How to present virtually

Mark Oliver
Learning and development consultant | Octopus Professional Development
25th November 2021
Member roleChamber member

Nowadays, presenting virtually has become a crucial part of our jobs. Whether you’re giving a project update, pitching for new business or getting buy-in for change, there’s a good chance you’re doing it virtually. And as remote and hybrid working become the norm this will continue to be the case.

Fortunately, some of the fundamentals remain the same as in face-to-face presenting. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the 3 questions you must be clear on before you present.

· What do you want your audience to do?

· Why should they do it?

· How are you going to convince them to do it?

These are essential for both types of presenting.

However, virtual presenting takes place in a very different setting. It presents unique challenges to the presenter.

For example, virtual audiences will probably be multi-tasking or at least tempted to. Without stimulation, their attention will also wander easily. And then there are technical issues or working-from-home factors (barking dogs, lawnmowers, housemates). This will interfere with your message.

Succeeding in the face of all this seems impossible. But you can if you move away from traditional face-to-face presenting and adapt a new approach. Here are three strategies to help you do this.

Turn your monologue into a dialogue

To hold your audience’s attention, break your presentation into small chunks. At the end of each chunk, let them ask questions. Also, use this time to ask questions to the group as a whole or individuals.

Doing this moves your presentation closer to a conversation. It will keep them engaged, give them a break from listening and, if they have switched to another task, bring them back to you. Knowing they may need to answer a question will also keep them on their toes.

Make the most of interactive online tools

One of the best things about presenting virtually is how easy it is to bring in interactive online tools. Many are free. They are a great way to keep your audience’s attention from switching to competing tabs or tasks.

Collaborate and co-create on Mural. Launch a quiz, poll or word cloud on Mentimeter. Post links, images and voice files on Padlet. Variety keeps people interested.

Use your voice impactfully

In a face-to-face presentation, much of what you communicate, consciously or subconsciously, comes from your body language. Effective speakers use posture, gestures and facial expressions to convey emotion, reinforce their message and energise the room.

In virtual presentations, your body language is relegated to a rectangle. And if you’re screen sharing slides or your audience has a group display, this rectangle will be very small indeed.

Your voice has now become even more important. If your voice is unclear, monotonous, or lacking in energy, you will lose your audience’s attention. So, let’s look at how to avoid this.

Speak clearly by slowing down and pausing at the right places. When is the right time to pause? Pause where the punctuation would be if it were written, between chunks of language and before or after key words. Also, make sure you pronounce the final sounds of words crisply. Swallowed sounds impact clarity.

Bring variety to your voice to avoid a monotone. Emphasise key words by going up or down in pitch or volume. Let your character shine through. Vary the pace. But remember don’t go too fast.

Finally, virtual presentations and meetings are energy-sapping affairs. If you sound uninterested and bored, your audience will be too. Raise energy levels by ramping up your vocal energy. I don’t mean shout. I mean feel the energy and enthusiasm and then let your voice show it.

Going forwards

Nobody is born a gifted virtual presenter. As with any skill, it takes practice, reflection and more practice. Find a friend or colleague to try out these techniques with first. Experiment. Have fun.

Then when you present next, get feedback from a helpful audience member. What went well? What could’ve gone better? Make a note in a reflection diary. Go again.

Don’t fear failure. It’s the best way to get better.

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