22 tips for effective video presentations

These days, an increasing number of presentations are delivered, not from a stage, but in front of a computer screen. The audience is live but dispersed across offices and cities or even countries and time zones.

Presentations via videoconference on platforms such as Skype and Zoom are now a normal part of work and will only increase in popularity. They are cheap, relatively simple to set up, and save people time and travel expenses. While they are not bug-free, the quality of videoconferences has improved significantly in recent years.

           

However, when it comes to presentations, these advantages come at a cost. Because they are not in the same room, presenters face an increased challenge to engage with their audiences. They are usually limited in their movements and the audience can only see the presenter’s face or upper body. Indeed, sometimes, audiences only hear the presenter’s voice while slides are shown on screen.

Furthermore, even if there are 50 people listening to a presentation, there is a good chance that each one of those 50 people will be behind his or her own computer at home or at work or in a coffee shop or on public transportation. Not only do speakers have to compete with the distractions found in these locations, the fact that people are not together in one place means much less energy for the audience.

And so, speakers need to up their game. Seth Godin recently wrote a post in which he offered eight tips for videoconferences. While those tips are directed at people who are having a conversation or meeting, they also apply for presentations, especially where the speaker can be seen.

Seth’s eight tips are immediately below. They are followed by an additional 14 tips from me.

Seth’s Tips

1.  Sit close to the screen. Your face should fill most of it.

2.  Use an external microphone or headset.

3.  When you’re not talking, hit mute.

4.  Don’t eat during the meeting.

5.  When you’re on mute during an audio call, you can do whatever you want. But when you’re on mute on a video call, you need to act like you’re truly engaged. Nod your head. Focus on the screen. Don’t get up and feed your dog.

6.  Don’t sit with the window behind you. A little effort on lighting goes a very long way.

7.  When you’re talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not the screen. You’ll appear more earnest and honest this way.

8.  When you’re talking, go slow. No one is going to steal your slot.

Additional Tips

9.  Send an agenda to the audience members beforehand that contains the following information: (a) date and time (and your time zone if presenting to people around the world) of the presentation; (b) clear instructions how to connect; (c) outline of the topics to be discussed; and (d) any pre-reading material.

10.  Test the platform beforehand, especially if you are going to show slides. For major presentations, consider having a tech person help with the broadcast.

11.  Choose a quiet room, put your cell phone on mute and take whatever steps necessary to ensure that you will not be disturbed.

12. Be aware of what is behind you. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the background.

13.  If feasible, stand up when you present. Place your computer on a bookshelf so that it is eye level. Standing up opens the diaphragm and allows you to breathe more deeply than if you are slouched over your computer. It also helps you feel more energetic which will be transmitted through your voice.

14.  If you stand up and your audience cannot see you, it is OK to move about if that helps with your delivery. Just be mindful of not moving too far from the microphone if you are not wearing a headset.

15.  If you have to sit, sit on the front half of the chair bottom and keep your feet flat on the floor. This will help your breathing and will keep you anchored in front of the screen.

16.  If people will be able to see you, dress appropriately. At least as far down as they will be able to see! Solid colours are best; fine patterns might “flicker” on the screen. Avoid any jewelry that clinks.

17.  Make sure that your hair is neat and that your face is not shiny. Get some camera-friendly makeup — for men and women — if necessary.

18.  Warm up your voice beforehand just as you would for any presentation.

19.  Have a glass of water within reach. It should be still water and room temperature.

20.  Make sure that your gestures don’t extend beyond your audience’s field of vision.

21.  If you use slides, you should be the one who advances them. Ideally, you should use a remote; however, if you use the keyboard, press the key gently to avoid a noisy clicking sound.

22.  Unless you are delivering bad news, smile!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 293) – Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton – American Politician and Diplomat

“If you’re not comfortable with public speaking—and nobody starts out comfortableyou have to learn how to be comfortable. Practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you, or somebody at work that you trust.”

— Hillary Clinton

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore
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A lesson from the skyline of Chicago

Old and new meet in Chicago

According to the Chicago Architecture Center, “Chicago has long been a laboratory for architectural innovation and experimentation.” I was recently in Chicago for a conference and got to experience that great city firsthand.

While in Chicago, I was joined by my daughter Alexandra and together we explored some of what the city has to offer. And yes, the architecture is magnificent.

