March 2020. Everything changed. Offices? Empty. Bars and restaurants? Closed. Toilet paper? Sparse. Feeling of uncertainty? Universal. For months, there have been three categories of workers: The Essentials, The Furloughs, and The Remotes.
No matter what category you find yourself, it is safe to say that work life changed for everybody very quickly. It became paramount, now more than ever, to be able to adapt. And, due to reduced human interaction, most people have had to lean on technology more than ever before.
Trade shows? Cancelled or held virtually.
Business trips to meet customers in their office? Cancelled.
In-office customer visits? Yeah, right. I was not even in the office for months.
Memes? At least these have been good still.
Face-to-face communication is hands down the easiest and most effective medium, but if that is not an option anymore, what do you do? You must adapt your customer visits, presentations, company meetings, and lunch-and-learns to virtual options.
As a Business Developer, I have virtually presented plenty of times and have been in the audience for plenty of other meetings and presentations. Here are some tips and tricks that I have learned along the way to help your presentations flow smoothly, to keep people from talking over one another, and — most importantly — to be effective. Some of these tips seem glaringly obvious, but when people are rushed in rapidly changing environments, the details tend to get glossed over.
Virtual Presentation Tips
#1 — TEST. RUN.
Get familiar with your technology. Anyone who has ever presented knows that you must practice, but there are more technological variables that you need to work with now. Try asking a colleague if they can help with a dry run. Set up a practice webinar, starting with the invitation and then run through some tests. For the sake of your colleague’s time, you don’t have to give them your whole presentation. Make sure to check the following:
- Video quality
- Sound quality
- Additional features that may be used like recording, chat room, screen sharing, presentation modes, etc.
Proper prep work will take care of the technical details and minimize disruption. I am a big fan of recording the presentation and using it as part of my follow-up emails.
#2 — Check your surroundings.
Start with your background and the room you are in. Make sure it is suitable and the least distracting as possible. Nothing says “I am a hardworking professional.” like a pile of dirty laundry in your background. Lighting is also a factor here. Overhead lights will create shadows, so avoid those unless you’re telling ghost stories. Try sitting in front of a window instead.
#3 — Treat it like a wedding.
Start by telling everyone to mute their microphones unless they are speaking. Avoid interruption and background noise as much as possible. This will be harder for people in a home office with a house full of kids hopped up on Mountain Dew. So, try to set boundaries and guidelines with your family during the times you may be presenting.
#4 — Look at the camera.
You would make eye contact in person so make sure to look at the actual camera and not at your screen the whole time.
#5 — Get to know your audience.
With groups of 10 or less, I try to keep it as much like an in-person presentation as I can. If I were in an office, I would make sure to greet everyone as they came in the room and I would learn their name and role. You can still do that via virtual presentations! You must be orderly though or people will talk over one another, and then no one wants to speak up. Going from chaos to silence is definitely not the smoothest transition, so here’s what you can do to fix that: Pick one person (I usually start with the office manager or whomever I worked with to book the presentation.). Then ask them to say his/her name, role, and any other background information you want to know. Then have the person select the next person to speak and so on.
#6 — Be intentional.
It is hard to keep people focused on a screen, so make sure you discuss the agenda of your presentation with your audience beforehand so that you can keep the content relevant. State the desired outcome and why your potential audience should attend. This applies to all presentations but especially virtual ones. The more relevant your presentation is, the more likely the audience is to actively listen and participate.
#7 — Make the audience participate.
With any presentations, I always prefer to keep it more of a conversation or a discussion, so I like to plant questions in my presentations. Questions can be general and to the whole audience, or you could even direct them to individuals. For example, you could present to a group that is a mix of estimators, project managers, and engineers. For certain points I will ask the group a question and pose it like “This question is for the project managers in the room….” I would also recommend encouraging the audience to use the chat function so audience members can ask questions without the fear of interrupting.
#8 — Find your “champion.”
Often this will be the leader in the company. This person can help you throughout your presentation and maybe even shift an entire office or department to be on “your side.” On almost every virtual presentation I have had, there always seems to be at least one person who is the most comfortable speaking up and asking questions. Anytime someone asks a question, thank him/her for the question before you answer and after you answer. Thanking your champion will show your appreciation and encourage others to speak up. Anyone who has presented more than once has probably dealt with “the smartest guy/gal in the room” who never hesitates to speak up. Well, directly ask questions to that person. If I have someone who clearly seems comfortable speaking up, I have found that directly asking them an open-ended question to be an effective way to get a discussion going and oftentimes it gets others involved, too.
#9 — Consider mixed audiences.
These last few tips are for presentations that have a mixed audience. Now that some folks are back in the office and others are still remote, you may find yourself in a situation where some audience members are watching your presentation in person and others via web.
Make sure the remote audience has your attention just as much as the people in the room (if not more).
If someone in the room asks a question, make sure you repeat the question for everyone who is not in the room. Oftentimes, the only microphone is located by the presenter, so the mic not pick up a question from the audience. When you implement Tip #7 above (ask your own questions), make sure that you deliberately direct a few questions to the remote audience.
Not every presentation will go perfectly but I hope these tips will help others to avoid some of the easy mistakes. Good luck!