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10 tips for mastering virtual presentations

Aug 31, 2020
5 MIN. READ

Lessons from the ICF Next "Presenter Playbook"

Phrase of the year has to be “You’re on mute,” right?

Over the past few months as the world has changed around us, we’ve spent countless minutes in virtual meetings, Zooming friends, Skyping family and—in the business world—trying to master the art of the virtual presentation.

Thanks to modern technology, most businesses have made a pretty seamless transition to the virtual space. But adapting presentations and conferences requires a few key adjustments. Leadership teams across the world are relearning how best to create impactful presentations that inspire action—without an audience in sight.

Virtual presentations require heaps of personality, solid engagement points, and plenty of forward planning. It’s no mean feat keeping a remote audience engaged when they can’t feel the electric vibe of an exhibition hall, and there’s plenty of remote work distractions fighting for their attention, too.

Here are 10 simple tips, taken straight from the ICF Next "Presenter Playbook" for taking ownership of the virtual realm and delivering an online presentation that packs a punch:

1. Have a plan.

Even the most off-the-cuff performances have a baseline plan. Having even a rough idea of what you’re going to cover—and in what order—will help you avoid awkward silences, unplanned digressions, and audience disengagement. Prepare the structure of your presentation to align with slides that keep you and your audience on track.

2.Use your hands AND your words.

In virtual presentations, your words really are everything, so remember to enunciate. Even though you’re not in front of a live audience, you should still be using hand gestures for emphasis, pace, and to give you a sense of normality as a speaker. Hand gestures come through in your tone, adding an element of personality and a human touch.

“The vital thing to remember about any event, virtual or otherwise, is content is king. Always identify your core objectives and messages before choosing a platform or agenda.” – Marie Lacey, Senior Project Manager, ICF Next

3. Know your technology.

No speaker wants an audience piping up to tell them they’re on mute, or they’re too far away from their mic. Getting to know which technology to use, and how to use it best, is key to delivering your most engaging performance. Practice using the interactive tools—and do plenty of dry runs to avoid any embarrassing mishaps.

4. Have some backup.

Having backup is essential to your success. If you’re using slides, make sure you have a colleague with access to a copy. Provide this person with a copy of your speaker notes and allow them to assist with any interactive elements of the session. It’s difficult to read, vet, and respond to questions in real-time, while also remaining engaged with your audience.

“Pick a wing-person and use them wisely. Clarity on who’s responsible for what, especially in case of a technology hiccup, is essential.” – Katrin Homer, Senior Consultant, ICF Next

5. Make it a two-way conversation.

Utilize the technology at your disposal to create a dynamic, two-way conversation. Use tools like Q&A and polls to get everyone involved, no matter where in the world they are. Having input from those at home will allow your presentation to become truly interactive. But remember to have someone to help you moderate the questions and determine the most valuable, giving you the space to continue your presentation without interruption.

“The virtual world can be instrumental in bringing us together and pushing us forward through an incredibly difficult time. Remember when interacting with your audience that they’re still involved in your presentation even though they’re not in the same room’ – James Wilkins, Managing Partner, ICF Next

6. Set the stage.

Have an uncluttered, plain backdrop with plenty of natural light to avoid murky, silhouette-like visuals. Dress in muted tones and avoid patterns. You want your audience to pay attention to your words, not your paisley shirt. And try to be mindful of glare—glasses and jewelry can cause trouble with reflections, so this would be the time to pop in some contact lenses and lose the shiny necklace.

7. Make it personal.

Try addressing your audience as “you” rather than the all-encompassing “you guys” or “everybody.” A small change like this will tailor your presentation to the person sitting at the other end of the connection. We’re starved of personal business experiences in this climate, so there’s a real appetite for enhancing the virtual connection.

8. Pace yourself.

Audiences respond to rhythm, so make sure you’re presenting at a nice, steady pace. Rhythm is essential to effective storytelling. Don’t rush your speaking pace or your audience won’t be able to keep track of what’s being said. Find a pace that feels right for you as a listener, and practice with a colleague to be sure it’s easy to follow along.

9.  Inject some personality.

Your audience is tuning in to hear from you. A little animation goes a long way to keeping their attention and creating a more personal environment, even in the virtual world. Don’t forget the importance of human connections. Thanks to today’s technology, distance doesn’t strip conversations of personality. Use charisma and charm to keep people engaged.

10. Practice, practice, practice.

This one is so important it’s worth repeating. In the world of virtual presentations, attention spans are low, and distractions are rife. Practice your pacing with others to make sure you’re clear and carrying a rhythm. And definitely do a test run, as we’ve all fallen foul of a technology malfunction at some point.

Some of the world’s biggest global brands—and most influential speakers—receive tailored coaching to up their presentation game. From how they present themselves and how they speak, to building a story and holding the audience’s attention, good presentation techniques create lasting impact. And in today’s world, the technology must be just as sharp as the speakers. By educating clients on lighting, setup, video asset creation, and cascading materials via social to target the right audience, our full-service team of digital natives provides the whole package.

By Katrin Homer, Senior Consultant, ICF Next

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  • Engagement
  • Workforce