Speaking in a Virtual World
Updated: Apr 7
Speaking Engagements for most persons are a great source of anxiety and an enormous consumer of time. For many, with the proper tips and tricks of the trade, speaking can be a pleasurable activity; providing the speaker with an opportunity to raise their public profile, impart knowledge on their subject area and connect with audiences globally.
Pre-pandemic, most speaking engagements were done in person, and while that attracted its nuanced challenges, these were often mainly concerned with airlift, accommodation and flexibility, and availability of time. With the diminishing of geographical barriers due to Covid19 and the increase in virtual engagements, we’ve seen a new set of factors emerge that must be considered. This did not necessarily eliminate those that were at the fore in a face-to-face environment but rather lengthened the speaker checklist.
While there are similarities between a physical and virtual speaking engagement, we will focus on the elements that one should pay special attention to for a virtual speaking engagement. For clarification, let’s start with some definitions to provide context to what we are about to explore in this submission.
·Speaking Engagement – any activity that requires an individual to present to an audience.
·Speaker – any individual who is required to present to an audience
·Audience – any person or group of persons who will receive and engage with the information that is being presented.
There are two main categories to consider so you can deliver an amazing presentation – Appearance and Connection!
We consume with our eyes before anything else, so before you even open your mouth to speak what am I going to perceive from looking at you? This is not just limited to your physical appearance although that does play a major role as well, but also your environment.
Ensure that your background is not too distracting. If you’re standing in front of a dark background, be mindful that any light that you may put against it to illuminate yourself may get sucked into the background. You also want to ensure that your back is not directly against your background but rather about 2 – 3 metres away, creating some separation or depth of field.
You will need additional lighting! There are no ifs, buts or maybes about this one. When presenting virtually we want the audience to see you clearly and as such, you will require lighting with the specific purpose of illuminating your face. There are several ring lights on the market that are relatively inexpensive and will do the trick.
Be mindful of too much headroom. Headroom refers to the space between the top of your head and the top of the frame. Too much headroom indicates that you occupy a smaller portion of the frame. You want your presence to command attention and one easy, sure-fire way of getting this done is by appearing in 75% of the frame.
It should go without saying that you should be well-groomed in whatever style you like. Your clothing should be appropriate for the occasion and reflective of your brand. I always recommend to my clients to stay away from stark white clothing for virtual engagements as depending on the camera and the lighting it could wash you out and prove to be jarring to the audience. Likewise, extremely busy patterns could detract rather than attract. You should wear colours that complement your skin tone and engages the eye of your audience. Unless glasses are an absolute must, you can choose to not wear them as often any additional lighting you may have in the room most likely will be reflected in them and can also be classed as distracting.
You can look amazing but if what you’re saying doesn’t connect with your audience, have you been an effective speaker?
A couple of things to consider when getting ready to present:
Help not Harm
It’s a go-to for a speaker to have a presentation of some sort to aid in the delivery of their message. The most popular of these may be PowerPoint. However, there are many other options on the market such as Google Slides, Canva, Visme, Prezi and countless others. Ultimately, there is a reason these are referred to as presentation aids. They are not meant for you to read from them word for word but serve as a reference point for you during your presentation. Should you choose, it’s also a great way to engage with your audience further by sharing your presentation and ensuring that your contact details are on the final slide so that they can further the discourse via the channels you provide.
Pro Tip: You should always include contact details at the end of any presentation.
How You Say It
It should be safe to assume that as a subject matter expert on whatever the topic is that you’re presenting on, you’ve got the ‘what to say’ down pact. Let’s focus on how you say what you say. Taking into consideration that the pivot to online has significantly narrowed the barriers of geography, one must be conscious of the potential diversity of one’s audience. To this end, the focus must be placed on the delivery when presenting. What are some key things to consider?
An even medium pitched tone will ensure that your voice is pleasing to the ear. It also provides the perfect backdrop against which you can sightly increase your volume or even your pitch to emphasize a particular point.
We all have an accent based on the environment of our upbringing. Not all accents are the same and some persons may have great difficulty in understanding yours especially if not native to your region. For example, Trinbagonians are known for our rather sing-song accent and speaking rather quickly. This can prove to be a hindrance to those who are trying to understand what you’re saying. Once you’ve identified the potential challenges of your audience in understanding your accent, you can then adjust your delivery accordingly. Again, most Trinbagonians can become much more understandable when we slow down.
Pro Tip: Feel free to invite your audience to indicate if you’re speaking too fast or if they need you to repeat anything throughout your presentation.
Enunciation of your words is key and will lend itself to increasing your audience’s understanding of your message. If you can prerecord your presentation for playback, feel free to up the ante and include closed captions. This provides yet another focal point to keep your audience engaged by reading and is excellent for playback if they’re in a position where playback audio may be a challenge, the essence of your presentation will not be lost.
Get creative. Let’s face it, we are all tired of logging on to everything in our lives – Church, Work Meetings, PTA Meetings, Birthday Gatherings – you name it and we’re over it being online. So, how do you get your presentation to stand out? How do you get persons to sit up and pay attention? The answer – is you get creative. I have seen speakers record their hype intro, and brought different presentation aids to the stage such as puppets rather than the expected PowerPoint. The best, however, is engaging with the audience. Utilise all the tools and resources available to you. Maybe that looks like polls or an exercise or encouraging discourse throughout the conversation. My go-to is the incorporation of the Universal Language of music.
Any great presentation includes some element of storytelling. It can be an anecdote or other ice breaker to set the tone or a personal story to illustrate a point. Your presentation should take the listener on a journey. Even with very factual topics, there is always a way to include the human element of storytelling.
Call To Action
A good presentation should inspire action. What does one do with the information that you have just imparted? How can they take what has been shared and readily implement it in their day-to-day living?
You can achieve a call to action – with either a strong, catchy statement that is either repeated throughout your presentation and/or closes off your presentation.
Another great way to do this is to provide ‘quotable/teachable’ moments throughout your presentation. These should be punchy ‘one liners’ that are easy to remember/write down and deliver a powerful message relevant to the theme of your presentation. A great example of this comes from the former first lady Michelle Obama, “when they go low, you go high”.
Presenting well is an investment!
This means that it requires you to prepare, prepare and prepare. How do you leverage everything that has just been discussed into an unforgettable speaking engagement? Well, some of the best speakers I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and learning from, had a couple of things in common.
Great Orators – mastered the art of storytelling often injecting bits of their personal lives and stories throughout their presentation.
Great Kissers – they kept it short and simple. Now short here shouldn’t necessarily be viewed within the constraints of time but rather within the boundaries of substance. Their presentations never felt forced or long-winded but rather had the opposite effect where you wanted them to stay and speak for longer. They also used relatable language and if any jargon had to be used, it was immediately defined so that the audience remained engaged.
Great Connectors – more than keeping the audience engaged, they provided an avenue where persons could connect with them afterwards to continue the conversation. There was no one set way of doing this. Some persons provided their email addresses while others invited you to connect with them via a particular social channel. Whatever the media it left the listener with a personal touch.
Pleasing to the Eye – I am always so impressed when I log on to a virtual event and note that a presenter has taken the time to put some thought and effort into their environment. Sometimes, persons have gone so far as to hire professional help to ensure that they present the best quality they can. While I’m by no means endorsing the expense of the above, it is time we move beyond simply sitting in front of a laptop and speaking.
Substance – they were well versed in their subject area and prepared to answer most, if not all questions that came their way. I was able to take away at least one tangible thing from the presentation that I could reflect on and implement in either the way I do business and/or in my life.
Beyond all of this, if you desire to elevate your presentation skills to be recognised among the top international feature speakers or just to be able to present at your optimal capacity, then I wholeheartedly recommend and endorse investing in professional assistance. This can come in various forms from a stylist to a production team, a speech coach and even a writer.
Nothing compares though to practice. Actively seek out engagements that fit the demographic you are trying to speak to.
Nothing is too small!
Always show up at 100%.
This means being intentional in not just your delivery but also your preparation!