For many, virtual presentations are an acquired taste. But, with remote teams becoming increasingly popular—due to pragmatism or necessity—virtual presentations are not only to be expected, but they are also rapidly becoming the norm in our day-to-day professional lives. In addition to helping colleagues stay aligned on major projects, virtual presentations are a useful sales tool that helps you improve your profit margins and are also a staple of customer or client engagements, whether in the form of quarterly business reviews, new feature introductions or providing regular reporting.
It’s tempting to think that the same rules that apply to in-person presentations would apply to virtual presentations as well. In reality, however, the two require different approaches to keep viewers engaged in the presentation. Here are two major differences between virtual and regular presentations:
Virtual presentations are competing with more distractions
Participants viewing a virtual presentation are far more easily distracted than a typical meeting participant would be when viewing the content in the same room as the presenter. With in-office presentations, participants are typically in the conference room, which is a controlled environment with fewer distractions competing for attention. With virtual presentations, the context is very different.
Often, viewers are on mute (video or audio), making it much more difficult for presenters to understand who is engaging with the content. At any moment attendees may be answering a phone call, checking email, browsing social media or simply multitasking due to lack of interest, to all of which the presenter would be none the wiser.
Virtual presentations offer greater scalability
Virtual presentations allow you to present to more people at the same time, aided by group video conferencing services such as Lifesize, which allow for hundreds of participants per meeting. To participate, all that meeting attendees need is a device with an internet connection, greatly simplifying logistics when compared to a traditional in-office presentation, which often requires making travel plans, blocking a few days to travel and booking a conference room. Even then, you can’t be sure that everyone will show up on the agreed date and time until the meeting begins.
While virtual presentations are convenient, that doesn’t necessarily make them easier for you or your audience. We’ve all experienced the pains of failed virtual presentations plagued by poor audio or video quality or presenters who don’t feel fully comfortable navigating controls to share content. Additionally, when you’re not physically presenting to an audience face to face, you have to work that much harder to establish a connection and sustain their attention. Here’s how to do it.
4 Virtual Presentation Tips for Your Next Meeting
Great content, preparation and practice speaking in public are key factors for every presentation, but if you can’t keep your audience engaged by getting rid of all distractions, your presentation is likely to flop. Here are four presentation tips that will help you minimize distractions next time you’re in the meeting spotlight.
1. Keep it short
When presenting virtually, your audience has a near-infinite supply of distractions at their fingertips, from email to instant messaging to social media feeds. So if you’re doing a virtual presentation, keep it concise and straightforward.
The average attention span when listening to a presenter is between 5 and 10 minutes. Even elite, experienced speakers struggle to hold an audience’s attention for longer than 20 minutes. In order to avoid listener fatigue and hold the attention of the (virtual) room, you want to pack a punch in your presentation, condensing content to no more than five key points along with a succinct summary of the action you want the audience to take after the presentation.
One way to do this is by starting with the end in mind. For example, if you’re giving a presentation on how to be productive working from home, your goal may be to have the audience put the advice into practice and provide feedback on their experience. Having identified this, you will know the amount of information you need to provide that will lead them to take that specific action you want them to take.
2. Close out windows you don’t need
Before you share your screen, make sure you have the content you want to present already prepared. The first few moments of your presentation are critical to establishing a connection with the audience, and no one enjoys watching a speaker scramble nervously to find their presentation on a cluttered desktop or, worse, inadvertently sharing sensitive or personal information that may be displayed from another application.
Additionally, if you’re using the same presentation for different audiences, make sure you evaluate every slide to ensure it’s relevant and tailored to the room. Distracting your viewer by having to go through a bunch of generic slides that haven’t been tailored to their organization, job function or priorities makes you seem unprepared, giving the audience the perfect excuse to tune out what you have to say. Whenever you do this, you break the flow of your presentation and their willingness to stick around till you’re done.
3. Ask the audience to commit to a distraction-free meeting
Many remote companies have an unspoken rule: mute your mic if you’re not presenting. It’s easy for an ambulance passing by to throw a presentation off track, so before you start, ask participants to mute their mics until you’re ready for Q&A. Luckily, many video conferencing platforms allow meeting hosts to mute participants’ mics to better control the meeting experience. As an additional benefit, muting helps presenters hold the attention of meeting participants by establishing when it will be their turn to speak.
For fully remote and distributed teams, it’s also common to ask meeting participants to avoid multitasking and mute phones for the duration of the meeting. This creates a meeting environment that more closely resembles an in-office meeting with minimal distractions competing with the speaker for attention.
4. Test your equipment beforehand
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely participated in an online meeting where someone presented for several minutes without knowing that their microphone was muted or that their content wasn’t showing on the screen. It’s an uncomfortable experience for both the presenter and the audience and, luckily, very easy to avoid.
Before your next virtual presentation, make sure to test your mic, screen sharing and camera 5-10 minutes before you go live. This helps you identify what’s working and what isn’t and rectify it. This is also a great opportunity to check your lighting to ensure your video feed is clear and ready for prime time.
Besides, knowing that your tools are in good condition boosts your confidence because you’re sure they won’t interrupt your presentation.