideally position an iPad or Post Its close to your camera, so you’re not looking down or sideways
  • Connection: Use an ethernet cable if possible, and if not, position yourself close to your Wi-Fi router
  • Distractions: Turn off notifications on your laptop and lock out (or up) children and pets

Preparation

  • Start from scratch: Don’t use a presentation that was prepared for an in-person event. Transitions and animations can appear jittery if the audience has a slow connection. Keep it simple and try to avoid detailed charts and data
  • Keep sessions short: Consider what has to be presented virtually and what can be communicated in other ways
  • Make it a conversation: Build in interactivity, ask the audience to use the chat feature, read out loud the comments to get them involved. Use two-way interaction as much as possible, and even better lean in to the questions / chat feed and tailor your presentation based on that instant feedback
  • Don’t forget the middle: According to people much more qualified than us (neuroscientists) an audience’s attention, understanding and memory is more focused at the beginning and the end, and less in the middle. This is especially true for virtual events when the ability to switch off is easier. Introduce engagement tools (Q&A, polling, music, change of pace) in the middle of the presentation to combat this
  • Silence: Don’t be afraid to pause to review a chat feed or questions. It’s a simple way of bringing the audience back into the ’room’
  • Technology comes last: Once you’ve worked out the best ways to communicate your messages (storytelling, personal views, case studies, panels, Q&A), look at the technology needed to deliver this. Don’t let the technology dictate, dilute or compromise your message

Giving the presentation

  • Be human: Acknowledge that we’re all at home / virtual. If there is a noise or interruption don’t be afraid to address / make light of it
  • Eye contact: It’s not always possible to ‘read the room’ as you might at a live event, but ensure you look directly into the camera as if you were talking to someone face-to-face
  • Remember the audience can see you: Specifically in relation to panel sessions or when there’s more than more than one speaker – stay present. Without a physical audience it’s easy to zone out, allowing our minds, and facial expressions, to wander
  • Vary the speed and tone: Try to inject the same range of emotions, enthusiasm and energy as you would on a stage
  • Keep it concise and overall steady: Generally speaking, a slightly slower pace is often better for virtual engagement. Remember keeping attention virtually is much harder than in person so be concise
  • Don’t panic: Be prepared for an unexpected hiccup. Talk to the production team in advance, rehearse, plan out some scenarios, rehearse again
  • Smile!

Working with your virtual delivery partner

  • Communicate: Ensure your production team are clear on your expectations and what you will be presenting / doing e.g., if you’re taking audience questions, referring to polling results etc
  • Rehearsal and technical checks: As well as a rehearsal, you’ll be offered an opportunity for the production team to check your environment, audio, lighting etc – take them up on this. Ensure you’re familiar with the virtual platform prior to the event (e.g., how to turn on/off your camera, on/off mute etc)
  • Reuse: Ask for a copy of the recording post event. Virtual events generate a lot of video content – repurpose it for marketing / communications / personal archive

To talk to Powwow about speaker coaching, your next virtual event, or if you just feel like a chat, contact us on katie.curzon@powwowevents.co.uk or +44 (0)20 7228 9463.