Remote meetings, conferences and webinars have become common to most business people around the world. In fact, most of these remote activities have become compulsory in the era of COVID-19. Usually it is easier even in nearby locations to hold virtual meetings when you have more than a few attendees, especially at executive level, or when travel is difficult. Therefore, you need to know how to make an effective virtual presentation.
In my own country of Australia, the distance from east coast to west coast cities is around 2040 miles or 3290 km, which is ¾ of the width of the USA. Flight time is 4-5 hours. Due to such distances, it is often easier to conduct a virtual conference than take a big chunk out of the week by traveling in person to the other side of the country – especially due to different time zones.
Face-to-face meetings are the most effective because personal presence is important in assessing the facial expressions, voice, appearance and body language of other attendees, as well as in viewing visuals in the room. But virtual meetings are a necessary substitute at times. And people have adapted quite well to the new medium.
Differences between in-person and virtual presentations
However, you can still make improvements that consistently result in an effective virtual presentation. When Quantified Communications analyzed the effectiveness of in-person versus virtual/remote communication for the same presenters, they found speakers presenting virtually were 19% more effective than when they were presenting in-person. Audiences found the speakers’ virtual messages were 28% easier to follow, 25% more compelling, and 19% more memorable. QC made three findings from this:
- It’s more important than ever to relate to your specific audience. “When writing a virtual speech, keep these questions in mind: Who is my audience, why does this matter to them, and how can I include them in my message to keep them from getting distracted — and opening up a new browser window?”
- Shorter content is more effective. Don’t waste time warming up the audience with witty introductions and charming stories. Keep on the topic and keep your content as original as you can. People are too busy to patiently wait for this patter in the current business environment.
- Focus more on how your face is viewed. Presenters are using their voices effectively, but not so much their faces. The analysis found that virtual speakers sounded clear and confident, but “made 20% less eye contact with the camera and employed 13% fewer pauses in their virtual presentations, as opposed to live.” An expert’s observation: “One of the most sophisticated presentation experts I know tapes a smiley-face above her computer’s camera to remind her to address the [camera eye] as a person.”
In addition, QC believe virtual communication will be a long-term reality. They note that:
…many leaders have struggled to adjust to this new reality — and so have the speechwriters who serve them. The good news is, leaders and their communicators understand the importance of getting better on video, they’re starting to narrow down the source of virtual communication challenges, and they’ve begun seeking innovative solutions.
Tips for delivering an effective virtual presentation
If you want to win in a virtual meeting environment, keep these 10 tips in mind:
1. Prepare ahead
Arrange for a facilitator/coordinator at each remote site. Email handouts in advance to that person to distribute ahead of the event. Get them to record attendance. They can encourage participants to ask or answer questions. They can also inform you of any technical problems.
Obtain as much information as you can about your audience – even the names of the attendees who have committed in each location so you can engage in chatty conversation with them just before the event starts.
Conduct a trial run at each remote site beforehand if you can. Arrive at your site at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before the start so you can connect up, do sound checks and test visual material, etc.
2. Pave the way for a good start
Take 5 minutes or so at the start to welcome the attendees at all remote sites and to establish friendly atmosphere and outline your expectations for interaction with participants. This is OK for a small audience, but still keep it brief, though.
3. Body content needs to be in logical sequence
Present the content in logical sequence and ‘chunk’ the content, for example, making a smooth transition from one section to another using connectors like, “We have completed the discussion about the results for last financial year. Now let’s move on to discuss the market as we see it in the coming year.”
4. Keep focused
Since you are making the presentation alone in your office, it can be easy to be distracted. Minimize any distractions from your screen. Don’t glance around – it makes you literally look ‘scatterbrained.’ Focus fairly tightly on the camera and stay disciplined to the available time. If any participants stop you to ask questions, respond quickly and return to your content. If the question or comment needs a longer response, tell them to ask it at the end of your presentation or to email the question to you for later response.
5. Show only the important visuals
If you are showing slides, keep them simple, with only one key point per page. This helps people to remain focused on your verbal message. Don’t get sidelined by giving too much detail – or your audience’s attention will stray.
Ask broad questions periodically to keep their attention: “See how the figures have risen in the past couple of years. Do you think this direction will continue?”
6. Seek the attention of your audience
Good audience attention and satisfaction are vital component of an effective virtual presentation. Check that your audience can hear you sufficiently. Ask them if you need to turn up your own speaking volume or the volume setting on your computer. Vary the tone of your voice and speed of your delivery to keep the interest of your audience.
