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.
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.
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!