8 tips for better virtual presentations

 

Are you suddenly giving a lot more presentations via video call? You’re not alone.

With remote presentations, you still need to follow the basics of good presenting, like tailoring your message for your audience, speaking clearly, and showing enthusiasm for the topic. But when you and your audience are sitting behind screens in scattered locations, there are a few key differences and challenges to overcome. These tips can help.

1. Make sure that your slides are simple and easy to read.

How your slides look is even more important for remote presentations than for live ones. They’re the primary thing your audience will be looking at when you share your screen (you and the other attendees will most likely appear in small boxes along the top or side of peoples’ screens, if at all).

Bold text and images aren’t just visually appealing, they’re also easier to see and pay attention to. So, keep your look streamlined — a short headline, an attention-grabbing image, and just one idea per slide. Typically, it’s way more engaging to have 30 clean, eye-catching slides that you can breeze through quickly than to have 10 jam-packed and cluttered slides that leave your audience’s eyes glazing over or squinting at their monitors in the middle of your trying to make a key point.

When it’s time to present, be sure to switch your slides to slide show or presenter mode so that your slides are larger and easier for your audience to see.

For more, see 4 simple design tips to dramatically improve your slide presentations.

2. Groom yourself with the same level of care you would before an in-person presentation — at least from the shoulders up.

Appearances matter onscreen as they do in person. So, wear a shirt or top that matches your company dress code. Check yourself in the mirror.  Position yourself with good posture. You’ll look more poised and professional on camera. More importantly, your physical prep will help you feel more confident inside, and that will come across in your delivery.

And if you do choose to go the pajama-bottoms route (no judgment), make sure that your office door is closed, your thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature, and you’ve eliminated every other conceivable reason you might need to stand up mid-meeting.

3. Look at your camera, not your screen.

If you stare at yourself while you’re presenting, any physical traits you feel self-conscious about will only feel amplified onscreen. At best, it will distract you and at worst it could rattle your confidence. Instead, look directly at your camera and make all the facial and hand gestures you would for an in-person presentation. Your audience will feel like you’re making eye contact, which creates a deeper sense of connection.

A word of encouragement: No matter how uncomfortable you feel on camera, remember that your audience most certainly doesn’t care as much as you do. Chances are they’re too busy worrying about their own onscreen appearance to be focusing on yours.

4. Familiarize yourself with the technology beforehand.

This is one of those no-brainers that too many people fail to do. Especially before high-stakes presentations or if you’re using less familiar tools, block time in your calendar before your presentation to iron out any technical issues: Download and install any required software. Decide whether you’ll use your computer microphone or dial in from your phone. Learn how to upload slides and/or share your screen in presenter mode — and make sure you can still see your speaker notes!

Finally, hold a dry run with a colleague so you can test all these things in real time before you’re in the hot seat. This allows you to get some real audience feedback ahead of time and prepares you to be knowledgeable and helpful should one of your attendees hit a technical snag during the presentation.

5. If possible, ensure a fast, reliable internet connection.

You can’t control everyone else’s internet speed, but there are things you can do to boost your own and avoid having your screen freeze mid-presentation. For example:

  • Ensure your internet speed is at least 50 Mbps. If remote presentations are an important part of your job, consider investing in an internet connection powerful enough to stream easily on multiple devices. If this is a business necessity for you, check whether your company will cover some portion of the cost.
  • Use a hard line if you can. Unlike Wi-Fi, a hard-line connection won’t drop or lag suddenly. If you don’t have a way to plug in or installing a hard line isn’t practical or feasible, find the place in your home where your Wi-Fi signal is strongest and have your meetings there.
  • Always include a dial-in option for audio. If you have any question about your WiFi reliability, dial in separately on your phone. That way, even if your screen freezes temporarily, your audio will still work.
  • Use your phone as an external hot spot (or buy one). If your home network remains sketchy or your job requires you to present from hotel rooms, consider using your phone to create a mobile hot spot (be sure to test first to make sure you can get a stable connection, and check your data plan so you don’t go over!). You could also invest in an external hot spot from your mobile carrier, which can provide a faster, more reliable connection.

6. Pay attention to lighting, sound, and background.

No one expects you to have Hollywood-style sound and lighting, but there are a few simple things you can do to give off a more professional vibe, like:

  • Investing in a headset or headphones with a noise-canceling microphone so your audience can’t hear your neighbor’s leaf blower in the middle of your presentation.
  • Positioning yourself in front of a pleasing backdrop like a bookshelf, a few plants, or even a plain wall. Whatever you do, don’t sit in a location where people in your household can wander behind you. And don’t sit in front of a bright window, or your face will be shadowed like you’re in a witness-protection program.

Some video conferencing tools also allow virtual backgrounds that range from mild to wild. Use caution with these. A fake undersea scene might be a hit with your direct reports, but for a call with a client? Not so much. A plain wall is a much safer bet than a potentially distracting virtual background.

7. Use verbal cues to keep your audience engaged.

When you’re standing solo in front of a room of people, it’s easy for your body and presence to command attention and for audience members to see your enthusiasm and the reactions of their fellow audience members. Remotely, your voice has to do a lot of that work to compensate for the distance. For example, you can use verbal cues to:

  • Narrate what will happen at each stage of the presentation. This sets clear expectations and ensures that no one gets lost. For example, First, I’m going to share my screen to start the five-minute demonstration. Then, I’ll take questions. Can everyone see my screen? Good, let’s get started.”
  • Check for understanding. At natural break points, ask your audience a question to make sure that they’re still with you and to give them an opportunity to ask their questions. For example, “I hope that was a helpful overview of the product. Does everyone understand how to set it up on your own computers? What questions do you have?”
  • Encourage people to speak up. Describe your observations of others’ reactions and use people’s first names, both to create warmth and to nudge them to engage in collaborative dialog. For example, “Marina, I see you nodding. Would you like to share what you’re thinking?”

8. Accept that there will be a few hiccups — and prepare for them.

Despite your best planning, someone’s sound will drop unexpectedly. Your cat will make a surprise appearance. People will clumsily interrupt one another. Take some time before your presentation to think through what could go wrong — and what you’ll do to recover if those things happen — so that the meeting runs smoothly and you stay level-headed in front of your attendees.

Here’s how you might handle things when:

  • Someone’s audio drops. Calmly cut and paste the meeting dial-in number in the chat window and ask your newly silenced participant to use it.
  • Someone’s screen freezes. If your screen freezes, let participants know via chat (if your chat window is still functioning) and immediately dial in via phone. If someone else’s video freezes, ask others to turn off their cameras to free up the person’s bandwidth. If the whole meeting crashes, close the software and restart the call.
  • Your audience keeps talking over each other. Body language is hard to read onscreen, which can wreak havoc on the natural flow of a conversation. To bring order to the discussion, ask participants to raise their hand when they want to speak and call on them by name.
  • Life awkwardly interrupts. Maybe your cat jumps into your lap or your child hasn’t yet learned to stop opening the door while you’re working. Rather than panicking, embrace the unique quirks of your situation and space. Introduce your cat (or child) as your assistant! Or shake it off with a laugh. Hiccups like these can actually lend a sense of warmth to the call and help your audience see you as a real person, not just a face on the screen.