Whether you’re pitching to potential partners or introducing a new product to customers, a presentation can make or break your online business.
If you’re used to in-person presentations, you’ll realize that virtual presentations have their own set of challenges.
For a start, stage fright can still happen even though the stage might be your own home office.
In addition, your audience is more likely to tune out and disengage from online presentations because they’re not physically present. Plus, there are too many distractions for most people at home or in their remote office.
As a presenter, it’s also harder to “read the room” when you’re presenting online.
In today’s post, we’ll cover virtual presentation do’s and don’ts to help you win over distracted audiences, keep their attention, and get your message across clearly.
Get ready to take down notes!
Why virtual presentations are more challenging than in-person presentations
Before learning what you should do (and not do) when hosting a webinar, demo, or virtual keynote, you have to understand why virtual events can be more intimidating for many.
Sarah Gershman, President of Green Room Speakers, describes it well. For her, virtual presentations are unnerving for one particular reason: lack of response and feedback from the audience.
According to Gershman, it’s like you’re one of those birds calling out another bird for mating or to signal danger, but no one answers you back.
As a result, you feel less connected to your audience. You don’t see your audience nodding their heads and there’s less opportunity for you to make eye contact.
“This only makes the problem worse — it both reinforces our anxiety and makes for a poor presentation. After all, the more disconnected we sound, the harder it is for the audience to listen,” shares Gershman.
Virtual presentation tips to make you feel connected to your audience
The golden rule to successful virtual presentations is to make it easier for your audience to feel more connected to you. When you do this, you’re also helping yourself nail your online talk. Who knows? You might even end up building powerful connections with influential people after your presentation.
Here are some specific dos and don’ts to help you get started with a memorable, engaging virtual presentation:
1. Do look at the camera
It sounds so simple, right?
But when was the last time you looked at yourself on the screen instead of staring straight into the camera while presenting?
When you look directly at your camera, it makes your viewers feel more connected to you because you’re (virtually) making eye contact.
Another noteworthy best practice is to put the camera at eye level. Don’t position it too far below or above you. Not only does it make you look weird, but they’re not the perfect spots for maintaining eye contact.
Finally, if you can, consider getting an external webcam. An excellent external camera makes you look “real” to your audience, which in turn captures their attention.
2. Don’t talk like a robot
How do you sound more human?
Imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend. Smile, talk slowly and take pauses in between your talk.
Instead of looking at it as a lecture, think of it as a session to engage with your audience. Share anecdotes or ask participants to share their own experiences as well.
Gershman also recommends asking rhetorical questions throughout your online presentation.
“For the audience, rhetorical questions create open loops in the brain which we then want to close by answering them in our heads. This helps the audience stay active and connected to your content, even when they can’t talk to you”, explains Gershman.
Examples of rhetorical questions you can ask include:
- Have you noticed a pattern?
- Where do you think this is going?
- Are you ready to try something new?
- What would you have done if you were in his shoes?
- Have you been in a similar situation?
3. Do make sure that your lighting is in front of you
As a presenter, you have to make sure that people can see you well.
You can accomplish this by having a good front light that shines brightly on your face. If natural light isn’t an option for you, a steady lamp directly by your face is ideal.
Meanwhile, if your back is to a window with lots of natural light coming in, close the curtain or pull down the shades.
4. Don’t get too close or too far from the camera
You need to strike a balance between staying close or being too far from the camera. If you stay too close, you might look like a floating head. Meanwhile, if you are too far from the screen, you risk looking like your galaxies away from your audience.
Ideally, the camera should frame your face, neck, shoulders, and the upper part of your body. This way, your viewers can see your gestures too.
5. Do stand up
According to Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, you need to physically stand up even if you’re presenting online so you can project more effectively.
Furthermore, standing up during your virtual presentation gives you more energy and tells your brain to be in “presentation mode”. It can also help calm presentation nerves.
If possible, use a standing desk when you’re presenting. Alternatively, position your camera or laptop at eye level.
