[Script from How to be More Engaging When Presenting Virtually by Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM. Minor edits for clarity.]
Greetings, everyone, I’m Scott Butcher and today I’m talking about how to improve your virtual presentation skills to engage your audience.
Virtual presentations have increasingly been part of the business world, and recent current events have greatly accelerated the use of virtual presentations.
A “presentation” can be as simple as one-to-one communication through an electronic medium. Maybe you are viewing another person on video, or maybe you are sharing your screen or scrolling through a slide deck.
We are always presenting. Ideas and concepts. Or recommendations. Or to introduce our firms or to interview for new projects.
In fact, there are virtual presentations for hundred-million dollar projects happening online right now!
So whether we are presenting virtually to one person, or we are trying to land a job or win a project, we need to up our game so we don’t lose the personal connection that comes from being in front of one-another.
Think about the last webinar you attended. Were you interested and engaged? Or were you doing something else, like looking at your phone, responding to email, reading or reviewing something?
One of the most challenging things about presenting virtually is the disconnect that often happens, especially when you are not viewing other people’s faces! Tools like Zoom, Skype, and Facetime can alleviate some of this, particularly for one-on-one conversations or small meetings. But for webinars with dozens or even hundreds of people, that’s often not possible.
While there are challenges for presenters, there are also challenges for your audience. Monotone presenters can be brutal to listen to while boring, static slides almost invite the audience to tune out. And if the audience isn’t paying attention, why are you even presenting virtually?
So what’s a virtual presenter to do?
Tips to be More Engaging
Here’s a few tips to make your virtual presentations more engaging, whether you’re presenting to one person or one hundred people!
For starters, it begins and ends with your passion. You must be passionate about your topic, or your audience won’t be. And while this applies to in-person presentations, it doubly applies to virtual presentations where the audience has great difficulty in reading your nonverbals – particularly when you aren’t even on video, like with a slide deck with voiceover.
You’ve probably heard the stat that only 7% of a presentation is verbal, and 93% is nonverbal. It is an oft-quoted figure that 55% is body language, 38% is tone, and 7% is spoken word.
How can you demonstrate passion if these numbers are really true?
Fortunately, this formula is not absolute, and came from a study completed almost 50 years ago! But it does demonstrate the importance of our tone and vocal variety when giving any presentation, especially a virtual presentation.
Exaggerate Vocal Inflections
You need to exaggerate your vocal inflections. This is absolutely critical. Change your tone and your volume, Go up and down with your phrasing.
Also use hand gestures to emphasize your points. Talk with your hands, even if you’re not on video! When you talk with your hands, your voice typically changes more than if you are just sitting there with folded hands.
I can make a point or I can Make. A. Point.
If you are on a video camera from a phone, laptop, or monitor camera, you’ll be somewhat limited in how much “freedom to move” you really have.
But if you’re presenting a slidedeck, stand up. Pretend you’re on a stage. Our friends at Graceworks have taught us to be BIG and BOLD, which is exceptional advice for any presentation, especially virtual ones!
It is also critical that you focus on enunciating your words. Remember that a “t” sounds like “tea,” not “dee”. Is it IM-POR-TANT or IM-POR-DAN? Make sure you focus on proper enunciation so it doesn’t sound like you are mumbling.
Remember, being on the audience side of a virtual presentation is difficult as it is, don’t make it more difficult by mumbling!
Be Cognizant of Your Accent
Most people have some sort of accent. Sometimes it comes across in almost everything you say, and other times it is simply in the pronunciation of certain words.
And we’re often not even aware of it, because it sounds normal to us!
I never realized I had an accent until I started presenting around the country. On several occasions, I’ve had people come up to me and say “Are you from central Pennsylvania?” or “Are you from Pennsylvania Dutch Country?”
They then proceeded to tell me that they recognized my accent.
I’m like, “What accent? I don’t have an accent!”
And then I started making recordings and videos of some of my presentations, and it made me cringe! I have certain words that I say oddly, and it drives me nuts. Once upon a time I thought it would be cool to do voice-over work. And then I heard myself talking and I was like, “Oh, hell no!”
So I try to be cognizant of how I pronounce certain words. The reason is that I want to make listening to me as easy on the audience as possible! I don’t want them thinking, “What did Scott just say?” because when they do this, they are missing whatever I say next.
It doesn’t mean that you need to abandon that beautiful regional accent, just pay attention to certain pronunciations that may cause confusion.
