Some Dos and Don'ts for Online Presentations
Tips for Presenting Online
For those who know me and my love of a simple speaking structure and the power of ‘Three’ it will come as no surprise that my 9 tips for delivering online presentations are grouped in three groups of three, under the headings of Delivery, Structure and Content.
1. Stand up for the meeting!
Standing up has a positive impact on your voice. The biggest danger in presenting while sitting is that when you sit down, your voice sits down with you. As you become comfortable in your seat, the voice also becomes comfortable and flattens out and loses contrast and energy. Standing up keeps the focus and the energy up. Telesales professionals are taught to present standing up, even when the client cannot see them because simply standing injects extra energy into the delivery and the voice stays alive. There are a couple of metaphors that may cast some supporting light on this; being able to ‘think on your feet’ and ‘knowing where you stand’ are good concepts to hold on to as you deliver your presentation or run the meeting (as opposed ot being a ‘sitting duck’). This is food for thought for those who believe that a good presentation style involves walking around on the stage as standing and delivering from in front of a laptop makes this virtually impossible. You can remain engaging without resorting to wandering around the room and that starts with focusing on a lively voice.
Tip. Put your laptop on a chair on your desk and stand back and make sure that you are putting that extra bit of energy into your delivery that standing up demands.
2. Look into their eyes.
Whenever you are delivering remotely, maintaining eye contact is about looking into the camera, not at the faces on your screen. When you look into that camera it seems to the person on the other as if you are looking at them. The great news of course is that instead of having to develop a technique of making eye contact with everyone spread across the room, just by looking at that camera means you are looking directly at everyone! As we have become used to watching remote interviews on the News, we accept that participants are not looking directly at us, because we understand that they are responding to the interviewer on their screen. It becomes particularly entertaining when you watch their eyes moving from side to side and you realise that what they are doing all through the interview is,
‘I am looking at you. I am looking at me.’ ‘I am looking at you. I am looking at me.’
Most of the time this will not be a problem, but as an audience, we are still conditioned to equate looking directly in someone’s eyes with being truthful.
Hence the phrase that so many of us heard from our parents when they suspected us of fibbing:
‘Look me in the eyes and tell me that!’
So I would suggest if you are presenting online, even though you do not want or need to stare continuously at the camera, - because that might seem too intense and unnatural – identify the significant moments in your presentation when you have an important point to make or where you particularly want your audience to trust you and then support that moment by raising your eyes to look at the camera.
Tip. Look into the camera at key moments when you want to elicit trust and demonstrate conviction
3. Modulate your voice
As in all forms of presentation, it is your voice that will hold the audience’s attention. The voice does not have to be beautiful or even resonant, but it must have variety. As mentioned above, standing up is one way to focus on vocal modulation, as are the use of varying and supportive gestures. Sitting down, leaning back with your arms folded or with your hands hovering over your keyboard will all put a break on the voice. Your gestures do not need to be as expansive as if you were standing up in a large room, but they should still support the key words and messages.
Tip. Focus on your hands and gestures as you speak, as long as your gestures have energy, the voice has energy.
4. Simple Structure
Having a simple structure is a good tip for any form of presentation, but doubly so if you are presenting online. If the biggest challenge in presenting online is maintaining the audience’s attention, it is important to have a clear structure to avoid your audience getting lost in the middle. They might be sitting alone at their desk, maybe even at home, they might also have their camera and microphone off. So if they become distracted for a few moments, you may never get them back again.
If ever there was a good moment to use the tried and tested ‘tell ‘em, tell ‘em and tell ‘em’ structure, this is it. Tell them what you are going to tell them as an introduction; tell them in full and then tell them what you just told them as a conclusion.
This way even if someone does drift away, you can still catch them again with the main points.
And keep it short! (Standing up while presenting will help you do that)
Tip. Keep it simple. Have no more than three key messages or topics.
Let them know how long the presentation is going to be. Let them know what the key landmarks are going to be and point them out as you approach them and as you leave them. If a participant leaves you mid-presentation on a mental wander, the best way to bring them back is to indicate regularly where you are, where you have been and what is coming up.
So if you have a presentation structure of 1-2-3, firstly, tell them that as you start and then when you come to the end of the first section let them know:
‘That brings us to the end of ‘1’ where the key message is ‘abc’ and now I want to look at ‘2’
And then later:
‘We have now covered ‘1’ and ‘abc’; we have also looked at ‘2’ and ‘def’, now to finish off I would like us to consider ‘3’
Tip. Make the structure very clear and point it out as you go.
How do you know if your participants are paying attention? Ask them!
Rhetorical questions are always a good tool in presenting, because they require the listener to respond, even if it is only in their heads. This is why I always recommend trainers use regular ‘thermostat’ questions during their training. A thermostat question is a way of checking the connection in the room and is typically a neutral ‘bounce-back’ question, like:
‘Does that make sense?’ ‘Is everyone with me?’ ‘Are we OK with this?’
Because of the distributed nature of an online presentation, it becomes even more important to regularly check in with the participants. Especially to pull back the participant who may be tempted to go off on a mental wander.
Maybe even agree on a signal with everyone so that they can show they are still attending.
If the cameras are on, ask for a ‘thumbs up’ or if the cameras are off, a grunt, some noise or any oral indication that they are still there!
Tip. Use regular call back questions or signals to focus attention
7. Tell a story
Please don’t misunderstand this one! What I mean is to avoid broadcasting lots of words and long lists of abstract data, which is hard to concentrate on. Provide a narrative or an image, whether in the form of a story, anecdote, or case study or otherwise share an image or chart that visually supports the point you wish to make, so that what they hear is reinforced with imagery that they can see, whether literally or in their mind’s eye.
This relates to having a simple structure. If you have a simple 1-2-3 structure, make sure that each section has a key message or take away and then support that message with a story or an image that helps the listener ‘see’ what you are talking about.
Tip. Words, facts and data are hard to absorb, pictures are easy.
8. Break the rhythm
Monotony is the enemy to concentration, whether vocal or structural.
Constantly think of ways of changing the pattern of engagement as you go through.
That could be by throwing in a thermostat question, or showing a graphic or sharing an example, giving them a couple of moments to think about a point, consider a question or offer an opinion.
Plan for the participant to vary their type of engagement: listen, think, respond, discuss, query, ask, share.
Tip. Vary the pace and format, through voice and activity.
9. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
And finally, I list this under Content, but this is where all three elements, Delivery, Structure and Content coming together. Keep it simple. With all the distractions, the remoteness and the technological issues that could undermine engagement, it is more essential than ever to keep the messages clear and succinct.
Final Tip. Keep everything clear! Structure clear. Messages clear. Voice clear.
This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at The Art of Training and Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.
To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course.