For virtual presentations where you have to sit down, lean forward (don’t slouch!) as if you’re talking to someone in real life. This position makes your audience feel more connected to you.
6. Don’t waste people’s time by presenting for too long
Have you noticed how webinars or online demos seem longer than face-to-face presentations?
It pays to be more mindful of the length of your talk, and you also have to consider time for Q and A.
Kevin Daum, bestselling author of Marketing for Dummies, suggests that each presentation slide should represent about 3 to 4 minutes of your material.
While planning and designing your presentation, limit one or two key points for each slide and use visuals to convey the most notable points.
Speaking of visuals, this brings us to the next tip.
7. Do use visuals
Whether it’s offline or online, the best presentations include eye-catching visuals.
But here’s the caveat – you can’t just put too many visuals in your presentation. You have to be thoughtful about how you use infographics, charts, graphs, photographs, and other data visualization techniques in your virtual presentation.
Before you add an image or illustration to your presentation slides, Tamsen Webster, keynote business speaker, and presentation strategist, recommends the following questions to ask yourself:
- Do they reinforce the key points?
- Are they leveraging what visuals do better than words? (pictures, processes, visualized data, etc.)
Webster further suggests that your presentation slide should orient your audience to your Big Idea.
Another best practice when adding visuals to your presentations is using the squint test by Duarte, a presentation design agency.
Here’s what they mean with the squint test:
“When you squint your eyes at the screen (as if you needed glasses to see it), ask yourself ‘what’s popping?’ If the text, graphic, or chart you want to pop isn’t doing so, you need to adjust your design.”
The Duarte team recommends using graphics, color, font size, font type, or italics to guide your viewer’s eye to the most critical part of your slide.
8. Don’t be stiff
With virtual presentations, looking stiff will further disengage your audience.
Create a sense of connection by moving your hands and arms while having high energy levels at the same time. For example, Webster suggests that moving your hand gestures “up” into the camera view helps build connection.
Making more gestures will also help you as a presenter because it channels nervous energy into a more positive experience for you.
9. Do take note of your audience’s cultural background
If you’re presenting to a diverse group of people, get to know them ahead of time in terms of sociocultural preferences, particularly with verbal and nonverbal cues.
For example, if you’re presenting a keynote in English and your audience doesn’t have English as a first language, speak with less accent. Visual aids can also help for these presentations because visuals tend to be universal.
10. Don’t be caught unprepared
There are two aspects of preparation you should care about:
- Prepare yourself by practicing and doing a dry run.
- Prepare your tech.
For the first part, Abrahams recommends a technique called focused practice instead of mentally rehearsing your presentation or flipping your slide decks.
“Focused practice is taking one aspect of your presentation — say, the introduction — and delivering it repeatedly until you become highly familiar and comfortable with it. Next, you move on to another aspect of your presentation, such as transitioning between two specific visual aids,” shares Abrahams.
By doing so, you’ll feel less anxious because you do not have to spend a lot of effort thinking about your entire presentation.
The second aspect of presentation involves ensuring that all of the features of your presentation technology work. For example, if you’re presenting in Zoom and need to record the presentation, find out if the recording feature works during your practice.
Finally, check your microphone, camera, and the platform or feature where your audience can interact with you during or after your presentation.
There’s more to virtual presentations than reading your slides on Zoom
Before you deliver your next virtual presentation, take a step back and figure out the answers to these two questions:
- What’s the Big Idea that I want to communicate to my audience?
- How can I build a genuine connection with the audience?
Once you have clear answers to these questions, your next virtual presentation will likely be more than just reading presentation slides on Zoom. Your audience will feel more engaged with you and get more value from your presentation.
Guest author: Kai Tomboc is currently taking care of content at Piktochart, an easy-to-use design tool that helps you tell your story with the visual impact it deserves. She has written for various SaaS brands and publications like G2. When not engrossed in a book, she’s most likely taming tardigrades.