Presenting everything virtually has certainly given us plenty of food for thought in the learning and development world. Has it changed everything forever? Is it the answer? Or another problem?
And most importantly: can we get better at it?
On Fridays, we hold a regular virtual crisis comms chat (it's at 11:30 if you want to join). Last week, we got into the details of what it takes to make a connection from a distance.
What turns us on or off a presenter?
Here’s what everyone agrees on:
- We hate people reading a script. Especially one that comments on what we can already see.
- We hate pointless, rambling presentations.
- We hate feeling talked at, instead of being drawn into a conversation.
But: we love it when people keep it lively, clear and energised. So how do you do that?
Put yourself in the frame
The first thing to do is make sure you're not too near or far from the screen - don't cut your head off, but don't be too tiny. Then sort out your lighting. You don’t need to go full geek; just make sure everyone can see you clearly, front and centre. And remember that while it’s fascinating peering around you to see what your house looks like, it’s also really distracting. So keep it neutral if you can (and tidy up if you can’t).
Your slides are there to help reinforce messages. Less is very often more. And with a virtual presentation they also present a bigger opportunity, because your audience is even more focused than they would be in a room full of human distractions. So go large with images, key words or numbers.
You can always send detailed notes afterwards.
Put on a show
You know how performers wear thick makeup so their features aren’t lost under bright stage lights? You’ll also need to add colour to your performance.
You won’t look like David Brent – promise. Just turn your personality up a notch. The easiest (and most effective) way to do that is with your voice.
Actors talk about your ‘head voice’ and your ‘chest voice’. Your head voice is how you’d speak to a person next to you. But, like personality, voice is dimmed at a distance. Instead, you’ll need to focus on your breathing and project, using your chest voice. Here's how:
1. Breathe out until you’re empty, then squeeze to get that very last bit out – there’s always more than you think. That squeeze is your diaphragm, where singers and actors are taught to breathe from.
2. Now, take a breath from there. Your belly will expand out, and you’ll properly fill your lungs. That gives you enough air to use your full-throated chest voice.
You can practise with a prose poem, like Walking Through a Wall, by Louis Jenkins - and do take a look at Mark Rylance reading it at the Tony awards in 2011.
Put feelers out
Zoom and the like have lots of ways to interact with people: chat, icon reactions, votes. These are great (not least for checking that people are paying attention), so use them.
And don’t forget to ask people what they think – direct questions, especially if you call somebody’s name, are really good at pulling people in. Once an audience know that they might be called on, they pay a lot more attention.
Now it's your turn. The next time you're getting ready to present, ask yourself: What will they see? What will they hear? What’s your killer question?