Lori's Blog

A Few Pointers About Virtual Presentations

I recently watched a webinar about how a company implemented a new software solution. The presenter had a good deal of information to share with us, but after 40 minutes, I had to exit: I could barely make heads or tails of it.

Here’s why:

Each slide was loaded with information, including diagrams and bullet points. Trying to read all that and listen to the speaker required more of my brain power than I had available for a lunchtime presentation. Moreover, I don’t think what he was saying always matched what he was showing. However, I couldn’t tell 100% because it really was a lot of information at once.

The speaker also ended each sentence as a question? It made it hard for me to follow his logic? Because he didn’t modulate his voice? (Sorry for the bad demonstration here? But I have to show you visually how annoying this is?)

Giving a presentation online is different from giving one in person: like a radio announcer at 3:00 a.m., you have to trust that someone is listening to you and speak accordingly. Whether you’re giving a webinar on the latest trends in your sector, or running a virtual meeting, I’ve got a few tips here that should make your presentation more effective.

Your Presentation

TV holds our attention in part because it flashes 29 pictures at us per second. If you’re doing a virtual presentation, you’re not going to be able to click the mouse that fast, but changing slides ever five minutes because each slide is loaded with information is not the way to go.

When you’re talking in front of people, my preference is to keep slides to a bare minimum: only use them if you need to show something that can’t be easily described or to highlight a really important point. Why? Because it lets people focus on you. You’re a human, they’re humans: we’re wired to engage with each other, and if you know how to keep your audience’s attention, you’ll be much more successful than a bunch of poorly designed slides.

But when you’re on the phone or at your computer, and there’s no visual feed for your face, you need to maintain visual interest. Keep slides simple, simple, simple, and err on the side of having too many. The slides also need to fit to the point you’re making at that moment. Once you’ve made your point, click, next slide.

A Word About Templates

I’m not graphically gifted, so I rely on templates. If you’re in the same boat, I’d at least suggest taking a few basic courses online, even webinar-style ones like those offered at lynda.com (my own support for them – I’m not getting paid for that). I of course didn’t turn into a graphics artist, but I at least learned how graphics artists tackle their work and that I should not mess with templates.

So keep things simple: don’t go overboard on all the special effects. A few can certainly add some flare, but too many can look gaudy and amateur.

Your Presentation Script

It’s totally fine to read from a script. When you’re giving a webinar, you have a certain amount of time to share all the information you need to share. However, don’t read it like you’re back in grade school and avoid any “official” tone; you’ll only alienate your audience.

In fact, as you work on your script, write it like you would talk to your boss or client or colleague (choose which ever is closest to your audience). Skip the ticks like “ya know?” and “eh?” but and don’t be afraid to be a little casual. Your script should seem friendly to you, but authentically so, not sitcom so.

Your Voice

I just participated in a conversation on social media earlier this week about not liking the sound of your voice when you hear it outside of your head. Remember, no one – absolutely no one – knows what your voice sounds like to you; they’ve always only known you as the voice they hear. I’m certain you don’t sound like Lina Lamont, so leave that worry at the door.

Second, talk normally but slow down a little. I have no scientific claim behind this, but my guess as to why we think we’re talking like Eeyore when everyone tells us we’re talking like Tigger is because we know what we’re going to say. So, by the time it comes out of our mouths, our brains have already heard it.

Final Notes

It’s normal to get nervous before a presentation of any kind. The nice thing about giving webinars is that you can physically do whatever you need to let those nerves out, so long as the activity doesn’t impact what your audience hears. But talk into your phone or headset mic like you’re speaking to another human being, and don’t be afraid of using too many slides: you’ll never reach 29 frames per second, but a new slide every minute or two will help keep your audience visually engaged, as well, when a visual of you isn’t possible.

Remember – even if you’re using technology to reach your audience, you’re still a human, and they’re still humans. Act accordingly.

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