In today’s COVID-19 world, virtual meetings and presentations have become the norm. While many presentation skills and best practices apply to both in-person and virtual presentations, 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 be engaging, but your audience is kind of 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.
Here are 15 expert tips to set you up for success in your next virtual presentation:
1. Get the Lighting Right: As a presenter, it is essential that people can see you well. Make sure you have good front light—meaning the light shines brightly on your face. If your back is to a window, close the shades. While natural light is often the best choice, if your home office doesn’t have natural light and you do a lot of virtual presentations, consider purchasing supplemental lighting to enhance your image.
2. Choose the Right Background: Try to use a background that enhances your professional image and is aligned with your message. Avoid a cluttered background or anything that can be distracting. Learn whether your presentation platform enables you to use virtual backgrounds (like Zoom) or whether you can blur your background (like Microsoft Teams). Your background can either add to your professional presence or detract from it.
3. Know the Technology: Nothing kills a presentation faster than a presenter who fumbles with the technology. This is a performance, so make sure you know how to make it work. A dry run is essential so that you’re comfortable with the platform features. It’s best to have a co-host (or producer or moderator) assist you with the technology so that you can focus on your presentation. Make sure you practice with the same technical set up (computer and internet connection) that you will use when you deliver the presentation.
4. Play to the Camera: 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. Some presenters turn off their self-view so that they aren’t distracted by their own image. Put the camera at eye level. Try not to have your camera too far above or below you. If it’s too low, then you run the risk of creating a double chin. A camera too high makes it difficult to maintain eye contact, as you may find your gaze dropping as you speak. If you are part of a panel or a team of presenters, make sure you are aware of when your camera is on. If you are not speaking but your camera is on, make sure you look like you are paying attention! Powerful presenters understand the importance of making eye contact with their audience, so this means you have to simulate the same effect virtually.
5. Get Close (But Not Too Close). You want the camera to frame your face, neck, and shoulders. 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. Practice your positioning and distance.
6. Stand Up: If possible, use a standing desk or position your laptop so you can stand at eye level with your computer. Standing up provides a higher energy level and forces us to put our body in a more presentation-like mode. If you have to sit, lean forward as you would if you were presenting at a real meeting or as if you were a TV news anchor. Avoid slouching away from the camera, as that sends a signal that you are disconnected from the audience.
7. 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. Keeping people engaged virtually requires you to actually be engaging.
8. Pace Yourself: Without real-time visual audience feedback cues, getting the pacing right can be difficult. Even though you want to infuse some animation and energy into your presentation don’t pump up the speed too much. If you tend to be a fast talker in real life, practice slowing down just a bit. If you’re a slow talker, you may want to speed up just a bit.