Pause somewhat when you have articulated a key point to let them ponder a little on the implications: “When we reviewed the results of this survey we found an important trend had become clear…[pause to build interest].”
If you can, stand to make your presentation. This makes you sound and feel more energetic. But don’t move around or sway your body – because you will distract your audience.
The experts advise that even if you are on a teleconference or webinar rather than a video conference, use facial expressions to emphasize what you say. Smile when you introduce yourself. Wrinkle your forehead when you ask a question. Lean in and raise your eyebrows while you listen to an alternative idea. People will be able to detect your concentration on proceedings and your energy when you do these actions. And don’t check your mobile phone at all! People will instantly understand that and you will lose their respect.
7. Keep your audience focused
In smaller meetings, you are able to speak to people by name and ask for their input or comment. In larger meetings where attendees aren’t able to speak, try to use interactive tools built into your meeting software, such as polling questions and multiple-choice quizzes. This is great for keeping their attention.
Also, at the start, you can request attendees to minimize distractions:
“I know we all have a lot happening at the moment, but our discussion today is worth a few minutes of our undivided attention. Therefore, I’m now going to pause for one minute, so we all can put our smartphone on silent, keep emails out of sight, and keep other interruptions away. Are we all agreed?”
This may not stop all the distractions that attendees are prone to, but could reduce them significantly. If an attendee who is essential to the discussion says they need to be available for an important call, suggest they leave the meeting, and ask one of the other attendees to take notes to share later.
8. Learn to use the technology smoothly
If you’re using a camera, test it in advance. Don’t just understand how it operates, but also understand how others will see you. Ensure you have an uncluttered backdrop, check the lighting and shadows, and carefully check that the camera is capturing you directly. The audience needs to see your head and shoulders, and only a glimpse of the background, not a distracting amount.
Ensure the eye of the camera is at your own eye level. This means you aren’t looking down literally at your audience. And looking up at the camera eye, or not directly at the camera only distracts your audience.
If you are using an unfamiliar equipment such as computer or software, test it by calling someone who will give an honest assessment of your sound quality. You don’t want echoes, static or background noise. Don’t be satisfied until your voice comes through loud and clear, without connection issues, and no traffic noises or conversations from the office outside your room. Without these checks, you can’t be sure you will make an effective virtual presentation.
9. Rehearse several times
Rehearsing is essential. Dividing your content into chunks, or sections will enable you to practice one chunk at a time. When you are comfortable with a chunk, move on to the next one. Practice transitions so they are smooth. This is an example of the run through:
- Chunk 1: Open and transition to point 1.
- Chunk 2: Point 1 and transition to point 2.
- Chunk 3: Point 2 and transition to point 3.
- Chunk 4: Point 3 and transition to close.
- Chunk 5: Close and transition to Q&A
Ensure what you say is in sync with your visuals. Practice by standing up, smiling and speaking your opening, closing and call to action. Once you have mastered all the chunks, perform at least 3 full rehearsals, preferably with at least one of them in front of other people from your office.
Get them to imagine they are in your virtual audience and ask you questions so you can get accustomed to handling these in your stride during the presentation. You can introduce some questions yourself to get the ball rolling during your presentation. For instance, you could say, “A couple of days ago, someone asked me about…My response was to suggest…to them: ‘Is this a topic you would also like to ask a question about?’” An alternative is to ask people in your audience by name – something like, “What is one of the main things you have learnt so far about this topic, Jon?…What else would you still like to know?”
Also, seek feedback via specific questions about your performance in rehearsals. Sample questions:
- “What do you think my main point was?”
- “Did I say anything that really stood out to you?”
- “Did anything feel too long or too dull?“
Don’t forget to include a strong call to action before you describe the benefits that will result from attendees following up on your action point.
10. Record and analyze your performance
Most people are hard on themselves when they review a video of their performance at the actual virtual presentation, but you need to do this to learn sufficiently from your performance. Just don’t judge yourself to harshly!
Internal presentations are vital to your career
People often take internal presentations for granted – possibly because they already know their audience. Therefore, they tend to spend less time in preparation than for external audiences. But the key fact is that internal presentations are vital to your career, whether delivered to a remote or in-person audience. Therefore, the knowledge of how to make an effective virtual presentation is essential to a productive career path for you.