Your audience may be virtual

Presenting to a remote audience – on a webcast or a webinar – is fundamentally different from speaking in front a group of people who are physically in front of you. Since you don’t have eye contact with real humans, the visuals you show, the words you speak, and the tone of your voice are the only means to connect with them.

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Your listeners may be virtual, but your presentation is not! Here are some tips and tricks to help you prepare and deliver a remote presentation to a virtual audience:

  • First of all, find yourself a quiet and ‘private’ space to present from. Make sure you won’t be distracted by others. If people in the audience are noisy, do not hesitate to mute them (most conferencing tools have an easy-to-use function to do this). But be also conscious of your own background noise. Put your mobile phone into silent mode – and when presenting from home, do this as well with your dog, your children and the doorbell.
  • Don’t read your slides or your presenter’s notes out loud. Speak in the same way you would do in live presentation. Imagine yourself in a fully packed meeting room or auditorium, and talk to the (imaginary) people instead of to your phone or PC. Overall I am an enthusiastic speaker, but when I have to deliver a remote presentation I try to appear even more enthusiastic than usual, to compensate for the lack of body language and non verbal communication.
  • Presenting from your couch is certainly not a good idea. If you want to create impact, get up, walk around, smile, make gestures, … (even when you’re not talking to a webcam.) These physical actions will translate into a more natural voice pace and pitch. This is why talking on a headset is better than on an office phone, as it allows you to move around freely. Speak slowly and clearly enough that also people listening over a bad connection can follow. Vary voice tone to keep your audience attentive..
  • Use many visuals (but avoid photos), and change slides more often than you would do during a face-to-face presentation. This keeps your listeners attentive, and prevents them from surfing the web or checking email (don’t forget that they’re likely behind a PC, tablet or smartphone too.)
  • Don’t put too much text on your slides either, as this may invite your remote audience to read them instead of paying attention to your words (or even worse: download the presentation afterwards, and don’t listen to you at all…). Also, try to interact often with your audience. Polling, a function provided by most web platforms, is an effective way to keep people involved. Use chatrooms, raise your hands feature, etc.
  • While preparing your presentation, plan a few questions in advance to be asked by your audience. Actually, if you forgot to mention something, or want to add specific details at the end of your presentation, you can always say that “a question came in via email or chat” (even if it didn’t…)
  • And finally, reserve some time prior to your presentation to practice your content, dry-run and get familiar with the web conferencing platform. Make sure you can concentrate on your speech, and won’t get trapped by technology. What works well in PowerPoint (e.g. builds and animations) may not work in a web-hosted tool.

If you have other good advice, tips or tricks for remote presenters, you’re invited to share them via the “Leave a Reply” field below.

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One thought on “Your audience may be virtual

  1. Good tips here Marc – I especially like the ones about questions. Handling Q&A well is one mark of a great presenter, so it certainly pays to prepare!

    It’s interesting that you said to avoid using photos, which I assume is to save bandwidth. I think it’d be a tragedy not to use any photos though. Rather, you could just reduce their size, if bandwidth proved to be a problem for your typical audience. (If you’re interested, I can share some specific ideas about layouts for relatively small photos.)

    I’d love to hear your opinion of my tips about using polls with punch. In fact, my blog has a whole category on webinars, so feel free to comment on any of my posts!

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