Virtual presentations are here to stay.
In some way, shape, or form, we’ll be presenting online for the foreseeable future.
When done properly, a virtual talk can be just as effective as if it were delivered face-to-face.
But, as with in-person presentations, there’s a risk of slipping into bad habits.
So here are five tips to take every future virtual pitch to the next level.
The single biggest change you can make to improve performance is to speak to the camera.
Too many of us speak to the screen, where we can ‘see the reaction’.
But what we’re gaining in audience insight, we’re losing several times over in engagement.
Put it this way: how would you feel if Huw Edwards presented the BBC News tonight while looking at his phone, checking out the latest tweets mentioning his performance?
You’d be horrified.
He’s a professional and he trusts himself to engage you down the lens of the camera.
You’re a professional too, so demand the same standards of yourself.
The issue is that we’re naturally drawn to people’s eyes, which is one of the reasons we look at the screen.
So stick a pair of cartoon eyes next to the camera lens and speak to there instead.
While you’re at it, put a smiling face on the other side of the lens to remind yourself to smile.
(Something even Huw Edwards could use from time to time).
Good, so your eye contact has now improved drastically.
But if your notes are sitting next to you on the table, that’s a long way for the eyes to travel to get back to the camera lens.
So stack your notebook up below the camera lens (again you’ll need to sacrifice reading the audience’s body language).
Or even better, write bullet points on a Word document and centre them near the top of your screen so they appear just under the camera lens.
Now you can glance down with the aversion of eye contact barely perceptible.
Once you’re confident, you’ll be able to scroll down while speaking, effectively turning your laptop into an autocue.
PowerPoint certainly has its place on virtual calls.
It helps highlight data, show trends or demo a product.
But it’s overused.
And if you felt you were getting low engagement when using PowerPoint face-to-face, you can halve that with virtual.
The issue is: we can read three times as fast as you’re speaking, so we’re at the end of the slide while you’re still on the first line.
As we’ve already absorbed the information you’re reading out loud, we’re more likely to check our emails or WhatsApps while you’re still presenting.
So limit the use of PowerPoint to a few visuals.
And only bring them in when you need them.
Specifically, take a couple of minutes at the start while in vision to welcome everyone onto the call and explain how they’ll benefit.
Use words like ‘excited’ and ‘delighted’ before getting straight to the point.
And close the PowerPoint down again at the end to take questions.
Your audience will thank you for the effort to engage them, and you’ve made a great first and last impression for your presentation.
Let’s talk about your eyeline.
If your laptop is sitting on the table, that creates two problems.
First, your audience will feel like they’re being talked down to because of the camera angle.
Their view will be of under your chin and most of your ceiling.
Second, you’ll feel the need to hunch over and possibly fold your arms, so you’re closing up your body language.
The key is to be as upright and open as possible, just as you would be face-to-face.
That’s best achieved by propping your laptop up on books, a shoebox – or in Bill’s case above, a bin.
It means you’re eyeball to eyeball with the camera.
Now you’re equivalents and you can talk openly and engagingly.
Confidence is a funny thing, and several of us have had it knocked during Covid.
Yet it’s amazing what a great opening line can do for your meeting.
So work hard to get that right.
You should be able to tell the audience in the first 15 seconds how they’ll benefit from the call, as you burst with enthusiasm.
“Today I’m delighted to bring you up to date with the X-R project, so you can update your teams on our progress towards the launch next year.”
“This afternoon I want to show you how you can save time and money by downloading free software that will make your life much easier.”
Get that line right, with enthusiasm, and the nervous energy will become a positive asset to carry you through.
We’re delighted to announce we’ve reopened our Glasgow studios.
So you can now come to us in person to learn all of this and more.
Our online video courses are designed for your next big pitch, taking you from scratch to the big day.
Time to invest in you.
Andrew McFarlan is Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications.
You can read more about him here.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.