Speaking at a virtual event is not quite the same as on a live stage. For many speakers it may have been a new experience to perform in the online world. How to stay in the game and deliver successful online sessions? In the following, I share 10 best practices to increase success levels and make online sessions as engaging as possible and resonating with online attendees.
1. Create the right setup at your remote location
Whether you will join the session from your home or deserted office, prepare your surroundings to support your performance. Talking about digital events, let’s start with the right setup of technology.
Make sure that the room or space where you will be sitting or standing is illuminated as much as possible. The more light you have, the better the quality of your camera image. This might even balance out average laptop cameras. Thus, place at least one light behind the camera. Having a light source behind yourself will make you appear as a black shadow. But having the light in front of you will illuminate you. The light doesn’t necessarily shine into your face and blind you, but can instead point at the wall and reflect back at your face. This will also avoid any reflection on your glasses, in case you wear some.
Once we know that you are nicely illuminated, we also want to make sure that the audience sees the best part of you. Therefore, have the camera on eye-height. This could mean that for the duration of the online meeting you may want to lift your laptop or adjust an external camera at the adequate height in front of you.
When speaking to the audience, try to look into the camera because this will create a direct connection with them. Now, we often get distracted by seeing our own video, those of the other panel speakers, or even the entire audience all over your screen. What can help to stay focused on looking (almost) into the camera during your speaking part is to put a post-it right next to the camera. Draw a face on it and talk to ‘the post-it attendee’ which makes you look straight forward, appearing as if you would look right into the camera. If you work with multiple devices, try to place the video of your speaking partner next or as close to the camera as possible. Like this, you can see the moderator or panel guests while also looking into the camera.
The presence of a speaker on stage is quite different when he sits in a chair or walks and acts on the entire stage. We are always more actively talking when standing up, appearing more present in a conversation than when sitting back relaxed in our office chair. Therefore, try to present while standing in front of your laptop/camera. You will automatically improve your posture and create a livelier experience for the audience.
That said, don’t forget to screen your background. Once you know how you will present and what will be displayed in your video, you should adjust possible distractions for the audience. While at live events the event team is in charge to prepare the stage for a professional performance, at home you are in charge of your own background. Keep it clean, simple, and organized. If possible, make it spark joy in those who are looking at it. And if it will require too much effort to move everything around or you don’t feel confident giving the attendees a peek into your private home, opt for a virtual background that can show you in front of almost any suitable scenery.
2. The power of professional slides
While slides should always look professional to highlight your speech, there are some slight adjustments you may consider when presenting online. Keep in mind that your presentation will not be displayed on a large screen over the stage but on smaller monitor screens, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones! If your video and presentation will then even be displayed side-by-side, phew, those slides could become veeery small.
We never get tired of saying it but please, don’t use too many words, and do not put too much content or information on one slide. That said, please also don’t use 100 slides for a ten-minute presentation. YOU are the highlight of your own session, not your slides, they only let you excel even more. Have you tried putting your session content in one to four photos with one message each for an easy grasp? A table of numbers is useful for insight discussions but on the virtual stage changing the table into a few photos with a graphic chart underneath will show the result much quicker. Therefore, visual and less wordy is always better.
Sometimes we need words though. In those cases, increase the font even further than you usually do. This might feel overwhelmingly large on your screen but when you remember a side-by-side screen on a mobile device, not so much anymore. If you want the audience to be able to read what is written on your slides, make sure to use an adequate font size.
Last but not least, please remember to be mindful with your materials. Virtual events always mean a shorter attention span of the attendees. A light and short presentation will capture your audience much better than hours spent on endless PowerPoint slides which nobody will follow after ten minutes. Instead, use catchy titles and graphics, bullet points over sentences, engaging visuals, and animated material if possible.
3. Warm up your instrument – the voice
I have realized that I speak much less when working at home than when I work with colleagues physically around me. Therefore, it might be a good idea to warm up your voice before your speaking part. Staying hydrated and obviously not screaming or using it too much in the days leading up to the event will make it smooth and let your words flow easily. Honey always does magic too.
4. Research your audience
This tip is nothing new for professional speakers: know as much about your session’s participants as possible. Are they there to learn more about your expert topic, acquire own skills, or receive valuable experience? But when speaking virtually also keep the event platform in mind. Is your audience familiar with it, how well can they use all its functions? This can help you decide about how to present your content and interact with the attendees. Also, might a casual approach transport your message better than a strictly professional one? By knowing how your audience uses digital tools and how they prefer communicating online themselves you can adjust your presentation to be as engaging as possible in their terms.
