We’ve all had to get used to connecting with our colleagues and clients virtually over the past few months. And it’s not always easy. Presenting to a virtual auditorium of 2D faces—or a sea of names floating in black boxes—can flummox the most experienced presenters.
Are people listening to what I’m saying? Is my presentation on the right track? Do they agree with what I’m saying? These are all questions we end up asking ourselves when presenting virtually, especially when we’re deprived of all those subtle non-verbal cues that help guide and inform in-person meetings.
I’ll be honest, I hated virtual meetings to start with. Back in March, I couldn’t see how I could do my job effectively without being there to present and workshop in person.
But a few months on, my perspective has changed. I’ve found I can communicate, influence, solve problems, and strengthen relationships virtually. In fact, over the past few months I’ve had some of the most productive conversations in my time at Tradeshift—all on Zoom.
Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learnt to make my virtual meetings successful, that you can apply to your day-to-day.
Tip #1: Switch on your camera—and ask your audience to switch on theirs.
Turning cameras on is the most basic tip I can offer, but it’s the one that makes the biggest difference. If you want to hold the attention of a remote audience, it helps if they can see your expressions, you can see theirs and you can have a more meaningful dialogue with each other. If they do not volunteer their video, ask them to switch it on.
If you want to hold the attention of a remote audience, it helps if they can see your expressions.
Tip #2: Tidy up your workspace
A messy desk might be a sign of genius, but on a video call it can be a distraction to your audience. So before starting your call, make sure your workplace is tidy and you’re suitably presented—just like if you were having the meeting face-to-face. I’ve found this process a great way to get in the right headspace before important calls.
Tip #3: Avoid virtual backgrounds
Virtual backgrounds are fun, and in certain meetings can be a pleasant way to break the ice and inject a bit of personality into a call. But generally I’d advise against using them, especially on important calls, as they can distract and take attention away from what you’re saying.
Tip #4: Invest in professional AV equipment
Most laptop cameras and microphones aren’t the best. The cameras don’t pick up light well, and the view from my laptop when angled up at my face isn’t flattering at all. While the microphones capture and amplify sounds from all over the house, but somehow fail to pick up voices clearly. So if virtual meetings are becoming standard in your organization, I’d suggest investing in some professional audio and visual equipment. This can make a big difference to how your presentations come across to your audience. I’ve found they also give me more confidence.
Tip #5: Understand the technology you’re using
Being familiar with the tools and technology you’re using is important. Technical hiccups can derail your presentation. In fact, research shows that delays of 1.2 seconds on a video conferencing system made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused. So make sure everything works as it should be before your next big meeting.
Tip #6: Deploy different visuals to keep your audience engaged
Death by PowerPoint is a problem in in-person meetings, but in a virtual setting it’s even more of a problem. I can guarantee that your audience will only listen to half of what you’re saying if you spend an hour talking to a set of slides. So try to break free from PowerPoint when possible. I like to open up a virtual whiteboard and start workshopping in real time. It’s a great way to get extra value from your meeting and turn your audience from passive to active viewers.
Tip #7: Punctuate your presentation and keep things dynamic
Don't plan to present for more than 10 minutes at a time—and make it five if possible. Consider pausing to take questions, or to ask questions to your audience. I’ve found you need to increase the interaction with a remote audience to make sure they are engaged and following the presentation. Another tip is to present in tandem with another member of your team. Sometimes an alternative voice can keep people engaged.
Tip #8: Avoid causing ‘Zoom fatigue’
Under no circumstances plan a long workshop remotely. They just don’t work well. People cannot concentrate when they look at their screens for lengthy periods. Even with breaks, it’s a challenge. I think two hours per day is the most I would expect for an audience to stay ‘tuned in’ for a remote presentation. If you need to conduct a long meeting and cover a lot of detailed content, consider multiple sessions over consecutive days.
Tip #9: Minimize the risk of distractions—but embrace them when they happen
Even the most prepared presenters can fall foul of interference at home. The doorbell ringing, dogs barking, and kids wanting attention are all commonplace on calls these days. You can do your best to avoid these distractions by informing your loved ones of your schedule. But life happens, and that is ok, your audience will understand. So if you're interrupted—embrace it, don't ignore it! Deal with the matter swiftly and pass the presentation to a colleague if possible, and return as soon as you can.
If you're interrupted during a presentation—embrace it, don't ignore it!
Tip #10: Be yourself
When giving any presentation, in person or virtual, people sometimes feel they need to get into character and put on a performance to be successful. That’s just not true. Your audience wants to see the real you. Give them that and you’re already well on your way to achieving your objectives.
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