Virtual presentations: some tips to help you get your message across.


As the Covid 19 pandemic continues across the globe, more and more countries are returning to a lock down similar to the lock down of March 2020 and remote working is becoming more and more the new norm. As a result, more and more employees are finding themselves having to make more and more virtual presentations on virtual meeting platforms like Teams, Go to meeting, Webex, Zoom, Google meetings, to name but a few. Indeed, even when the pandemic ends, which it will very soon hopefully, remote working seems to be here to stay and mastering virtual presentations will be a key skill for many, just like making physical presentations to audiences was a key skill prior to C19.

Virtual presentations can indeed be quite challenging even for an experienced presenter. Many more employees are suddenly finding themselves having to make virtual presentations without the experience of having already delivered presentations in classic meetings. And of course, with virtual meetings, remote audiences have more opportunities to stray, removed as they are from their “normative” office environment and now located remotely where everyone is vulnerable to a whole host of different distractions and interruptions.

Focus on the goal of the virtual meeting and not the potential obstacles.

Having organized, presented, participated in numerous virtual meetings over the years, having read through a lot of literature on the subject and having learned the hard way, here are some of my tips for making these virtual presentations work for you. What is most important is to remember to focus on the meeting goal and not on the possible obstacles and I hope the following tips will help prevent the most common glitches.

1.Check your technology beforehand

Lots of things can of course go wrong and often do go wrong: you’re locked out of the meeting room, your microphone or your camera doesn’t work, you’re not familiar with the meeting room control interface, you don’t have the meeting code, your network is down or slow, etc.

Take time to prepare.
Check your technology before each virtual meeting.

To avoid some of these issues, do a check of your technology before the meeting. If possible, do a dry run with a colleague or family member, just to check that your system works and you are able to familiarize yourself with the meeting room environment. But remember, it’s never that complicated and generally speaking, most, if not all, problems can be resolved quickly, if you give yourself the time beforehand.

Don’t wait until the meeting starts to discover a problem you won’t have time to fix, especially under pressure. Get technical support if necessary from your IT department or colleagues. But don’t wait until the meeting to discover the problem.

2. Choose your virtual meeting background

We may be lucky and enjoy a remote environment already set up for virtual meetings: well lit, spacious, neutral walls. However, most of us working from home may find it difficult to find a neutral space for our virtual meetings. Book cases, plants, family photos, ornaments, decorations, furniture, cabinets, wardrobes, paintings, heirlooms, etc. can all get in the way and cause unnecessary distractions for your audience.

Try to choose a setting that reflects neutrality and professionalism and doesn’t distract from the message you want to get across. Choose as neutral a background as possible. Alternatively, choose a virtual background or blur your background if the meeting application allows it. It’s always advisable to choose a location free from as much external distractions (traffic, neighbours, machines, music, etc.) as possible and always remember to invite participants to mute their phones and speakers until they want to speak in the meeting.

3. Pay attention to your lighting

Pay attention to lighting

Many of us have sat through virtual meetings looking at a darkened screen as the presenter at the other end does his/her best to capture and keep our attention. Rememeber to pay attention to lighting. Let natural light in if that is possible so you can be clearly seen. If you are in a box room or space without access to natural light, invest in a lamp that can light up your face. Put some light if you want your participants to “see the light”.

4. Practise your presentation beforehand

Take some time to rehearse your virtual presentation beforehand

As for any presentation, “practise makes perfect” and this is all the more true when delivering a virtual presentation to numerous participants spread remotely. Even if you can see them on your screen, it is always difficult to evaluate their engagement and attention compared to a physical presentation when everyone is in the same room. During the course of your virtual presentation, many potential distractions may pop up: participants disconnecting and reconnecting, traffic noises, police sirens, dogs barking, children playing, neighbours chatting, machines running, etc. and these are all potential distractors for both you and your audience.

So the more you prepare, the less you will be vulnerable to these distractions during the course of your presentation, whenever one or more suddenly intervenes in the middle of an important point. As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail“.

5) Keep your message short and simple

Keep your presentation as simple as possible

Virtual meetings require a great deal of focus and concentration. So it’s important to keep the meetings as short as possible and to keep your presentation as short as possible. Keep the message simple. Keep your visuals as simple as possible centred on some key messages. Break your message up into sections and invite participation every ten minutes or so by asking for questions. Address participants by their first name. A break in your presentation can be a time to review and reply to the comments raised on the chat. Better still, have a colleague/participant track the chats and summarize them for you so that you are not distracted during your presentation.

6) Present to the camera, not to the computer screen

In a normal physical presentation, good presenters talk to the audience and not to the powerpoint or paperboard. It’s even more important to do so when you are delivering a virtual presentation. We have all sat through virtual meetings where the presenter is staring down from above or too far away from the camera, has a double chin or we are looking up their nostrils.

