Your first virtual presentation – practical planning tips for beginners

The move to delivering presentations virtually isn’t natural for most of us.  Put simply, it feels weird. So here’s the good news. Most of the core principles behind what makes an effective presentation still apply. You need to know: what your message is, reflect on who your audience is, merge your message with their interests, have a clear structure, etc. In many ways delivering a presentation virtually requires the same knowledge and skills … but there are differences too. If you are a beginner to making presentations online there are 2 areas to think about –preparation and delivery.  Our clients often tell us the delivery stage is the area that worries them most BUT we can’t emphasize enough that making changes to the way you plan your virtual presentation is where you set the scene for success.  This blog post looks at the planning stage. 

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When you start planning your virtual presentations the 3 big questions to ask yourself are

  • How am I going to keep their attention?
  • What can I do in advance to feel more comfortable?
  • What if something goes wrong with the technology?

How am I going to keep their attention during my presentation?

Your audience’s attention span (how long they’ll concentrate on you and your message ) is shorter online than off line.  This is partly because they won’t have you to focus on in person, partly because they will have other distractions tempting them away (emails, watching colleagues etc) … and partly because they can pay less attention and you won’t notice.  So, to keep their attention you need to

  • Make your virtual presentation as short as possible. No advice we can give you will help your audience stay focused for 2 hours. Aim for 40 minutes maximum and break it into 2 parts if it’s longer.
  • Stay away from text heavy slides. We can read at least twice as fast as we can listen to you speak [] This means if all your information is written on the slide your audience will have read it before you are even half-way through talking about it. Your audience will then tune out and start doing something else while you tell them what they just read.
  • This means you need to rethink the way you design your slides. Your slides will often be the primary visual link you have to your listener. This means your slides need to be very visual – one powerful pictures is better than many, unusual images will recapture their attention and diagrams need to be clear.  Compare the 2 examples below.

What can I do in advance to feel more comfortable?

If this is your first time presenting virtually then

  • Know your content! This is obviously equally true when you make a presentation “in the flesh” but our experience is that presenters are more likely to turn “knowing content” into lots of notes and then read from them when they present virtually.  I remember one purchaser who wrote a complete script including notes when to pause!  Reading rather than speaking is going to really impact your energy levels, make you sound less natural and ultimately encourage your audience to start multi-tasking. You need to know what you want to say so you can focus on how you say it. (more in part 2)
  • Practice and practice again – If this is your first time then you can’t spend enough time practicing with someone else or set up a second computer so you can see what they’ll see. This will help you feel in control, more confident any your audience will thank you for it. Keep in mind that this is a learning curve and the sooner you start the better. DO NOT just work it out as you go along!
  • Think about the environment you’ll be presenting from and try to limit distractions and interruptions. If you can, present from a meeting room which is quiet.  Presenting from your desk in a large open office is going to be tough no matter how much experience you have.
  • Finally, you need to invest time in knowing your web or video conferencing platform really well! This is where a practice runs adds value. Almost all conferencing tools have getting started tours, how tos and tips and user guides. Some even offer free online courses. Use them and become comfortable with your technology.

What if something goes wrong with the technology?

This is less likely than you think but something going wrong with the technology is often top of most first-time presenter’s fears.  Here are 3 things you can do …

  • Practice using the system. The more practice you have the more you’ll trust it. I know I’m repeating myself and I’ll do it again … practice using the system.
  • Make sure your computer is updated, that you have a second power source (don’t rely on just your battery) and that you’ve closed any programs you won’t need
  • Organize for a more experienced colleague to be on hand (sometimes called a “producer”). When you are making presentations to larger audiences this “extra pair of hands in cyberspace” is essential.  You focus on the presentation and they focus on the technology.

To summarize

Success starts with planning your content, adapting your visuals, knowing your content so you can speak naturally, controlling your environment and being ready for the dreaded technical problem.There’s a lot more to presenting in a virtual environment and some of those things will be discussed in a future post. In the meantime, here’s an eBook that will help you deal with all of your presentations stress – virtual or not.

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers