The recent pandemic has changed the way business and communications are delivered. Now, more than ever, virtual presentations are the venue of choice. For those that were thrown into the virtual world, there may be some best practices that were overlooked in an effort to save time and get everyone up and running. Whether it’s an interactive safety meeting, a webinar, or a training session, there are some basic rules that can make or break your success.
1. Test your presentation and equipment ahead of time
Anyone that has delivered any type of presentation knows that you won’t nail it on your first try. Practice is essential if you want it to sound natural—not scripted—be engaging and make a positive impression on your audience. It is recommended that you practice at least 10 times before you deliver a talk. Since a big part of your presentation relies on technology, it’s important to include that in your practice. This will ensure that not only are your words delivered effectively but any videos, interactions and slide advancements will go off without a hitch. As an aid, add notes to your presentation. The more you rehearse, the less you’ll need to rely on your notes and the more engaging eye contact (even if it’s to a camera) you’ll be able to give to your audience.
When you’ve practiced delivering your session enough, you should do a dry run with not only all of your equipment (headset/microphone/video) but test out your delivery platform to make sure you won’t have any surprises on the day of your presentation. Delivering to an audience (even if it’s only one person) is the most beneficial way to rehearse as they can provide you with feedback before you go live in front of a real audience. This will also give you time to troubleshoot any problems that arise while you’re trying to deliver your presentation (don’t forget to test any engagement activities like polls or Q&A chats you may include). If you’re using your own equipment, make sure that you disable personal IMs or email popups or sounds as they can derail your presentation. Before your presentation, plug into your modem using an ethernet cable instead of using Wi-Fi to ensure a more reliable connection.
2. Stick to the agenda
Even though virtual meetings are becoming commonplace, not every platform operates the same and every presentation does not follow the same format. The same rules apply in an online venue as they would in person—you should be there to greet your guests upon arrival. If you’re the host, it would be best if you were online ten minutes before the presentation is scheduled to begin. Attendees will want confirmation that they’re in the right place for the presentation. Virtual meetings are all about time, especially when it comes to safety. People want to ensure the time spent attending a meeting is worth missing the work that’s not being done, and they also expect there to be a hard stop at the time the meeting is scheduled to end.
You don’t necessarily need to display a formal agenda, but right out of the gates you need to tell participants what to expect, i.e., if there will be multiple people presenting, if the audience is supposed to participate (and how that will work), if you have saved time at the end for questions or if you’ll be taking them as they come, etc. Most importantly, you need to stick to your timeline. People don’t appreciate it if you don’t respect their time, especially in a virtual setting. Do not get lost in conversation—speak with purpose and keep an eye on the clock to finish at the agreed-upon end time. You will also need to leave time at the end to recap the presentation and go over any next steps that are required.
3. Set speaking boundaries
If you want participants to mute themselves when they’re not speaking, you need to tell them that before you begin. As a presenter, there’s nothing worse than trying to talk when someone’s background noise takes over. The same applies to the participants—they’re more focused on the noise and where it’s coming from than what the presenter is saying, and as a result, they might miss an important part of the presentation. If the platform you’re using allows you to mute all participants, let them know you’ll be muting them. They will want to know what is going on so they aren’t trying to figure out how to mute themselves while the presentation is being delivered.
If more than one person is speaking (maybe there’s a host and a guest or multiple presenters) make sure you’re a good host and listen—give others a chance to talk without cutting them off and interrupting them. In order to stay on track and adhere to the timeline set out, you may also need to moderate to make sure that the conversation doesn’t go off-topic or too much time isn’t devoted to one specific point.
4. Engage with the audience
A virtual presentation still requires audience engagement and the way to get it is not much different than a presentation delivered in person. As mentioned above, eye contact is an essential part of any presentation, including virtual—when you look at the camera, you’re making eye contact with your audience. Since your presentation involves your participants staring at their screens, it’s important to visually reinforce your points with aesthetically pleasing visuals—other than just the speaker(s) in front of the camera—to break up the presentation and make it more interesting.
Another way to engage your audience is to create interaction, which you can do through Q&As. If you want participants to submit questions through a chat function, make sure to communicate that to them and let them know when the questions will be answered (e.g., submit questions any time and they will be answered in the last ten minutes of the presentation—any questions that do not get answered live in the presentation will be emailed to participants). Or arrange a live Q&A session where participants can verbally ask the questions (raised-hand feature works well for these types of sessions) and the host(s) or presenters have the opportunity to answer them.
Engage the audience in other ways by including polls and games (plus that’s an alternate way to break up the presentation to keep the audience entertained for the entire presentation). As you’ll notice, not a lot has to change between in-person and virtual presentations aside from how you execute your safety meeting, but with a bit of planning, you can be sure you haven’t missed the mark on delivering a successful online session.