by Mark Thompson
We all have to be an actor when it comes to presenting.
When your stage is a real one in front of hundreds that’s terrifying and way out of your comfort zone, but it’s an environment that you are used to.
When your stage is Zoom or Teams, that fear is tinged with uncertainty about how to successfully engage and keep an audience in a new and strange virtual environment.
Let’s first look at content
In live presentations, you keep people’s attention with eye contact, with body language, with your movement on stage. It’s harder to do any of that in a virtual environment, so what media, images, and graphics are best to keep your audience’s attention?
Keep your information clear, concise and visually appealing, try to simplify your data point, use compelling imagery, and avoid overloading text.
Avoid slide hypnosis, which happens when the presenter uses one slide for every explanation or data point and the audience zones out.
Create the right atmosphere
As well as creating the right content, it’s important to create the right atmosphere to both engage and enthral when you don’t have a face-to-face audience.
Expert virtual presenters understand the importance of adjusting their approach to match the medium. With in-person presentations, you more or less have a captive audience — you still need to be engaging, but your audience is stuck with you for the duration. But with virtual presentations, your audience has a greater opportunity to stray. You now have to compete for their eyes, ears, hearts and minds against diminished attention spans, increased home and work-life distractions, and conflicting priorities.
A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 65% of us admit to doing other work whilst on conference calls.
We’re the first to admit, we find it all too easy to gaze out of the window, go and make a coffee or flick through the Economist whilst listening to someone else – how much do we really hear when we are elsewhere?
So how do we, as presenters, counter this?
You need to work on your stagecraft and screen performance. From voice tone and pitch to delivery and projection, body posture to breathing to voice, how you inhabit a space, these can make a huge difference to the impact you have when trying to engage an audience.
We need to look at 2 different areas – it is about keeping the sub-conscious quiet and the conscious awake and interested.
Let’s start with the first – the sub-conscious
With any presentation, we don’t want to distract that part of the brain that is chugging along quietly in the background – we want to come across as confident and congruent so that nothing undermines our message. What we don’t want is for our audience’s subconscious to start thinking that something isn’t right, so the conscious part of the mind loses confidence in the message and us.
All of the usual rules of presenting apply – set an agenda, keep control of the breath, be aware of the body language especially the hands and shoulders, and signpost throughout.
What does being on camera change though?
We know what clean, professional filming looks and feels like. And yet, how many people take the time to think about how they set their room and camera up? In our experience, not many – we’ve worked with hundreds of senior leaders who are very conscious of their personal brand and what image they send out in the work environment – yet little thought is given as to how they set themselves up when broadcasting from their home office. It’s worth taking the time to think about what you are projecting and how you are doing it.
Imagine you are a TV personality. Oprah Winfrey once said in an interview that she imagines her best friend when she looks into the camera.
So, do the same thing, imagine the ideal person for the presentation you are giving. Look straight into your camera, not the screen. Make the viewer feel as if you are looking right at them. When you are the one speaking, look directly into your computer’s camera, not on the screen or at the other participants. This takes some practice, but it makes the viewer feel as if you are looking right at them.
Powerful presenters understand the importance of making eye contact with their audience, so this means you have to simulate the same effect virtually. Put the camera at eye level; try not to have your camera too far above or below you. You run the risk of creating a double chin if the camera is too low. Too high makes it difficult to maintain eye contact, as you may find your gaze dropping as you speak.
Practise your positioning and distance, people are drawn to faces, so you don’t want to lose that connection by being too far away, but you also don’t want your face to take over the whole screen like a dismembered head because, well, that looks weird.
Keeping people engaged virtually requires you to actually be engaging – be animated. Just like in a live presentation, you want to present with a little energy and animation. Too slow or too monotone in your voice makes it easy for folks to disengage and tune out.
Now for the conscious mind
For the conscious mind, we need to keep our audience alert and interested in our content. Again, what does that mean?
When we speak to any audience, we tailor our content to them, make it relevant to their needs and keep our energy levels up, maintaining variety throughout.
It’s worth thinking about how many different ways you can interact with people whilst online.
- How can you make them an active part of the presentation rather than just a listener?
- What different media can you use?
- How and where can you use the chat or poll functions?
It isn’t just about the content though, our vocal energy needs to stay playful and move around our range and pace and even more so than in the ‘live’ world. If you think monotone presentations in real life are hard work to listen to, it becomes much harder when transmitted through a poor-quality microphone and speakers.
In essence, organise yourself, your material and your space; and where possible get your audience interacting and keep them surprised.
These are just a few tips from Aziz coach, Mark Thompson who not only has over 15 years’ experience working with senior leaders on the impact of their communication and how they deliver key messages to gain the maximum impact possible, but also a strong commercial background to really drive your business point home. Here’s how Mark helped a team of senior leaders make the swift transition from a program of face-to-face events this year to online – see case study.
From storytelling to difficult conversations, influencing and personal impact.
At Aziz, we work on stage and screen performance, vocal techniques and personal style so that you excel in online presentations.
We provide a deep dive, transformational programme of virtual team skills coaching you cannot afford to miss:
- Working with leaders on a one-to-one or group basis, our approach is bespoke.
- A tailored programme only supports areas that require some focus.
- Each coach is a specialist in their field. For example, our voice coach only works with people on voice projection, pitch, variation, tone etc.
- Results are immediate as these are highly practical sessions working in the context of your organisation.
Want to know how you can improve your online presentation skills?
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org today to discuss.