8 Tips on How to Give a Virtual Presentation

October 16, 2020
Lily Lieberman

Effectively staging a presentation in a virtual environment like Zoom has become an important part of every employee’s toolkit. Here are eight tips on how to do it right.  

Few people enjoy public speaking and even fewer look forward to a work presentation in front of their colleagues. Add in diminishing attention spans and unlimited distractions courtesy of COVID-19, and the now-commonplace virtual presentation is even more challenging than your old-school PowerPoint demonstration in the company boardroom. 

However, preparing for your virtual presentations doesn’t need to be complicated or painful.  The core elements of a successful and engaging in-person presentation still apply to virtual ones in the era of COVID-19. 

Here are eight tips to consider when preparing for a virtual presentation:

1. Lights, camera, action!

The Coronavirus pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home. Makeshift home offices are now a central part of retaining any sort of work/life normalcy. Few of us had prime office set-ups in the “before time.” If you haven’t already, it’s time to take a look at your surroundings. 

First, consider lighting. Choose a room with plenty of available light. Natural light is ideal, but anything that will light you from the front (backlighting creates a silhouette effect) is fine. If windows aren’t an option, invest in a lamp. 

Avoid using a chair that rocks or swivels, and sit about an arm’s length from your computer. The camera should frame your face, neck and shoulders. If you’re using a laptop, you may need to elevate the computer to make sure your face is level with the camera. A shoebox or two reams of paper are good options.

Watch your body language. Since you won’t be able to communicate as much with your hands, your facial expressions should be warm, inviting and reflect the tone of the information you’re presenting. 

2. Consider distractions 

In a presentation, your background should be less interesting than you. As we’ve seen with the advent of Twitter accounts like Room Rater, which critiques quarantine quarters and rates them on a ten-point scale, backgrounds can make or break your presentation. 

To win a glowing review from Room Rater, and, more importantly, your colleagues, declutter your background and consider these three tips: elements, complexity and depth. If you’re working out of a closet, consider using a Zoom background. 

If you plan on sharing your screen at any point during the presentation, take into account what you’re sharing with viewers. Closing tabs and turning off Slack and email notifications will minimize unnecessary distractions. 

3. Dress up 

As we reach the eighth month of working from home, just the thought of deviating from your carefully curated rotation of collegiate sweatshirts may produce some anxiety. However, researchers suggest what you wear while working still matters. 

Researchers studying “enclothed cognition,” or what signals clothes send to the brain, have turned their attention to how clothing choices can affect productivity and performance — particularly for remote work and Zoom meetings. 

Research shows that wearing certain clothes and their symbolic meaning can lead to more focused attention. Dr. Adam Galinsky, a former professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has studied this for more than a decade. In 2012, he published a study that used white lab coats to test the impact of clothes on psychological processes.

Today, he’s researching the science of clothing and remote work, and how that impacts a person’s authenticity and motivation. His initial findings suggest swapping a t-shirt for something a little more polished can help you get into the right headspace for your next virtual presentation. 

4. Engage your audience 

Presenting virtually means you’ll be competing with distractions and the urge to multitask. To capture and keep your audience’s attention, you will need to turn to tactics you may not have used before. 

Aside from directly calling out participants by name, one way to ensure your audience is alert is to incorporate charts, polls and raised-hand features into your presentation.

You can also use collaborative tools like digital whiteboards from Microsoft Whiteboard or Miro, which enable your team to brainstorm simultaneously on a virtual canvas. Lucidchart and MindMeister help groups sketch, brainstorm and share flowcharts in real-time, while Poll Everywhere and Slido can help to visualize employee feedback and measure engagement. 

5. Think beyond a PowerPoint 

Slides and visuals will enhance any presentation. However, without the right rhythm and flow, your slide deck is “no better than verbal presentations without visual aids,” according to a Harvard University study

If you choose to go the PowerPoint route, consider alternative tools like Prezi, which promises to boost presentations with drag-and-drop design templates that appear alongside you as you present. Similarly, SlideDog combines media like PDFs, video and spreadsheets into a presentation “playlist.” 

6. Make your content snack-sized 

“Chunk” your content. No one has the time or energy to read eight bullet points of text on a single slide that you will inevitably read word-for-word. 

According to consulting company The Nielsen Norman Group, chunking is a concept that originates from the field of cognitive psychology. User experience professionals break their text and multimedia content into smaller chunks to help users process, understand, and remember it better.

If we apply this strategy to virtual presentations, here are a few general rules to follow: 

  1. Avoid large walls of text. Use short sentences and plenty of white space. 
  2. Break down your ideas into bite-sized portions that can be easily grasped and digested. 
  3. When using slides, more is better. Experts suggest using one to two slides per minute. 

7. Hire a goat 

Really, you can hire a goat. Farmers are raising money during the pandemic by renting them out to virtual team meetings

Lancashire, England-based Cronkshaw Fold Farm offers a service that will add a live goat to your Zoom meeting for a small fee. 

If renting out a farm animal seems too off-the-wall for your colleagues, consider spicing up your next virtual presentation with a guest speaker, which can enhance morale and add a refreshing twist to a standard meeting. Possible guests could include a colleague from a different department, an expert in your industry, or even a motivational speaker. 

8. Follow up with a recap

To help attendees retain what they’ve just heard, send a post-presentation email with a summary, notes, additional resources and guidance on next steps. It may seem excessive, but your colleagues will appreciate the extra effort you make to ensure they have everything they need to move forward. 

In summary

Virtual presentations can be daunting, especially when your audience is constantly overloaded with screen time, worries about current events and other distractions. Harnessing the power of effective and engaging presentations is a win-win for all parties. 

Other Sources: Forbes, Inc.com, Pantheon, Skillcrush.com, The New York Times

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