Virtual Presenting That Sucks

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The challenges of virtual presenting are not always entirely clear until you have experienced it. Most presenters are used to a face to face environment where they can readily feed off the energy in the room and quickly note disinterest or engagement. This visual sense enables the presenter then to modify their approach accordingly. The virtual world is a little different. With some awareness and experience you can quickly turn things around to create an engaging virtual presentation.

If you are in a virtual presentation that is less than great, chances are it sucks for one or more of the reasons below. 

Too much text

Slides laden with text, confuse an attendee – do they read or listen? If you do use text, use a short and succinct summary or use a question. You can also use the text to be the first few words of what you are actually saying to lead the attendee into the idea or thought you are developing. 

Too much text can also mean the font size becomes too small for people to easily read. Not everyone has a large monitor. This is a sure way to lose your audience. 

Not enough enthusiasm

You MUST be enthusiastic about your presentation. Your enthusiasm will come into the energy in your voice and help you with pacing. If you are not confident in the relevance of your content and the interest that your audience will have for the subject matter, you can quickly start to question yourself. 

Virtual presenters MUST be able to source energy from themselves in the event you have a quiet or non-responsive audience. Often it can be hard to know if attendees are multi-tasking or engaged. Trust yourself and be positive!

Not enough vocal variety

Vocal variety helps engage your audience. Your vocal variety is fed by your enthusiasm. Practice talking by adding more variety to the highs and lows of your voice as well as the pace of the words. Use your words as if you are part of an orchestra, relating to the content of your session. 

Singing and vocal exercises help strengthen your voice and help you to use it more purposefully. I use an app called Voice Builder. Using something like this for just 5 minutes a day can help you build strength and confidence in your voice. Just don’t ask me to sing!

Record yourself talking through your presentation and get familiar with your scripting and content. Once you listen to yourself (as painful as that may be), you will quickly make adjustments once you realise how monotonous you sound.

Not pausing

Some pauses for silence are OK! We can mistakenly feel that we must constantly fill a void with chatter. If you ask your audience a question and expect a response, allow a pause to give attendees a chance to think. If you are concerned about blank spaces, you can use your moderator or producer to help by having them provide a question or comment. This can help fill the void, add vocal variety and induce audience engagement. 

When asking attendees to respond, allow enough time for them to come off mute to enable them to respond. Sometimes it takes a few seconds for people to do this.

Presenting virtually can create a high cognitive load, particularly in the early days. You are speaking, to your computer, where there is new chats and questions appearing. While talking, you are trying to read the chats and perhaps even typing at the same time. Pausing for audience interaction gives you a chance to breathe too.

Not being directive and clear

Virtual audiences can be less attentive than a face to face audience, particularly if their attention is divided between your voice and their mobile phone.  When asking a question, be sure to repeat it and only ask one question at a time. Have your producer write it into chat or better still, have a slide prepared, with the question on it and HOW you want them to respond – in chat, raise hands, on the whiteboard with a status icon. 

When you are calling on someone, say their name, this will alert them, THEN repeat the question. This will save the attendee the embarrassment of being caught out too and help them feel safe. Regular interactions like this will help keep your audience attentive too.

Not interacting enough

Talking at your audience for thirty minutes or more is fine if you are telling a long and entertaining story but not if you are expecting your attendees to learn something from you. Have them engage with the content by weaving into your presentation ways they can interact and express themselves. Different tools can serve different purposes and can also depend on your audience size.

Ask questions, pause for comments, use the status icons for clarity and understanding before proceeding to the next point. Aim to interact every 3 to 5 minutes ideally. 

Don’t fear letting things get messy. Whiteboards are great for this and help people express themselves anonymously. Some platforms are better suited to this due to the ability to move annotations around such as Adobe and now Goto. Your producer can help with this. Make comments appropriately on attendee thoughts and be specific where possible. Avoid simply saying ‘that’s a great comment’. What makes it a great comment?

Chat can be used throughout a session enabling all attendees to express themselves simultaneously. This allows the presenter to identify individual names and ask them to elaborate on their comments or questions. This can be done with small groups and large. Preface that you have time for one or two questions or comments to avoid getting bogged down. 

Q & A panels create a central point for all questions to be answered and address at the outset of the session how and when questions will be answered. 

The good thing is these tools allow you to get feedback and help indicate the engagement of your audience. This should buoy your enthusiasm.

Not using a designer

If you are new to virtual presentations, seek the expertise of someone who is familiar with the platform tools available. They can build activities to encourage interaction.  You may think this is easy enough to do yourself but can be very time consuming. A designer will know what activities are best for the outcomes and interaction you seek.

The trouble with many presentations, is that the presenter talks too much, causing their audience to think too little. The best engagement is where your attendees become part of the presentation. Have them truly engage with the content and leave the session with some solid takeaways that they can practice in their near future or give them enough food for thought to want to know more.

As you can see, virtual presenting is not for the faint hearted. Developing a thick skin from being in sales could help! With a willingness to self-assess, listen to your recordings, seek expertise and seeing what others do well, you can accelerate your confidence and success in this progressive realm where virtual is increasingly a part of the way we do business. 

About the Author: Vivien Hudson

Vivien fell into the virtual world around the time she moved from Australia to the US in 2013. She has a diverse past from working in healthcare as a pharmacist and business owner to sales, coaching and brain fitness. She has led a national remote team and now works with Virtual Gurus developing virtual mastery and presence.  

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family of 3 kids, nature where she can unplug, cooking and reading anything that relates to EQ, connection and self-leadership.

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