It's hard enough retaining the attention of your audience when delivering a presentation face-to-face. How can you do so when the people you're addressing aren't even in the same room?
Virtual presentations, or presentations delivered over videoconferencing software, appear to have skyrocketed in popularity since COVID-19 and the remote-working boom. But you might be surprised to learn that this meeting format has been a favorite for nearly a decade.
Way back in 2013, the Harvard Business Review reported that as many as 80% of presentations were delivered remotely. In a virtual setting, presenters have instant access to all of their colleagues, no matter where they are in the world and at any time. It's an opportunity for increased collaboration, improving efficiency and saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on business travel.
However, delivering a virtual presentation involves some unique challenges, namely maintaining the interest and focus of your attendees. Studies show that people's attention spans significantly diminish when they are in a virtual meeting. Most meetings are approximately an hour-long, and yet people typically lose interest within 10 minutes.
Taking the time to hone your virtual presentation skills is well worth it during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. Here are seven tips for delivering a killer presentation that will keep your attendees focused, engaged, and alert.
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1. Communicate your passion
When you present virtually, rather than in a meeting room, it's harder to convey your humanness. To avoid slipping into a robotic mode and sending your attendees to sleep, a concerted effort is needed.
Imagine that your webcam is a person you're eager to engage with. An enormous part of how we communicate is through body language, and that doesn't change in a virtual setting. You wouldn't dream of spending a 30-minute face-to-face conversation reading notes from a sheet of paper or failing to make eye contact.
Consider ways to communicate your enthusiasm and passion for your presentation, whether it's standing up when speaking, using hand motions and gestures to illustrate your points or varying your speaking tone, pitch, speed, and volume.
Ahead of the presentation, record a snippet of yourself speaking. If you sound bored and disengaged, you can guarantee your audience will feel that way when they listen to you.
Remember, you might be discussing a subject about which you are passionate and knowledgeable, but be cautious not to bombard people with masses of information in one go. Be patient with your audience, divide your presentation into bite-size portions, and don't ramble unnecessarily.
2. Create an engaging slideshow
Around 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created every single day. Not only does this mean your audience has learned to recognize an excellent presentation when they see it, but they'll quickly switch off when it doesn't quite meet the mark.
The most important thing to bear in mind when developing slides for your virtual presentation is that readers should be able to take in the meaning of each slide within three seconds – this is known as the glance test.
To ensure your presentation passes the glance test try the following techniques:
- Include one idea or concept per slide.
- Carefully consider your use of slides – if you don't need them, don't use them. Slides are often more of a distraction than an aid in a virtual setting.
- Use images (particularly of people) and color to break up the text. Visuals applied in the right context can clearly illustrate your point and evoke emotional reactions from your audience.
- Don't use too many slides, and don't linger on any one slide for too long. The former could see your audience struggling to keep up, while the latter will bore your audience into switching off.
3. Involve your audience to avoid the Ringelmann effect
The Ringelmann effect refers to the theory that the less someone feels needed in a situation (i.e., a virtual meeting), the more distracted they become, and the less effort they will make. The bigger the audience gets, the less responsibility attendees will feel to make it a success. This impact is magnified in a virtual meeting.
It's best to assume that audience members will join your virtual presentation expecting to be bored or surplus to requirements, which means they're highly likely to attempt multitasking. To retain their focus, you'll need to find ways to involve them throughout your presentation.
Breakout sessions can happen virtually. Lots of video conferencing software includes a tool that divides attendees into breakout groups. This is a particularly useful feature when presenting to a broader audience – it mixes up the flow of the presentation and encourages everyone to participate in some form. Once you've split your audience into small groups, you might want to assign them with different discussion topics or challenge them to solve a business problem. Once everyone reconvenes, ask a spokesperson from each group to provide an overview of their discussion.
Some other ways to add variety to your presentation include:
- Asking one or two people to step in as guest speakers.
- Incorporating some form of interaction every few minutes, such as asking questions to the group.
- Calling out specific people within the group to ask for their input.
- Allowing time for Q & As at regular intervals during presentation or scheduling time at the end.
- Polling your audience or including survey questions at the end of each section. Again, there are plenty of software options available for polling and surveys.
4. Rehearse with someone in advance
Many people experience nerves before delivering a presentation, whether in person or virtually. If presenting doesn't seem to come naturally to you, ask your manager to help fine-tune your delivery style, the slideshow, or the content itself.
Rehearse your presentation with colleagues, friends, or both. This will help boost your confidence and result in actionable feedback, but it will help you address practical factors such as the running time of your presentation.
5. Remove external distractions
It doesn't take much to disrupt a virtual presentation. Annoying background noise, faulty technology, or a messy background are enough to distract your audience from the valuable information you're sharing. Identify potential distractions and solutions ahead of your presentation. That means testing all technology in advance, arriving for your presentation ahead of time, finding a quiet place to deliver it, making sure you have poured yourself a glass of water, and rehearsing to avoid mistakes.
Your audience will also be distracted if their purpose for attending your presentation is unclear. Be sure to communicate effectively with your attendees ahead of the presentation, outlining the agenda and providing any necessary supporting information you'd like them to review in advance. Share attendees' contact details so they can reach out to one another for help should there be any technical glitches.
6. Have some fun
There is no need for your virtual presentation to be overly formal or stilted in tone. You're far more likely to capture the attention and earn your audience's affections if you adopt a laid-back, conversational style and incorporate some fun activities. Consider using props to illustrate your points, telling jokes, holding a competition to test the audience's concentration, or conducting an ice-breaker.
Finally, never underestimate the power of storytelling. As many as 90% of people believe that a strong narrative in a presentation is critical for audience engagement. It improves focus, interest, and helps the audience to resonate with what you're saying. Check out this video lesson from the GoSkills Public Speaking course to brush up on your skills:
7. Follow up
The nature of your presentation will determine how you follow-up with your audience afterward. If its primary purpose was to educate and inform, you might simply choose to share some additional resources such as reading lists or websites. Consider offering your time to anyone eager to learn more.
However, if your presentation is business-results-driven, you'll need to clearly outline the next steps and assign roles to your audience. Did you make decisions or come to any conclusions throughout the presentation? What needs to be achieved in the coming weeks, and who needs to make that happen? To help people fulfill their roles, consider sending them the transcript (or recording) of your presentation.
Over to you
Presenting isn't an easy skill to master, but practice really does make perfect. As you fine-tune your presenting technique, remember that your enthusiasm and dedication in the virtual meeting room will go a long way to keeping your audience engaged.
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