Mention public speaking and most people will tell you how much it terrifies them. In fact, the fear is so real, there’s an actual term for it—glossophobia!
Yet, good public speaking skills are often considered an essential skill for independent consultants. Speaking opportunities are a great way to increase your visibility, establish your industry expertise, build trust with clients, and create a successful professional brand for yourself.
So what’s a nervous-about-public-speaking consultant to do? Start virtually.
While virtual presenting isn’t easy, it does take away some of the pressures of in-person public speaking—especially for those who are new to public speaking. In a virtual environment, you don’t have to be on a stage, there’s a physical distance between you and your audience, there is significantly less focus on the performance element of public speaking, and if you really want, you can present in your PJ bottoms (no one will ever know!)
In our current hybrid workplaces, virtual presentations, meetings, and webinars have become the norm and continue to grow in popularity. Webinar platform On24 reports that in 2020, the number of events hosted on its platform jumped by more than 330%. The number of attendees doubled year-over-year.
Over the last few years, you too probably have become used to an increased number of virtual meetings and Zoom calls. As a direct result of these, you’ve likely—and perhaps unwittingly—already developed online presentation and speaking skills. It’s time to hone these skills to become a better public speaker.
To help you get started, we’ve put together some key tips to show you how to do a virtual presentation well. This advice will help you do better every step of the way—before, during, and after your online presentation or event.
Before the Virtual Presentation
Preparation is key to making sure your online remote presentation goes well. This includes planning your content but also preparing your tech, your software, and yourself! Here are some key things to focus on:
1. Rehearse your presentation
The secret to confident public speaking is rehearsal. Lots of it. Get familiar with the content you will be presenting. You don’t want to get on camera and start reading from your slides. That’s a recipe for boredom.
Practice delivering your presentation out loud—several times! You want your presentation to come across as natural as possible. It’s worth noting also that even though your presentation is virtual, your audience is likely to be more affected by your facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movements, as well as by the tone, pitch, and volume of your voice, than they are by your content alone. So make sure to spend time rehearsing your delivery as much as the content of your presentation.
2. Get familiar with your setup
You’re likely to be a little bit nervous on the day of your presentation. Don’t leave it to the last minute to get to know your tech. If anything should go wrong, this will unnecessarily add to your presentation-day stress. Instead, get familiar with your software, hardware, and any platforms or tools you will use before the actual presentation.
- Choose a room with good lighting. If the natural light isn’t good enough, consider adding supplementary lights.
- Make sure your background enhances your professional image and is free of any distractions.
- Test your computer and internet connection.
- Check your camera and test your microphone and headphones.
- Whether you’re using Zoom or any other webinar or online remote presentation platform, make sure you understand how to let participants into the presentation, share your screen, mute and unmute microphones, etc.
- On the day, log in to your virtual presentation platform at least 15 minutes before the start time so you can double-check that everything is working properly and address any tech issues that may arise.
During the Virtual Presentation
The day is here. You have everything you need to execute your presentation, you know your content, and you’re feeling confident. This next set of public speaking tips will help you keep your audience interested and engaged during your presentation.
3. Connect with your audience
The best presenters and public speakers start by engaging their audience straight off the bat. Always welcome your audience and have a plan for how you will handle those first few minutes without making it awkward. Also, think about how you can take the first few minutes of your presentation to draw them in.
This could mean telling a (relevant!) story or joke, or you could even play some fun music to set the tone while the attendees stream in. Customize the experience depending on whether you’re giving a motivational talk or presenting to a potential new client.
4. More energy is better
According to a survey by Virtira Consulting, 49% of professionals working remotely reported a high degree of “Zoom fatigue” as a direct result of our numerous daily video calls. You don’t want your presentation to be another tiresome video meeting your attendees have to attend.
Just like an in-person presentation, you want to make sure your virtual presentation is lively. Present with energy. Be animated. Don’t be afraid to be over the top energetic. It may feel like you are being theatrical but sometimes that extra energy is what you need to connect with an audience watching you on a screen.