5. Not all is about tech, but it certainly can improve performance
We have talked about the right setup already, but I wanted to remind you that – if you know you will speak at virtual events frequently – some investment in professional equipment will come in handy. Make some research or ask us to find out about high-quality microphones, camera, and lighting. This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands on technical equipment. There are quite a few items that are fairly priced and enhance your online performance greatly already. And if I may give you one big, big advice: never use in-built microphones. Your voice is the most important asset on virtual calls. While you can adjust other settings to make yourself be visible to the audience, there are not many options when the quality of your microphone is just not pleasant.
6. Eliminate all distractions for the duration of your speech
We are all human and it brings fun into long online conversations when the post man rings or the cat’s tail pops up in front of the camera. However, this should not be the norm and kept at a minimum for a professional performance. This means ideally: no pets, no people running around in the background, no metal band rehearsing in your basement, and the like. If you will join the event from a place shared with others (whether home or office), inform those around you what time you will be on and for how long, so they know when to leave you alone. If your internet connection is not the strongest, kindly ask them to stop using the internet during that time for Netflix & Co. This will help your connection remain steady. Also, don’t distract yourself and put your phone away as well as closing all other (browser) windows on your device.
7. Energy and passion help deliver any message
Zoom fatigue is all around us and your audience might already dread another tiring online meeting. As mentioned earlier, our attention span is much shorter online than it is at a live event. To boost your performance and keep attendees participating and following your session, be (overly) energetic and engaging. While on stage it helps to move around and use your entire body to communicate, this is not entirely possible online. So don’t run out of your camera sight but use your upper body, arms and hands to command the virtual space. You could e. g. move closer and further away from the camera to change the focus on your face or how much space you will take up on their screens. Play with your voice, speak up or whisper, talk quickly or super. duper. slow. Be authentic and passionate for the topic you are discussing.
8. Time to shine – time to dress up
Yes, it is tempting and suuuper comfortable to join virtual meetings in pajamas and slippers, covered with a fluffy blanket, etc. However, the way we dress influences our performance immediately as well. Wearing a dress and heels gives women another posture and lets them act differently automatically. Without much effort. It comes with the dress. The same goes for virtual presentations. How would you dress if you were to speak on stage? That should be exactly what you wear in front of your camera as well. Dressing up reminds us of the context and we will act accordingly by letting our outfit make us feel the (business) context.
9. Smooth transition between slides
One quick tip to improve the coordination between event crew and speaker. Sometimes it might not be possible for the speakers to advance in their slides themselves. If the presentation is directed by the technical staff to be loaded successfully on the event platform, speakers need to find a new way to indicate when the next slide shall be displayed. You might have heard when the presenter keeps saying “next slide” and waiting until the slide is visible before continuing the presentation. Now, I personally feel this often interrupts the entire flow of the presentation itself.
A smoother way to navigate through the slides could be a “swipe motion” just like we do on our mobile devices. Talk to the host in advance to agree on a visual indicator for the tech staff to know when to move on in the presentation. Like this, the slides will change almost magically for the audience. As a speaker, train yourself to keep talking during this transition of slides and not lose the attention of the audience by interrupting the conversation flow with silence.
10. Audience engagement for co-speakers
When you are not the only speaker but share a session with someone else, make use of this wonderful gift. Instead of having to coordinate many aspects by yourself at single-speaker sessions, you can now share tasks such as checking the chat for questions between each other. While one of you talks, the other can activate polls and play back input to his partner. This saves time to analyze results yourself and gives you immediate options to use your attendees’ feedback in your presentation.
Throw the ball between the two of you instead of talking one after the other. Following a conversation is much easier for the audience than following a monologue. And when the other part is speaking, use this little break to drink a little (keep the voice smooth), think about your next points, or check your notes. What a great option that removes all non-stop attention from you but allows for some time to breathe. Don’t forget to use it.
I see this article got slightly longer than expected, so I cut it here. But if you wish to hear more about how to best prepare for your virtual speaking engagement, I’m happy to advice and train you. Coaching the speakers before a digital event is very valuable for those that usually feel better on live stages and are otherwise overwhelmed by the additional tasks that come along with online presentations. We are here to make sure you have the necessary resources and skills to deliver outstanding performances in the virtual world.
All the best and stay tuned!