I listened to a presenter on a webinar say that a speaker in the virtual environment cannot do the same presentation they do on a stage. You have to change the content to fit the context of the virtual world.
I agree – there is a difference between being a speaker on stage at a conference and an online presentation, with one being much more subtle than the other – guess which?
Years ago, I worked as a television presenter which happened right after a three-year acting course where I was taught the difference between a theatre performance and television acting.
There are similarities between actors and speakers to a successful performance or presentation and with the advent of much more remote and virtual communication, for all of us, these few tips may help you present with success whether from a stage or remote set-up.
Start right. When I first started as a professional speaker, I was taught to make your opening strong; make a statement; tell a story and capture the audience’s attention in thirty seconds. I still adhere to that and make sure my first thirty seconds is memorised.
I keep still and make eye contact. However, I recently heard a presenter say, “Start gentle and build.” He was very impactful. Whether you want to start with a statement or a gentle story is up to you, it’s your style but make that first minute count. Don’t waste time with “fluffy” small talk; make an impactful first impression.
With an online presentation it is much the same. You only have the first few seconds to capture attention from your audience. If it is a Zoom meeting – it is different – you may want to talk and engage others as people come online. However, if you are making a video or a speaker at an online conference you need to capture them quickly.
Be confident and in control. Choosing to be still and direct at the beginning of my talks is my way of keeping in control. Nerves can get in the way of your message. For me, concentrating on what I need to say at the start helps me feel confident. As it is often a new introduction to suit the audience (and to keep me fresh) I also practise and practise.
Practise and rehearse your presentation as much as possible. Don’t just wing it if you are on stage. It won’t work out. It’s fine to work off notes or just bullet points as long as it is planned out beforehand.
With an online presentation you have the choice of working from notes or an autocue. That’s what they use in television to keep the presenter’s eye on the camera. I would suggest always looking directly at the camera on your recording device – particularly in the beginning. If you are recording a longer training – use the autocue to prevent you wafting on. You don’t want it to look too stilted though, so look at notes occasionally or work with a flip chart or other props to keep the audience engaged.
Mix it up. To be an engaging speaker you need to add in variety. When you structure your speech, it shouldn’t be just point after point. Add in case studies, audience interaction or bring someone up on stage if working on a conference stage or perhaps another presenter if virtual.
Other elements you could add are music or video. Stories are a way to add variety. They don’t always have to be about you but others in your field. A personal story if it makes a point to your overall presentation can add an emotional element and engage the audience further. Take a chance to capture their attention.
Set the stage. You might not have the skills of an art director in a commercial or movie but I’m sure you’re aware how your viewing experience is impacted by the overall look. Take into consideration the visual elements. Often that means the presentation slides.
Many professional speakers these days use minimal slides with only a few engaging photos or as mentioned, video or music. Online presentations often require more slides to keep your audience stimulated. On the flipside they can be boring if all we see is you in a little Zoom window.
The first speech I ever gave I was so nervous I didn’t want to use PowerPoint as I thought I might mess it up and it would be a distraction; so I didn’t and all my talks in the beginning were with flip charts and coloured pens. It still added a visual element and the audience was just as engaged. Many professional speakers still work this way and are adapting to the online environment.
It is up to you to control the visual element of your “at home” stage. Make it inviting to people with good lighting, a background that is not too distracting. Perhaps add in flowers or plants. Some choose to use green screens to create a variety of backdrops. Experiment and use what works for you to create a pleasing backdrop.
Get your look right. Look the part of a polished speaker. Your style might be relaxed or formal. Whether you are online or on stage, dress so you are comfortable, can move well and present the best version of you. Dressing well is a sign of respect for the importance of your audience and your role in presenting to them. Your remote presence is just as important as in-person.
Body language also comes into consideration; hands in pockets (on stage) or flicking your hair around (online or on stage) is distracting from your message.
This is where the subtlety of theatre and television acting comes into play. Stage is a much larger experience, gestures and movement is more expressive. Online you need to beware of distracting mannerisms, slouching, touching your face or hand gestures that are too big. You still want to be yourself and not be too stiff – relax into it, smile and let your personality shine through.
Sound good. Great speakers vary the pitch, tone, pace, and volume of their voice. They also have mastered the art of using pauses. Be aware of how you sound by recording your presentations and see where you may fill up the gaps with ums and ahhs, “you knows”.
On stage, you do want to be heard and may have to adjust your volume to the room. Not all rooms have great acoustics; the air-conditioning might be loud or there may be road noise coming from outside. Not everywhere will have a stage technician on hand to adjust your mic.
Even though you want your speech to sound conversational you may have to project above your normal speaking voice.
Online you should use a microphone. Many professional online presenters are using podcast mics. TV newsreaders still have clip-on lapel mics which is fine.
Leave them wanting more. Have you imparted something new or profound? Educated or entertained them in some way? Have you given your audience a solution to their problem? Consider the take-away for your audience and how you want to make them feel. It might be you want to inspire them in some way or motivate, or to have helped them learn something new.
Is public speaking or online presenting challenging for you? Learn more about how you can Speak for Success here.
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Sue Currie is a speaker and the author of IMPRESSario, Present and Promote the Star Within You. She is passionate about helping business executives and entrepreneurial professionals elevate their personal brand, image and professional presence. Sue’s suite of image management services delivered through workshops, consulting, coaching and keynote presentations provides a multi-faceted approach to gain high transformation for her clients.