by Kenneth Russell-Murray, ElectraSpec, Inc.
As the restrictions related to COVID-19 begin to lift, I would imagine many of us are eager to begin meeting our customers face‑to‑face. Zoom calls have become the norm, and perhaps many of us can’t wait until this is no longer our only means of communicating with our clients. Given the financial strain many companies are experiencing, however, it is possible that this dream of a zoom-less world is not realistic. So given this, I decided to do some research to learn how to improve my online presentation skills.
As with any presentation, whether it is in person or virtual, be prepared. For virtual presentations, I learned that it is especially important to take into account the environment from which you will be presenting. Lighting, background, camera placement, and sound quality are all features of a quality virtual presentation worth considering.
It is essential that people can see you well, so the recommendation is to have adequate front lighting, meaning the light shines on your face. Natural light is ideal; however, if this is not possible and you plan on doing a lot of virtual presentations, you might consider buying supplemental lighting.
The general consensus when choosing a background is that it not be distracting and that it enhances your professional image.
The position of your camera is important. It is suggested that the camera frame your face, neck and shoulders, and that it is at eye level. Practice positioning your camera, and it is suggested that you look at the camera and not your computer screen. Looking directly at the camera will simulate making eye contact with your audience.
Do a sound check. Make sure that your voice transmits clearly by taking the time to test the quality of your microphone beforehand.
Every platform is different, so know the technology that you are working with. Nothing destroys a presentation quicker than a presenter who is fumbling with the technology. If you are not comfortable using technology, have someone with you to support you in making sure everything is up and running and perhaps even have this same person monitor chats, polls, and facilitate questions. This approach can free you to remain focused on your presentation while at the same time keeping your audience engaged.
Engaging the virtual audience is probably the greatest challenge we face as presenters. Many video platforms have built-in features that can help with this — such tools as polls, chats, thumbs-ups, or raised hands can help get and keep the audience’s attention. Consider opening your presentation with a relevant question and ask people to type the answer in the chat. Read aloud some of the answers and, if possible, use the first names of your audience. If you can engage your audience immediately, you feel as though people are listening.
When delivering your message, be clear, brief and quiet. Pace yourself and make your best effort to be animated. Many people try to avoid silences, however take into account that over video it takes longer for participants to digest and respond to information. When you ask a question, wait confidently for someone to answer. Use these seconds to listen before asking a follow-up question or calling on a volunteer. Soliciting participation from your audience is a way of increasing engagement and helps people to stay attentive.
Whether your presentation is face-to face or virtual, creating an authentic connection to your audience is important. All presentations are performances and serve your audience. Their time is valuable, so I believe it’s important to honor that time by delivering the best presentation you can.
Kenneth Russell-Murray is president and owner of ElectraSpec, Inc., a manufacturers’ agency located in Quebec, Canada. His agency has been operating since 1995. Russell-Murray became a member of MANA’s Board of Directors in 2020 and is also on the Board of Directors for EFC (Electro-Federation Canada) representing the province of Quebec. During his spare time Russell-Murray enjoys downhill skiing, golf and tennis.