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 frazzled when presenting in an unfamiliar digital arena? You’re not alone. These eight tips can help you deliver online presentations like a pro.
1. Simplify your slides.
Each web conference platform has its own distinctive 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 are likely to multitask or to be distracted. To prevent them from missing your main points, you need to drive home your key messages quickly. 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.
2. Do tech prep.
Technology keeps us connected, but its complexity creates additional avenues for potential disruption. One way to prepare 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.
- Use the most reliable internet connection you can. Web-conferencing providers generally consider a wired connection to be more optimal than wireless (WiFi) connections. And WiFi connections are considered better than cellular connections.
- Have another laptop (or emergency tablet or phone) at the ready in case you encounter a problem.
- 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” 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 any unnecessary applications to ensure that they don’t interfere your web conferencing software. Also shut off any other background activities that require a substantial amount of memory or bandwidth, such as downloading or uploading large files or instant file synchronizations.
- 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.
3. Set the scene.
Eliminate any visual clutter behind you. Clutter includes plants, boxes, piles of books, food, toys, laundry, pets — an ideal background is a plain wall to eliminate distractions and look professional.
If you can’t tidy up your space, you can also create a sophisticated virtual background. Check out Canva’s free virtual backgrounds as an example. You can upload these designs to any video conferencing system that allows for 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. Ditch the sweatshirt or other at-home apparel.
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. Light up your face.
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 coming from the side or the back.
To prevent listeners from tuning you out, pick up the pace. If you speak at a leisurely pace, you risk losing your virtual audience.
Avoid sitting with a bright window behind you as it will make you appear dark and foreboding. Switch positions so that you sit with the bright window in front of you.
6. Make sure they can hear you and only you.
Ideally, you should present 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, as well as turning off your phone and any noisy computer notifications.
7. Look them in the eye.
Raise your laptop so that 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. As well, angle the laptop screen so that you are 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 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. It will show.
8. Regularly re-engage your audience’s attention.
An audience’s attention can flag, especially during an extended 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.
Regardless of whether or not your web conferencing platform offers an attendee tracking feature, consider planning ahead of time to re-engage your audience’s attention.
For one thing, spread out your points over more slides, rather than less, so that new slides appear on the screen periodically to bring wandering minds back to you and your message.
To prevent listeners from tuning you out, pick up the pace. If you speak at a leisurely pace, you risk losing your virtual audience. You can also re-engage flagging attention with frequent change-ups or interruptions in your speaking pattern by:
- asking a direct or rhetorical question,
- soliciting feedback or comments,
- using engaging images here and there,
- telling an anecdote that illustrates your point,
- providing an example or two to explain a point or introducing a metaphor to bring a pivotal point to life, or
- showing a brief video clip that ties into your message.
Use anything that’s relevant and breaks up a monotonous pattern, and you’ll come across as a more engaging presenter.
Read more articles on presenting.
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