Top tips for impactful virtual presentations

Business Insights
22/07/2020 11:25:00

I regularly get what I refer to as ‘the call’. It can be a Sunday when a politician has been on the Andrew Marr show and didn’t look great or an HR Director whose CEO is due to speak live. ‘The call’ means they need a bit of work – they’re good speakers but they’re not coming across at their best. My job is to help them have impact and be memorable – for the right reasons.

Since Covid these calls have come from an even wider audience because now we’re all on screen. But before we start looking at you, let’s first look at the technology. You’re the speaker and also you’re on lights, camera and sound, too. You must know how to work the system, move slides, mute and unmute easily, pause and share your screen. Get a good microphone and please, no big headsets, this is TV, not radio. Check everything – Wi-Fi, upload and download speeds, battery power and close or switch off everything else – you don’t need your phone to ring, emails to land or for your audience to see your latest Amazon delivery. And - rehearse, several times.

How to look good

Nostril hairs and chins are not attractive. Position your system – and most importantly your camera – at eye level. Raise it on books if you need to and adjust your chair so that you are face on with camera at eye level. Look to camera at all times and smile.

Put your bottom to the back of your chair and your feet flat on the floor – this gives you stability and great posture and allows you to breath better. Sit on your jacket or shirt to create a clean line across your shoulders – no bunching fabric.

Elbows slightly out to the side and hands on your keyboard – creating a little gap under your arms, professional and relaxed so that you fill the screen from the waist up.

Backdrops: keep them simple and professional. No one should be trying to check out your library, look at your washing or peer at that strange object – we want your audience focussed on YOU.

Choose what you wear. Strong jewel colours look great for women and blue, lilac and soft white or cream shirts for men. Avoid checks and stripes or anything that might strobe or flicker.

How to sound good

It’s all in the breathing. Learn to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. This will give your voice greater power, projection, better pitch and you’ll finish your sentences more easily. Warm up using 4 x 4 breathing – in through your nose for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, out through your mouth for the count of 4 and hold for the count of 4. Do that several times and it will reduce your nerves, too.

Warm up your voice – try saying “Peggy Babcock” out loud to get your mouth, lips and tongue moving and sing out your vowels: a, e, i, o, u to get emotion and range in your voice. An athlete warms up for a race, virtual speakers must too.

And even if seated, have energy in your delivery. Imagine you have an ‘energy dial’ in the middle of your back and you can choose the level. Turn up the dial and smile to camera – it’s infectious.

Memorable (for the right reasons)

Never forget that, as in any presentation, it’s all about the audience. Your message is for them. It’s not about you. Connect at every level – show them what THEY will get from listening to you. Have their interests at heart. Make every slide or graphic a visual aid – helping them to understand better. Anyone still reading out bullet points on slides (why?) or using dodgy graphics or clip art when there are so many wonderful (and free) images available. Shame on you.

And don’t worry – things can and do go wrong. But you don’t need to externalise or make a drama out of a crisis. Slide stuck? Smile and carry on - you shouldn’t be reliant on them anyway. Wi-Fi slows up? Cut the video and just use sound and tell the audience what you’re doing. Forgot what you were going to say next? The audience didn’t know anyway so don’t tell them.

Practise doesn’t make perfect, it makes habit. Practise with feedback is what makes a good performance even better. Record yourself and watch it back – if you try out my tips above, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Isobel Rimmer is founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training and author of new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue