Virtual presentation skills: effective communication in a crisis

Jun 20

Video conferencing is the new normal. Most of us are using video to chat to our family, play games with friends, attend exercise classes, and - of course - to work.

The ability to ‘meet’ face-to-face via video technology is essential for teams to stay connected when working remotely. While meeting virtually will never bring quite the same sense of connectedness as a real physical interaction, it can be a very useful way to keep teams united and to communicate key messages in a safe and responsible manner during lockdown.

At this time of year, our events team would usually be busy, preparing for and attending meetings, conferences and shows around the UK and Europe. As expert presentation designers and operators, we’ve helped countless presenters deliver clear, engaging and beautiful content to live audiences. But things have changed. Quite a lot. Now, we’re helping our clients adapt to some of the sweeping changes to the way we do business in the age of social distancing. Happily, much of the same skills and principles apply whether you’re presenting to a physical roomful of delegates or a virtual one. However, there are some key differences that you need to take into consideration, too. Our guide to presenting remotely will help you deliver successful virtual presentations.

The problem with video conferencing.

Studies have shown that video conferences, while massively useful, are mentally taxing. Check out this article from BBC on ‘The Reason Zoom Calls Are Exhausting’ for an in-depth exploration of this. To summarise very briefly - the reason why you may find yourself worn out after a video chat, or find your attention tends to wander, is because of the work this particular form of communication requires your brain to do. Processing audio and visual data concurrently, which do not quite perfectly sync up, is hard work. 

So, should we just give up on using video? Of course not. But we should bear this in mind when we present and try to make the audience’s experience as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. 

Ensuring your technology's reliability is crucial, because the more interruptions, delays and glitches, the more alienating it is for the audience (and for you). You’ll need a good internet connection, decent microphone and a device capable of running the software smoothly.

When it comes to your actual presentation, you can make life much easier for your audience here, too. Ensure your content is relevant, easy to follow and succinct, and that your delivery is engaging, confident and free from technical gaffes. The tips throughout this document should help you to achieve this.

Step 1 - Content

Everything in the physical environment of a real-world conference is geared towards directing and holding an audience’s attention towards the events onstage. The set, lighting, room setup, even the audience itself, are all working together to hold focus. Take all of this away and all you have left is your delivery and screen content. This means it is important that you craft your presentation with your audience’s short attention span firmly in mind. 

Ensure you’re well prepared with a presentation which is fully fleshed-out and carefully thought-through. The story of your presentation should be relevant, clear, and -most importantly- succinct. 

Here’s a useful process for creating presentation content:

  • Start with everything.
    Most people tend to find it useful to begin with producing long-form notes (or even a full presentation script). This helps to plan and develop ideas and ensure you have a real understanding of your message and its delivery.

  • Reduce it down. 
    Now, take all that brilliant stuff you wrote and delete most of it! No, not really - obviously you can still keep it for reference - but you absolutely do not want all those words in your way when the time comes to delivering your presentation. Pages full of text are confusing and difficult to follow, and reading from a script tends to sound a lot like...well, reading from a script. Reduce your notes right down to the bare bones - preferably to a short, easy to skim read list of bullet points.
  • Consider visuals.
    Look back through your script and identify where a moment, idea or piece of data would benefit from visual aids such as typography, photographs, charts or illustrations. Mark these moments in your notes.

  • Create your slides.
    Remember how easy it is to lose your audience’s attention. Your slides should be tidy, clean and minimal. Avoid overcrowding with too much text and keep font sizes large (bearing in mind that some people will be watching on small tablet screens, or even phones). Build slides which support your key messages. Make them visually appealing and make sure to keep them on-brand if you’re giving an internal presentation. Shameless plug: If you need help with this then remember that brightfive do this expertly.

  • Don’t forget the golden rule.
    No, not that one. The golden rule of content is ‘save locally, back up remotely.’

Step 2: Rehearse

You’ve come up with a talk which is insightful and interesting, along with supporting slides, beautiful to behold. Well done, you. 

Now, you just need to make sure you can deliver it.

  • Know your stuff. 
    Knowing your presentation inside out will free you from slavish dependence on your notes, allowing you to present with greater confidence and flair.

  • Get comfy with the tech.
    Play with Zoom beforehand (or whatever your chosen application). Practise setting up meetings, work out the best place and way to sit, get used to looking at the camera and talking into the mic. A small, but important, thing to rehearse is the moment you transition to sharing your screen to show slides. This bit can be a little awkward.

  • Time it.
    As you rehearse, time yourself with a stopwatch. This will help you to know how long your presentation is (obviously), but also to pace your delivery and potentially highlight where edits need to be made. Your presentation should never feel fast or rushed, nor should it feel slow and over-long. Recording and watching back your rehearsal can also be very helpful here.

Step 3: Set your ‘stage’

When we’re preparing for a conference, a whole team of professionals spend weeks, days and hours in the planning, designing, cleaning, building, assembling, rigging, lighting and finessing of the physical environment. Thankfully, that level of preparation is not required when presenting remotely. 

However, some care and attention still needs to be paid in the set up.

Does your space allow your presentation to be:

  • Tidy.
    It is plain unprofessional to have your dirty laundry on show during your presentation. Get rid of anything unsightly or distracting and opt for the most visually quiet background you can manage. A blank piece of wall is best - you can even improvise this by hanging a sheet.

  • Well lit. 
    It may sound obvious (but it seems to need pointing out!), it really helps the overall quality of your presentation if your audience can actually see you. Preview your camera view to check the quality of your lighting. Is there an adequate level of lighting? Is the light source in the right place (in front, rather than behind you)?

  • Audible. 
    Do your best (we know it’s not always possible!) to provide a quiet, interruption free environment. If you have kids and a partner at home who can keep them occupied - enlist their help for the duration of your call. Audio quality on video calls is generally improved when speaking participants make use of headphones with an integral microphone. It is also good practice to ask your participants to turn off their microphones while you present (or to switch them off yourself). Participant’s mics can easily be switched back on if needed for Q&A. 

Step 4: Final checks

Before you go live, run through this checklist:

  • Camera is on and at the right height. You want it as level as possible - not just showing the top of your head, or peering up from beneath your chin (never a flattering angle). 
  • Your microphone is on and functioning
  • Nothing embarrassing/inappropriate is in view behind you
  • Your phone is either off or on silent
  • Your device is plugged in and receiving power (you don’t want the battery dying mid call!)
  • You have your notes, a glass of water and anything else you may need within easy reach.

… And that’s it, you’re ready to go.

For more information and advice on virtual presentations, follow brightfive on our social channels (linked at bottom of the page) as we publish more content in the coming weeks. If you'd like to find out how we can support you with your important presentations and help take your content to the next level, contact us for a friendly (no obligation) chat.