15 Strategies for Engaging Virtual Presentations

Zoom. WebEx. Teams. Meet. Jitsi. Skype.

Virtual meetings and virtual communication are now the norm and many office workers find themselves giving updates and presentations online.

Virtual presentations can be great and inspiring – but they don’t just turn up that way. The key step to take is not treat virtual presentations as light versions of your “real presentations” but to really focus on the possibilities and challenges of this delivery form.

After more than ten years of giving virtual keynotes as well as coaching individuals and organizations on how to have great communication online I have distilled for myself 15 strategies for engaging virtual presentations, ranging from technology advice to presentation delivery to truly leveraging the power of virtual meetings.

#1 Look into the camera (and not at the small box of the other person)

It feels great to look the other person in the eye on the little screen that shows up, but unfortunately this lthen looks as if your not looking anywhere. Your achieve the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Learn to leverage the secret of great newspresenters: look into the camera while speaking. I sometimes put myself a post it next to the camera and other people have suggested to put a pair of glasses on top of the camera to remind yourself of it.

#2 Put your camera on eye level

While you are at it, try to move your camera up. Many of us use a laptop camera. The laptop is sitting on a desk somewhere. So most of the time you look down, which does not look great. Take some of the big books that are on your shelves and put your laptop on them. Then they are at eye level and you can engage with your audience.

#3 Don’t move too much

This is a hard one for me as I like to talk in a very engaging fashion. In my live keynotes I use a lot of gestures and body language. However, if the camera is on this does not project well. If your or the other side’s internet connection is not so great your counterpart will only see some robot-movements. However, also with a great connection, heavy gestures that work well in live settings quickly are distracting and come across as strange and “too much” in a video call. Better to slow down and use gestures extremely sparcingly.

#4 Make technology checklists

The biggest issues and problems with virtual presentations come from technical difficulties: passwords are not ready…links can’t be found….connections not working…slides won’t show…not everybody is muted etc.

Instead of moving to a lower tech solution (“let’s not use technology and have a conference call only instead”) invest the time to learn & test your technology by heart. Make yourself a checklist of the key elements that are needed and put them next to your desk. Add to the checklist, test equipment beforehand and learn every time.

 #5 Get the basics of presenting right

The virtual environment actually demands extra efforts from us as presenters. Often we see in our work that people put less efforts into virtual presentations and often at the last minute – don’t fall into this trap.

The first key to an inspiring virtual presentation (and to any presentation for that matter) is to get the presentation basics right: Have great content, know your objective and your audience. What do you want to achieve? What are your key messages? What’s in it for the audience? These questions are as relevant in the virtual world as they are at live presentations. For a short and powerful overview on presentations, watch my TEDx talk on the CODE of great presentations.

#6 Atomize your presentation

Watching the same structured bullet slide type makes the eye go sleepy. Also, people start reading your slides in virtual presentations, and then might be doing something different.

Avoid this by e.g. changing the background colors, or the position of your text on the visuals. Almost create a movie by what is called the “atomization method” of PowerPoint, i.e. have one slide per key point, or to use the “appear” animation. Put great big & bold pictures into your presentation, and by this I mean not the small pictures & standard clip arts that we see so often. I mean full screen, original pictures. That stimulates the eye and keeps the engagement high.

#7 Work on your voice

This is the key human connection that the audience will have with you during a virtual presentation. Get close to the microphone. Speak clearly and with a conversational tone. As a tip: listen to radio D.J.’s and analyze how they talk. What can you learn from them? Get a high quality microphone.

Also, test your voice connection. How good is it? Ask a co-worker or family member for feedback. Pro-tip: if you can find one, invest in a great microphone. Not the headset ones, but free-standing podcaster microphones that help you project your voice better.

#8 Call in with a second device

If you are presenting sometimes you are not sure what the other people see and that can cause some anxiety in speakers (“is everything ok, can you see the screen?”). One easy-to-implement idea is to call in with a second device as a participant. Then you can exactly see what is going on.