This is especially true when you’re not on video, because sometimes your body language can help to interpret words.
Make Virtual Eye Contact
And when you’re on camera, the next tip is to actually Look at the Camera!
We all struggle with this. We talk to the screen. Think of your last Zoom meeting or Skype call. You were looking at the other person on the screen, right? With in-person presentations, making eye contact is absolutely critical. The same holds true for virtual presentations. Move your eyes from the screen to the camera, so you’re actually “looking” at the person on the other end – again, whether it is one person or 1000 people!
Consider the Lighting
Speaking of being on camera, be sure to think about your lighting. We’ve all seen way too many silhouettes of talking heads on our computer screens! Make sure there is no lighting behind you. Ideally, you want the lighting coming from the front, but slightly angled.
In my set-up, I actually have two cheap video lights front-left and front-right. You’re probably not going to have this, but it doesn’t mean that you should ignore your lighting. Check yourself on video before you are in front of a virtual audience.
Natural lighting is preferable, because your household lighting may cast an unwanted syrupy yellow cast. Avoid fluorescent lighting if at all possible! Rather, sit close to a window if you can. Let the natural light bathe you. It is more flattering, and provides better lighting. Just don’t present in direct sunlight!
Now let’s talk about your slides. So many of our virtual presentations entail slide decks or screen sharing.
That’s why it is so important to think of things from the perspective of your audience. One of the things that drives me nuts, especially when I’m on the audience side of a webinar, is when the presenter puts up a bullet-heavy slide and leaves it up for five minutes.
How friggin’ boring!
We’re used to moving pictures. Television, movies, YouTube. With video things are moving constantly.
That’s why everyone hates PowerPoint. Lazy-ass presenters open the software and populate the default template.
That makes for miserable viewing when you are at a live, in-person presentation, but is doubly brutal for virtual presentations.
So make a concerted effort to change slides frequently, for the sake of your audience. If you show them a slide like this, and leave it on the screen for several minutes, you’ve effectively asked them to tune out and do something else.
Folks, you are presenting here, and incorporating audio and visual together. You’re not on a podcast. You’re not on radio. Don’t treat your presentation like you are!
I’ve delivered 60-minute webinars with 140 slides.
Now, before you freak out, understand that I don’t really have 140 slides. I’m building slides in pieces.
Take a look at this slide. It is a typical, boring slide created with the default PowerPoint template. Now imagine if I had this on your screen for several minutes while I talked to it. I might have good points to say about vocal inflections and accents, but would you still be listening to me after the first minute?
Conversely, what if I used these visuals instead?
A slide that introduces the topic. Instead of a header above a bullet list, I’m using a visual with a couple of words. To be honest, when I present in-person, I prefer strong visuals with just a few words on any slide. I’m the presentation. The slide deck is not the presentation.
However, when presenting virtually, I typically incorporate slightly more detail.
Now, instead of having a boring bullet list, I’m making it a bit more graphical. So in this slide I’m talking about Tone.
And then when I’m ready to talk about volume, I move to this slide.
Finally, I pull up the accent slide as I discuss my recommendations.
I’ve given the viewers four slides instead of one. I’m using the same visual in every slide to tie them together. And I’m only use one word for each of my “bullets.”
Do you know what happens when you show a slide with all the information? Your audience reads ahead, and tunes you out. Don’t blame them – we all do it!
You’ll also note that I used different slides for these topics earlier in the video. There’s many different approaches, but the key here it to be more visual, and to keep the slide deck moving.
By the way, these are four separate slides. Don’t rely on your software’s animation features if you are screen sharing. If something can go wrong, it will.
And if you are uploading to third-party presentation sites, animations might not even be an option.
Here’s another example. This is from a webinar I recently delivered for the Society for Marketing Professional Services. It includes a series of slides that I went through, each one building on the previous one.
For virtual presentations or online training, I love using an infographic approach. A small icon that represents the topic with just a few words, built into a larger graphic. It is easy for the audience to understand, hopefully they are listening to my words because I’m not giving them the opportunity to read ahead, and the visual reinforces the points that I am making.
I am not a graphic designer by any stretch of the imagination, so I actually use third-party sources for these infographics.
Tips from SMPS
Now I’d like to share advice from my favorite distance learning subject matter expert, Natalie Gozzard, the Vice President of Component Relations for the Society for Marketing Professional Services. Natalie has worked with countless webinar presenters, and always offers great advice!