5. Maintain virtual eye contact
Maintaining eye contact is a key presenting skill. In a virtual environment, however, that becomes tricky. But, it doesn’t make it less important!
Eye contact in a virtual presentation environment is all about looking into the camera. Even if you can’t look into your audience’s eyes, they have a direct face-to-face view of you. Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of focusing intently on the content of your presentation instead of looking at your audience.
Always speak into the camera. To make this easy, make sure your camera is positioned at eye level. Also, turn off your self-view so that you aren’t distracted by your own image on the screen.
6. Engage your audience
The most powerful presentations are those that find ways to engage and invite participation from the audience. Yes, this is possible even in an online presentation scenario.
To engage your audience, consider some of these tactics:
Polls and surveys
Interactive polls and surveys help to get everyone involved. To make them work, strategically place them throughout the presentation—not just at the end. Keep these surveys topical and relevant. Build anticipation and excitement by letting your audience know that a poll or survey is coming up.
While the common practice is to leave the Q&A until the end (there is nothing wrong with that), Q&A sessions can make your presentation more engaging if you break them up and use them throughout the presentation. Your audience is less distracted when they can participate more often. Plus, you also get to discuss problems and answer questions when the topic is still fresh in your audience’s mind.
Bring out the competitive side of your audience with a short quiz either to break the ice at the beginning of your presentation, or towards the end as an entertaining recap. You can build a quiz around fun facts relating to your presentation. Or, you can use it to test your audience’s knowledge of the topic of your presentation. Whichever method you choose, remember the goal is to keep your audience engaged so do it only when it adds value to them.
7. Stay on topic
Hold your audience’s attention during your presentation by staying clear of fluff or meandering.
Ask yourself: What are the key message(s) for my audience to take away?
Then communicate that message succinctly in your presentation. Brief, on-topic presentations can make more of an impact than a long-winded speech where the audience is more likely to become distracted and lose focus.
You don’t have to include every bit of information you have about a topic. It’s more important to keep your core message focused. So, if what you’re planning to say will not add any extra value to that core message, don’t include it. You can always send your audience more info (if needed) in the post-presentation follow-up.
8. Have fun while you’re at it
Audiences connect with authenticity—just like in face-to-face presentations. Be yourself when presenting and don’t try to put on a personality that isn’t yours.
If you want your audience to enjoy your presentation you must enjoy it too. So have fun with it. Explore creative ways to deliver your presentation. Use images, GIFs, memes, and videos if relevant and appropriate. When presenting data, don’t just read it out, present it in interesting graphical representations.
Stay professional but don’t be afraid to add a bit of personality to your presentations.
After the Virtual Presentation
You nailed it! So what’s next? Here are some final tips on how to follow up with your audience and continue working on your presentation skills.
9. Send a follow-up email
Follow up with your attendees after your presentation to sustain the momentum you created and to nurture the new connections you just made. This should ideally be within a day or two after your presentation to keep your message fresh in people’s minds.
Send a follow-up email and start with a “Thank You” note. Focus your email on providing a quick recap of your virtual presentation. You can also include a link to a post-event survey or ask them to check out your additional content.
However, don’t overtly solicit your audience and make them feel like they’re doing extra work that benefits you more than it does them. Instead, they should feel they’re getting additional value.
10. Keep learning and improving
Presentation skills get better with practice.. If possible, record every presentation you give. This will help you critique yourself in action and make adjustments as needed. Acknowledge your strengths—you want to keep doing what worked—as well as your areas of improvement.
The best and most confident speakers have honed their skills with hours of practice—behind the scenes and in front of an audience. Don’t be afraid to keep learning and practicing—even if your next presentation is imaginary (for now!)
Honing your public speaking and presentation skills will stand you in good stead throughout your independent consulting career. If your first virtual presentation doesn’t go as well as you had hoped—don’t worry, it’s just the beginning. With time and practice, you will be able to engage your audience so they focus on your message instead of noticing your (perfectly natural) nerves.
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