#9 Check your background

People look at the background in a video call, and it can tell a lot. Try to remove funny and cluttered stuff and make it engaging. Have maybe a professional background such as a book shelf or white board. Or you can even have a roll up with your team’s or company’s logo on it (this can also help to hide some of the clutter).

Pro tip: In programs like Zoom you can even create your own background and pretend you are for instance on the moon. In Jitsi and others you can have a blurred background. Ask for feedback and try out what works best for you.

#10 Have great lighting

If you ask any photographer or video expert on what one of the most important element of their craft is and the answer is: Light. And what do we see in Zoom meetings? People with poor lighting, in their home office, the window as background so there is some confusion of light.

This is an easy fix. Always try to have good lightening by for instance having a lamp illuminate your face. Better: Invest in ring lights or full studio lights. If you have to present often, it’s worth it.

#11 Engage with your audience via polling

One of the key elements of great presentations is audience interaction. Many people think this is not possible online, but nothing can be further from the truth. Online presentation can be interaction wonderland.

For instance, asking what your audience thinks is a key for presenting. In F2F settings we do this sometimes via show of hands. This is also possible virtually, and an extremely powerful way of engagement. A lot of virtual presentation platforms (e.g. Teams, Cisco WebEx™,…) have tools that you can use to connect with your audience (often called “polls”). Use them frequently. If your tool doesn’t have the tools, you can still create it via for instance sli.do or Mentimeter. You can see more strategies in this article here.

#12 Moderate the chat

A lot of programs have active chat functions where audience members can write. This can be a difficult thing, as sometimes there can be distracting side messages and entire conversations going on. For larger presentations, I sometimes recommend to turn off the chat while presenting, and only open up for Q&A (if your program allows that).

For larger presentations, it might even be a good idea to have a co-host who moderates the chat and the polls.

#13 Scribble & use the whiteboard

In almost all programs you can annotate your content and scribble ‘live’ and write on your materials to create content on the spot. This scribbling does not neet to look perfect. In fact, the imperfection and spontaneity is what creates excitement with the audience. Invest in a writing device such as a Wacom board, or use your Surface or Ipad Pro devices that come with pens and start highlighting elements in your PowerPoint presentations.

#14 Co-Create

This turns a virtual meeting into a really great experience: it is possible to co-create content, e.g. via whiteboarding, breakout groups and other tools and techniques. For instance, you can allow every participant to write on your virtual whiteboard.

I have already facilitated and moderated full strategy development sessions online, all co-created with participants from all over the world. The ability to work together, in real time, actually beats face-to-face interaction and can turn your virtual meeting into something truly special.

#15 Project your human-ness

The final tip extends the one of engagement even further: project your “human-ness” whenever you can. Now that almost everybody is working remotely, it is ok and powerful to share stories of how you personally are connected to the subject, including the difficulties. Share maybe also how your room and its surroundings look like. Your kids walk in, like for BBC dad? Introduce them. If your audience isn’t too big, ask them as well to share what they are seeing and experiencing during this presentation.

With this, your audience members not only have the feeling that there is a “virtual voice” from somewhere but a real human being. And with this feeling, your audience will be able to connect with you – also in this difficult time.

Become a virtual presentation wizard

The time has come for all of us to become online presentation wizards. This requires from us the combination of great presentation AND leveraging technology. Not an easy task, but one that is well worth the time investment, to make virtual presentations truly meaningful.

Stay safe – and connect with others online with power.

Lars Sudmann has given hundreds of keynotes, virtual and in real life. His TEDx talks have hundreds of thousands of views and he advises and coaches organizations and individuals on how to best work remotely and to truly convey messages online. He is the co-author of the presentation book “The Smart Presenter” and his latest book is called “Innovation that Sticks” and deals with how we all need to experiment in uncertain and new environments. Check out his virtual coaching programs here.

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