Some of Natalie’s tips include:
- Engage with polls, handouts, and Q&A – this makes it more interactive for the audience.
- Invite a co-presenter, which can make the presentation more engaging for the presenters and the audience.
- Visualize an audience in front of you. I’ve had people sit across my desk, so I had someone to look at, and have heard stories of others who have printed out faces and taped them to their office walls to look at!
- Draft notes or a script – this is so you don’t get stuck on a point, but also the process of creating the notes or script helps you better remember the content and doubles as a great reference if you ever give the presentation again.
- Practice and time your content – this is particularly important for time-sensitive presentations.
- Enlist a monitor to assist – your monitor is in some ways your presentation lifeguard, and can help take some of the stress off of you.
Thank you for the tips, Natalie!
Working with Co-Presenters
I want to expand upon the idea of having a co-presenter, or even a team of presenters.
You really need to practice. Know who is going to talk to each concept, graphic, or slide. Rehearse and rehearse again. When you co-present in person, you can rely on one-another’s visual cues. You can’t do that when you are presenting virtually. Know who is advancing the slides, if you’re using slides. Know your cues for when to come in and when to stop.
Continual verbal handoffs can be awkward, and can also cut into your presentation time. How many times do you want to hear someone say, “Okay, Bob, do you want to address this next slide?”
Virtual Presentation Technology
I haven’t really discussed technology yet, but I do want to mention a few things.
First, the mute button. It is great to be on mute when you’re not speaking, but incredibly embarrassing to start speaking while you are still on mute. Your audience hears silence. They wonder what is happening – is there a technical issue on your end or their end?
I recently sat through a webinar by a company that offers an online teaching platform. There were too many awkward handoffs. One of the presenters continually forgot that their mute button was on, and had to be reminded by the other presenter.
And one of the presenters – the audience doesn’t know which one – kept getting email notifications. Turn them off! If you must keep your email running, be sure to disable the notification sounds. How annoying is it to hear the DING in the middle of someone making a point? It is distracting to the audience.
With all the Skype and Zoom television interviews that we’ve been seeing lately, this seems to happen all the time!
Connections & Equipment
You also need to think about your internet connection, audio connection, microphone, and video camera. It is ideal to be on a wired internet connection, if possible. As soon as you rely on wifi or mobile data, that’s where more things can go wrong.
However, you may not have an option. My home office is in my basement. The router in my house is two floors above me. So I did put in several wifi extenders to boost the signal to my basement. Fortunately, I haven’t had any problems with live virtual presentations. Yet.
Similarly, the most ideal audio connection is a wired phone line. That’s the most reliable and probably the best audio quality. Again, that is not always an option. You may not even have a landline, or maybe it comes through a cable TV plan.
But a phone is still typically going to be better than computer audio. Usually when I present a webinar, I use phone audio. However, I’m using a cell phone, so it’s not the ideal situation. But I don’t have a choice – I don’t have a landline in my office!
Show & Tell
So we’ve now reached the show and tell portion of our video.
You can certainly use the cheap microphone attached to earbuds in a pinch. The quality is surprisingly good. At least the microphone is closer to your mouth than if you use your computer’s built-in microphone.
I’ve been using this Bluetooth headset for a couple of years. It never let me down when doing a webinar. However, I recently upgraded my cell phone, and for some reason I sometimes get weird echoes now.
So I went old-school with a wired headset, connected to my phone. It works really well – and still gives me enough cable if I want to stand up or move around.
For this video, I’m using a lapel microphone wired to my camera. It gives me solid quality audio – better than I get from my camera’s onboard microphone.
I also have this USB microphone that plugs directly into my Macbook. It works well for voiceovers, and I typically use it for non-formal Zoom meetings or Skype conversations. Or virtual happy hours. It is still a much better microphone than my computer’s onboard mic.
I wanted to go into a little more detail here, because above all else, you need high quality audio. Your only video camera option may be the little one on your laptop or your phone. Or maybe you have a USB video camera or even a connected GoPro that provides higher quality video. But you have to make sure you have the highest quality audio possible, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
In my experience, your audience will forgive your lack of high quality video, but if they can’t hear you clearly, you’re done.
So there you have it – some thoughts for being a more engaging virtual presenter.
Hopefully you have some new ideas to use the next time you’re presenting virtually and remember, if you have a co-presenter or even a team of presenters, everyone must be on the same page!
I’m Scott Butcher, and I help design and construction firms improve their marketing and business development acumen through consulting, training, and facilitation.
Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!
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