As we head into the 12th month since scads of people around the world were sent home to work remotely in attempts to avoid a raging, deadly pandemic, professionals around the world have taken crash courses in better online communications. During that time, we’ve learned that there are important distinctions between delivering an in-person presentation and delivering a virtual one.
Presenting to an online audience certainly has its advantages. Many people are more comfortable speaking to a screen—even one filled with faces— than to a room full of people. Virtual presentations also can reach a much wider audience, but at the same time it becomes much harder to engage an audience through a screen.
There’s no telling what kind of distractions audience members have in their remote locations, and obviously you’re trying to reach them with zero physical contact, including no face-to-face audio or visual. It’s almost impossible to know definitively if anyone is paying attention. Likewise, you don’t have any audience reactions to gauge whether your presentation is succeeding or if you should change course to recapture attention.
Ensuring a virtual presentation effectively conveys your message begins long before its delivery. It’s even more important that you make a brilliant first impression with your audience and plan for extra ways to keep people engaged with your online presentation and hold their attention. In fact, preparing to deliver a virtual presentation in many ways is more important than the online public speaking skills themselves.
Want to ensure your online presentation effectively communicates your message to a virtual audience? Be sure you prepare for plenty of professionalism and ample engagement.
The following checklist should help you prep to deliver a stellar virtual presentation:
Prep for Professionalism
First impressions really are everything. According to Quantified Communications, you only have 15 seconds to make a good first impression on your audience – although a University of Toronto study found it could be as few as 5 seconds.
At the same time, 90 percent of listeners’ first impressions of a speaker remain unchanged even after hearing the entire content of the message. During this time, you must impress your audience with your professionalism, so preparation is key.
- Check for potential technical issues.
When your entire presentation relies on technology, you can’t afford to have any system or equipment glitches. There’s no such thing as winging it if your connection fails or if you lose audio.
Before your presentation be sure you double and even triple check all internet connections – wired is more reliable than Wifi – as well as audio feeds, microphones, cameras, slideshows, monitors and any other technical aspect of your virtual presentation.
Even after completing all those extra checks and rechecks, plan for the technical worst by preparing a backup plan should technology fail.
- Eliminate all distractions
You might not be able to control your virtual audiences’ remote distractions, but you can make sure nothing interferes with your online presentation. Be sure you are recording in a well-lit area and pay attention to anything visually distracting behind you.
Take every possible precaution to ensure you won’t experience any audio interruptions. You can’t help it if a stray dog starts barking outside the window, but you can try and make sure you don’t plan your presentation for the same time the garbage truck pulls up to your home.
- Dress the part
What impression do you want to make on your audience? To make a professional presentation, you have to dress the part. Just because your audience has a more limited view of you, that doesn’t mean you don’t want a tidy appearance.
If delivering the presentation in a casual environment, it’s OK to match the style, but always ensure you’re dressed at least as professionally as your audience and any fellow presenters or speakers. It’s always better to err on the side of being overdressed than the alternative.
Choose colors that will not clash with your background, and don’t wear anything with loud patterns that will create a visual distraction. Dress for success, and please, for goodness’ sake— no matter how much of you is or isn’t in the camera’s view— make sure you’re wearing pants!
- Practice controlling your body language
Nonverbal communication can be pivotal in an online presentation, as long as it’s controlled and appropriate. Hand gestures can be an effective nonverbal cue to hold a virtual audience’s attention or to emphasize a point. At the same time, those same hand gestures can become a distraction if too large or erratic.
Keep in mind that while you might be tempted to sit at a desk or table and look into your webcam, you don’t have to deliver your virtual presentation while seated. You often can present a more authoritative and confident demeanor while standing.
- Screen record yourself
One advantage of delivering a virtual presentation comes from the ability to record yourself practicing since the playback will be exactly what your audience will experience during the real deal.
Be sure you practice in the same room, with the same equipment and lighting that you’ll use during your live online presentation. Then use the screen record feature on your computer to capture the same view that your audience will see. That way, you can watch it back and make tweaks as you go along.
Prep for Engagement
Because you can’t look out upon your audience, it’s even more important to engage people and hold on to their interest and attention. Effective engagement during an online presentation requires advance preparation. The best engagement tools start as you prepare your virtual presentation.
- Plan a virtual icebreaker
Grab hold of your audience’s attention and connect with it from the start of your online presentation with an effective virtual icebreaker. Have audience members participate in a fun or humorous survey, calling on members to answer with their favorite memory, dream job or fantasy vacation. You can also break the ice by telling a silly joke or telling a short story related to the presentation topic and your message.
- Prepare visual storytelling
Visual storytelling is extremely effective at boosting remote audience engagement. By its very nature, visual content describes and explains more clearly than written or oral communication. Online articles that feature images attract 94 percent more views than those with only text.
Plan to integrate visual storytelling elements like an animated slide deck, photos, video, pictographs and other infographics into your online presentation. Adding visual elements to your online presentation is simple thanks to Beautiful.ai’s smart slide templates. Just add your content and watch the animated infographics automatically adjust based on principles of good design used by the pros.
Beautiful.ai users also can search for visual content in Beautiful.ai’s integrated library featuring millions of vivid, public-domain (yup, that means free!) images, fonts, logos and attention-grabbing animations.
- Plan audience interactions
Because engagement is more challenging in a virtual environment, a few extra tips and tricks might be necessary to hold the audience’s interest. Props can help to explain concepts in the online presentation, but involving viewers with short quizzes or polls very effectively involves a virtual audience with your presentation. The presenter can also answer audience questions, calling on various remote viewers to ask about a certain topic or anything of their choosing.
- Decrease complex animations to avoid rendering
With so much amazing free presentation software available, it’s only obvious to want to add complex animations to your virtual presentation. You must, however, remain mindful of audience members’ potential technical challenges. You don’t want to include content in your online presentation that will cause rendering issues for viewers with more limited connections.
- Send preview materials
Sending preview materials to the audience prior to an online presentation can promote audience engagement before the virtual presentation even starts. Send participants an email with an attention-grabbing teaser, as well as the agenda for your online presentation.
You can also use this opportunity to include any additional infographics, tables or charts you’ll be using so your audience can take a closer look and reference themselves. Don’t forget to include the credentials and contact information of any principles who were involved in or team members who helped to produce the virtual presentation. After the presentation is over, you may want to follow up with the deck for the audience to revisit down the road. Sharing is easy with Beautiful.ai, simply share the presentation link and your recipients can open the presentation right in their own browser.
- Practice looking in their eyes
In public speaking, it’s important to connect with the audience by looking at people, not over them, behind them or through them— or worse, at your notes, failing to look at the audience at all. But how can you make that face-to-face connection with a virtual audience?
You look virtual audience members in the eyes by looking directly into the camera. You will be tempted to look at your screen, but that’s a sure way to lose their attention since to the audience it will appear you’re looking at the table in front of them or even their feet. Practice looking into the camera as you screen record yourself. And don’t forget to smile!