Online presentations are the norm now that more people are working from home. For many, moving from in-person to online presentations may bring a new set of challenges to overcome.
Are you concerned you might fumble with new technology or appear unprepared when presenting in an unfamiliar digital arena? You’re not alone. These eight tips can help you deliver an effective online presentation like a pro.
1. Simplify the slides of your online presentation.
Each web conference platform has its own unique way of displaying slides. Avoid technical hassles by designing simple, easy-to-read slides.
Place text in the center instead of at the edges of the slides because they may not display correctly on your audience’s screens. Also, consider creating high contrast slides – they are easier to read for your virtual audience.
Remember: Online listeners may multitask or get distracted. To prevent them from missing your main points, arrive quickly at key messages. To do this, use a sentence headline for your slide titles that states the main point of your slide. You can then include the evidence for each of your key points in the body of the slide. It seems simple, but can be an effective way of organizing information for an online presentation.
2. Prepare for your online presentation.
Technology keeps us connected, but its complexity creates additional avenues for potential disruption. One way to prepare before giving an online presentation is to look at technology through the lens of Murphy's Law, which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Focus on what you can control.
Check your internet connection.
Use the most reliable internet connection you can. Web-conferencing providers generally consider a wired connection to be more optimal than wireless (Wi-Fi) connections. And Wi-Fi connections are considered better than cellular connections.
Have a backup computer.
Have another laptop (or emergency tablet or phone) at the ready in case you encounter a problem.
Save your presentation.
Download a PDF version of your presentation to pull up in case there's a technical mishap with your slides (You do this by selecting “Save As” or "Print" and choosing “PDF.”) When saving your presentation as a PDF, remember to delete your hidden slides first as they will not remain hidden when you display your PDF presentation.
Close your tabs.
Close any unnecessary applications to ensure they don’t interfere with your web conferencing software. Also, shut off any other background activities requiring substantial memory or bandwidth, such as downloading or uploading large files or instant file synchronizations. Even an inactive browser can eat up your computer's memory, so consider exiting out before your online presentation.
Practice using the web-conference platform.
Get familiar with the platform you're using in advance. Practice muting and unmuting your microphone. If you're the host, practice muting and unmuting one or all other participants. Follow the instructions in the help center of your video conferencing app so that you don’t fumble during the event.
Online presentations to potential customers, investors, or even executive leaders are usually scheduled at given dates and times, and can be sent through your web-conferencing software. Arrive to the meeting a few minutes early to make sure your connection works and the web-conferencing software is working, especially if you are the host of the meeting. You can also test the screen-share function as part of the program to ensure it's in good working order for your online presentation.
3. Eliminate distractions.
Eliminate any visual clutter behind you. Clutter includes plants, boxes, piles of books, food, toys, laundry, and pets. An ideal background is a plain wall to eliminate distractions and look professional.
If you can’t tidy up your space, you can create a sophisticated virtual background. Canva offers free virtual backgrounds, and you can upload these designs to any video conferencing system that allows customized backgrounds. Not sure how to do this? Providers such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Webex, to name a few, give you step-by-step instructions.
4. Dress for your online presentation.
It may be tempting to wear your usual work-from-home attire like your PJs or your favorite hoodie, but providing an effective presentation requires that you dress the part. Wear your regular workplace casual clothes. When picking out an outfit, avoid distracting patterns or multi-colored shirts, as well as shiny fabrics such as satin or silk, as they may shimmer when you move your body on camera. Solid colors are best—you want people to focus on your message, not your clothes.
5. Use the right lighting for your online presentation.
If the lighting in your room isn’t optimal, set up a desk lamp behind your laptop, centered right over the camera to light up your face. For this to work well, minimize the lighting from other parts of the room by lowering the shades to prevent light from coming from the side or the back.
Avoid sitting with a bright window behind you as it will make you appear dark and foreboding. Switch positions to sit with the bright window in front of you.
6. Present in a quiet space during your online presentation.
Ideally, an online presentation should occur in a quiet room. However, working from home with a partner or kids can make it less of an ideal setting for controlling background noise. You can mitigate this challenge by investing in a good headset with a built-in microphone that cancels or neutralizes outside sounds and turning off your phone and any noisy computer notifications.
7. Make eye contact during your online presentation.
One of the best ways to provide an effective presentation is to make eye contact with your audience. Raise your laptop so your camera is at eye level. You can do this quickly by placing a box or a stack of books underneath your laptop. Practice speaking to the camera, not the screen. You can also angle the laptop screen to be centered in the frame, and your head is not cut off.
You may also need to move back a little. If you sit too close to your laptop, your face may look blown up. That’s often not the most flattering angle. Either sit with your back resting comfortably on your chair or push the laptop back. Ideally, it would help if you sat at an arm’s length from the screen. Sit up straight, smile. Make an effort to look good in your online presentation. It will show.
8. Keep your audience engaged during your online presentation.
An audience’s attention can flag, especially during a long online presentation. One way to judge your listeners’ attention level is through the attention tracking feature that is available in some web conferencing applications. Attention tracking features are indicators next to each attendee’s name on your attendee pane that show you if the person has an app other than the web conference at the forefront of their screen.
An effective presentation is all about being prepared. Simplify your presentation slides so they’re easy to follow, test out all your tech, and have backups for any unexpected mishaps. It’s also helpful to provide your online presentation in a quiet space and limit the distractions around you. Don’t forget to make eye contact and keep your audience engaged. Whether in the office or at home, following these simple tips will help you provide a flawless online presentation that informs and engages your audience.
A version of this article was originally published on April 16, 2020.