Try to look at the PC Camera
and not at the screen

The best way to talk to your audience in a virtual meeting to capture their attention is to look at the camera rather than your screen. This will help you maintain eye contact and hold the attention of your audience. It’s not easy to look at the camera and this takes practice but it helps to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Position your computer so that the camera is at eye level at it frames your face, neck and shoulders. Practice your positioning so that you are close enough to the camera but not too close. You don’t want to be too far away or alternatively your face is staring into the screen.

Remember, when you are testing your computer set up, pay attention to how you look and the positioning of your camera and you will avoid most of the above pitfalls.

7) Present Standing up if possible. If not, sit up straight

Pay attention to your posture.

If you can, use a standing desk or position your computer so that you can stand an eye level with your computer. Standing up is always better because it increases our energy levels, puts us in presentation mode and help keep the attention of our audience.

If you can’t stand up, sit square in a good solid chair with feet planted on the floor at eye level to camera. Slouching over your screen or leaning backwards will disengage your audience and distract from your message and of course lead to possible back problems later on.

8) Follow some virtual meeting etiquette ground rules

Virtual meetings require more focus and attention than ordinary office meetings. If you are participating in a meeting either as presenter or participant, set yourself some etiquette ground rules to help keep and maintain concentration of all participants.

  • Work from a dedicated space and not from your sofa or kitchen.
  • Don’t multitask during virtual meetings, avoid reading your emails, preparing another meeting or presentation. Turn off your email alerts and mute your mobile phone. Remain present and focused on the meeting at hand. Be present.
  • Don’t jump straight to the agenda: Allow participants a few minutes to reconnect with one another by exchanging small talk. If you are leading the presentation, ask team members how they are and how things are going. Start with a participant who is the most junior or who doesn’t speak so much and move around the table. Share how you are doing as well to set the tone.
  • Follow up your meeting: don’t forget to send out to all participants a summary of what was discussed and agreed either by email or other internal platform.
  • Be on time, follow the agenda and don’t overrun: show up on time, especially if you are the presenter. Follow the agenda and end the meeting on time. Virtual meetings require much more discipline than physical meetings.
  • Don’t systematically ask participants to mute their microphones: the general rule seems to be to ask participants to mute their microphones unless they want to speak. This is understandable in meetings that have large numbers of participants. However, in small meetings, it is perhaps better not to mute so that any participant can speak when he/or she wants. This also means that participants have to give their undivided attention to the meeting instead of multitasking when muted.
  • Dress for the job: It’s not because the meeting is virtual that you should negelect your appearance. Indeed, audiences are more attentive to appearance when they are looking at you on a screen. Pay attention to your appearance, grooming and dress for the part. It will make you feel positive and reinforce your message.
  • Use a headset: if you don’t mute, use a headset which allows you to take notes with pen and paper and excludes background noise.
  • No eating or drinking: we have all been at meetings where we or others arrive with cups of coffees and/or snacks. This is of course is not advisable when you are in a virtual meeting with twenty other persons. Save eating for afterwards.
  • Spread your virtual meetings: try not to have back-to-back virtual meetings as you deprive yourself of time to prepare. Schedule them during periods that fall during work hours. Remember to take into account time differences for international teams.
  • Show you are present: If you are not presenting and if you arrive late and someone is speaking, wait until the person finishes and announce your presence. Participants joining without announcing themselves is always unsettling for any presenter. Speak up from time to time. Ask questions. Make comments. Point out some key points. Help the presenter out. Make your presence felt.

9) Have a plan B in case of a technical problem

You have done all the testing and your system worked 5 minutes before the meeting. But Murphy’s law kicks in and you can’t get access to your virtual meeting room and have to connect up by phone. What about your presentation? Thankfully, foresight led you to share your slide deck with a participants before the meeting. Always have a Plan B which allows you to use the dial in option.

10) Engage your audience as if they are in the same room

When making a presentation physically, we usually bring lots of energy to capture the attention of the audience. We look at the audience, make some jokes, gesticulate, move perhaps around the podium. This all helps to engage the audience but becomes more challenging when delivering virtually, especially if the presentation is being delivered sitting at a desk over the internet.

But all the more reason to be energetic and to deliver the presentation at a good pace. Speak clearly and do your best to adapt your speed to your audience. Don’t use slang or coloquialisms, especially if you are delivering to an international audience, with different nationalities whose mother tingue is not the language of the presentation. Above all, enjoy the experience. The more you enjoy it, the more you will engage with your audience.

Hope the above tips help to make your virtual meetings more effective, more risk free and above all more enjoyable. Happy virtual meetings.

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