A highlight was the Architecture River Tour. For 75 minutes, we cruised up and down the three arms of the Chicago River while our tour guide shared the history of, and stories behind, approximately 40 or so buildings.

If you ever visit Chicago, I cannot recommend this tour enough. It’s a great way to see this fantastic city and its architecture. From Art Deco to Beaux Arts to Postmodernism to Spanish Colonial Revivalism and more, Chicago has it all.

I took all the photos in this post; click on any of them to see the larger images.

So what is the lesson to be learned from these very different buildings? Well, it has to do with the one thing that they all have in common (apart from being in Chicago).

They all have structure.

Without structure, none of these buildings would be stable and most, if not all, would fall. It’s the same with speeches and presentations. They need structure.

The essential elements of any speech are an opening, development of the theme or message, and a conclusion. The opening should grab your audience’s attention and let them know where you are going to take them. The conclusion should summarize the key points, include a call to action if any and, ideally, link back to the opening.

The structure of the main part, during which the theme or message is developed, can differ from talk to talk just as the structure differs from building to building in Chicago.

The following are examples of different speech structures:

  • Chronological: The key points are presented in chronological order, beginning with the oldest event and proceeding to the present or, where applicable, the future. This structure is useful when discussing, for example, the history of a company or the evolution of a product.
  • Sequential: The key points are presented in the order in which they must be accomplished. This structure is useful when discussing the different steps in a project or undertaking.
  • Pros and Cons: Arguments in favour of, or against, a proposition are presented. This structure is useful when a decision has to be made and there are different options.
  • Climax: The key points are presented in order from least important to most important. This structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The speaker’s argument builds in intensity to the final point.
  • Headline: The key points are presented in order from most important to least important. Like the Climax structure, the Headline structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The difference is that the Headline structure is better when you have little time to present or are presenting to busy people with a short attention span. In such cases, you don’t want to bury the lede.

Whatever your speech or presentation, make sure that you structure your ideas in the most effective way possible given your subject, your audience and your objective. Throwing random ideas together in a haphazard manner is not an option.

Until next time, Chicago!

Dad and Daughter Day in Chicago

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 292) – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) American Essayist, Philosopher and Poet

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Change your perspective

Good, better, best.

Bad, worse, worst.

One, two, three.

Past, present, future.

When we speak, we often find ourselves comparing things (e.g., different investment opportunities; different options for a business) or reviewing a timeline (e.g., stages of a project). Thus, we should structure our presentations using the appropriate format.

But the work doesn’t end there. Once you have your structure, you have to present the material in a way that is effective for your audience.

In Western societies, when we show or display information, we start at the left and move to the right. This is because in Western languages (English, French, German, Spanish, etc.) we read from left to right. (You’re doing it now.)

Thus, it is normal for us to think:

1 → 2 → 3

Past → Present → Future

Good → Better → Best

Likewise, it’s natural for us to gesture from left to right when we describe the patterns above. However, if we gesture this way when facing an audience, the audience members will see things in the opposite direction.

3 ← 2 ← 1

Future ← Present ← Past

Best ← Better ← Good

To make things as easy as possible for your audience, you have to change your perspective. You have to gesture and move in a manner that is opposite to what you would normally do.

For example, let’s suppose you were talking about the growth of your company. You want to speak about its creation and past, then talk about where things are now and finish with your projections for the future.

For the benefit of your audience, when you talk about the past, stand stage right (the right side from your perspective but the left side from the perspective of the audience). As you begin talking about what is happening today, move to the centre of the stage. When speaking of the future, move to stage left (the right side of the stage from the audience’s perspective).

You can take the same approach for any of the other speech structures mentioned above. And if the stage does not allow you to move very much, you can get the same effect by gesturing in the appropriate direction.

Just remember that your audience has a mirrored view of you. Your movements should always reflect the point of view of the audience. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have it, you will find that the right movements and gestures come naturally.

Of course, if you are speaking to an audience of people whose mother tongue is a language that is written from right to left (Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Urdu, etc.), then you want to do the opposite of everything I have said above!

I used to work in United Nations and I traveled regularly to several countries in the Middle East. Because I had learned to adapt my movements and gestures for Western audiences, I had to temporarily “unlearn” my stage movements and gestures and revert to my natural way of gesturing, which now felt bizarre and unnatural to me!

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