Virtual presentations: What you need to know to succeedWoman giving a presentation virtually from her home.

Virtual presentations: What you need to know to succeed.

Virtual presentations: Will they be the new “normal”?

The conference you submitted to speak at accepted your proposal. You were geared up to travel and give a great presentation.

Then everything changed. COVID-19 swept the globe, forcing people in most countries to stay inside and avoid travel. The conference is still happening … but now it will be virtual.

This scenario is happening to thousands of people. If you’re asked to present virtually, do you know how to tailor your presentation to ensure you respect your audience and get your message heard?

Presenting virtually is fundamentally different from presenting live. Your audience will be viewing you and your visual aids on a variety of screen sizes, perhaps in distracting environments. You can’t gauge audience reaction in real time.

Here are some tips to help you succeed when giving a virtual presentation.

Make a one-page Message Map

Creating a one-page Message Map is essential before giving any presentation – live or virtual. It ensures you have one clear, concise, consistent message to hook and hold your audience’s attention.

When you give a virtual presentation, it can be difficult to tell if your audience is receiving your message, since you can’t see their reactions in real time.

In addition to using your Message Map as you create your presentation, tape it to the wall in front of you to help you stay focused and stay on message as you speak to the camera lens. A Message Map keeps you from getting distracted and straying off topic.

Create a comfortable, pleasing setting to help you succeed

Chances are, you’re working from home these days if you can. For many people, that means more video conference calls.

Many of my clients report their colleagues make mistakes on video calls. Sometimes they forget they have their video on. Sometimes they have something inappropriate in the background.

It’s not appropriate to commit video call crimes in front of your colleagues. It’s even worse if you commit one while giving a virtual presentation.

Never distract your audience. Choose a background that is appropriate and inviting.

For example, you don’t want to be in front of a cluttered shelf. But a plain white wall is too stark and boring.

I often recommend a background of a wall painted in a pale shade (extremely bright colors can be distracting and wash out the speaker) with a plant to one side. If all of your walls are white, consider presenting with a piece of tasteful artwork and/or a plant in the background.

Whatever you do, keep it simple. A plant, a few books, a lamp. You can find more tips here.

Once you know where in your home you will present, check your lighting. Make sure you’re well-lit, but not washed out. Tom Ford offers some tips in this article.

Test the platform before you present

One of the first things to do on a virtual presentation is to ask which platform you will be using and what features it supports:

  • Will the audience be able to see you and your visual aids at the same time?
  • Will your visual aids show up in the full screen, or only in a small window?
  • Will you be able to see any members of the audience?
  • Is there a chat feature where the audience can ask questions?
  • What about a feature to poll the audience?
  • Can audience members raise a hand virtually?
Laptop showing people presenting on the left and graphics and text on the right.
Find out how the platform works and what your audience will be able to see.

Schedule time to test the platform before your presentation. Get comfortable with how it works so you’re completely comfortable on the day of your presentation.

If you have slides, make sure you know how to advance them. Test how you look in the video and how your visual aids show up.

Ensure your audience can see your visual aids

Once you’ve seen how your visual aids will look in the platform, update them to ensure the audience can see them clearly.

Consider that some people in your audience will view your presentation on a laptop with a smaller screen. Make sure they’re able to read your visual aids easily. If possible, test your slides on different screen sizes before your presentation.

As in a live presentation, visual aids should support what you are saying. Avoid putting every single word on a slide, forcing your audience to read your slides instead of listening to your message.

You can find more tips on using visual aids successfully in this blog.

Interact with your audience

Since you may not be able to see all the people in your audience live at one time, if at all, interacting with them is crucial. In a live setting, you can see when your audience members are engaged and paying attention. You can see when your message is being heard.

Presenting virtually removes that feedback. How should you handle this?

Check in with your audience frequently. If the platform you’re using has a polling feature, use it. Build in several checkpoints to poll your audience to see what they’re thinking.

A woman taking notes while watching a presentation on a laptop
Keep your audience engaged by checking in with them often.

I always recommend including Q&A when presenting, and it’s even more important when you present virtually. The types of questions audience members ask will let you know whether your message is getting heard.

Nervous about getting tough questions? Read tips for how to handle them in this blog.

During your virtual presentations

Before you log in to the online platform, ensure you’ve turned off all of your computer notifications as well as your phone. Don’t just put your phone on silent. Turn it off. If it’s not off, it can light up or vibrate and distract you, or worse, pop up an app on your computer screen.

A colleague of mine has a Mac and an iPhone. She was presenting online and forgot that her iPhone was connected to her Mac. FaceTime rang on her Mac during her presentation, distracting her and her audience.

Ensure the conference organizers are recording your presentation. If they’re not, ask if you can record it for your personal use. Afterward, watch yourself to find out whether there are things to improve the next time you present virtually.

You stand when giving a live presentation, so I recommend standing during a virtual one as well. Standing as you speak improves your presence and projection.

If you are unable to stand during your presentation, sit up straight and project as if you were speaking in front of a live audience.

Moving to Virtual Presentations

Moving from live to virtual presentations is one of the many ways our society needs to adapt to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. With a clear, concise message, the right setting, and good audience interactivity, you can get your message heard virtually.

Need to coach your team on how to communicate and present effectively via videoconference? We can help. Email us today.

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