Your headphones are on, with seven tabs open on your screen. Your buzzing phone steals your attention for a second before your dog barks. Laptop in one hand, you walk and listen as you check to see who’s at the door…
All this while the presenter on the virtual presentation continues to drone on, oblivious to the thousands of distractions you're battling as you work from home.
Did I just describe the last virtual event you attended? You’re not alone.
In June, 42% of the U.S. workforce was working from home, with virtual events up 1,000%. When home distractions combine with the virtual world’s flexibility, it’s harder than ever to stay engaged during a virtual presentation. This makes the bar for creating effective virtual presentations higher than ever.
If you're a presenter, the only way to tackle these new challenges is to understand what makes a virtual presentation different.
What are the Differences Between In-Person and Virtual Presentations?
If you consider yourself pretty good at public speaking and presenting, it might be tempting to think you'd automatically master the virtual presentation. But there are key differences between the two formats that require seperate approaches to keeping your viewers engaged. Understanding the differences will help you effectively shift your strategy.
There are three main elements of a typical, in-person presentation: the presenter, the presentation, and the audience. Here’s what comes into play as these three parts interact:
- Charisma and body language - Because the presenter is there with the audience in person, the speaker’s ability to charm their listeners becomes a focus. The presenter is also able to use body language and interact with their slides.
- The ability to read the room - Because the presenter is in the same place as their audience, they have a better sense of how they are being received. This can help them change their pace if they can tell the audience is getting bored.
- Social convention - During an in-person presentation, most people won’t get up and leave because that’s considered rude. The audience also feeds off of each other. Laughter and applause are infectious, so even if someone tunes out, they might hear the crowd’s energy and tune back in.
When it comes to virtual presentations, the presenter, the presentation, and the audience are still the main three elements, but things look different.
- Speaker and audience disconnect - In a virtual presentation, the presenter is often at home, and their audience can be anywhere in the world. This makes a strong presence more challenging to convey. Even the most commanding speaker lacks gravitas while viewed on a tiny window on a tiny screen.
- Muted audience - Typically, the presenter can’t hear anything but their own voice. This can be unnerving, as the feedback loop with the audience is completely broken.
- Audience distractions - Because the audience can’t be seen, they feel more liberated to multitask during a virtual presentation. Thus, the bar to retain attention is much higher when presenting online. Plus, the audience can’t feed off of other attendees’ energy. So if someone is tuned out, they will stay tuned out. Laughter and applause won’t bring them back.
8 Tips to Create More Effective Virtual Presentations
So how do you overcome these challenges and create an effective virtual presentation? There are many tips, tricks, and ideas out there, but ultimately it can be narrowed down to these two focuses: eliminating distractions and making content compelling.
Understanding that more distractions will tempt your audience than ever before in a virtual setting, it’s important to eliminate distractions that you can control. Here are a few tips that will help keep your audience tuned in.
1. Prep Your Tech
Ensuring you have the right tech set up to host and attend meetings is an absolute must. Double or triple check your microphone, webcam, and web connection before your presentation starts. Make sure you have enough bandwidth. Most virtual meeting providers like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex suggest somewhere in the region between 2-2.5 MB for both download and upload speed.
2. Set the Scene
Since you’re not presenting on a formal stage or in front of a podium, it might take a bit more creativity to look professional. Clean up your background, and consider presenting in front of a blank wall instead of a cluttered room.
If you don’t have this capability, a virtual background might be a good option. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex all offer standard, templated backgrounds. Or you can get a bit more creative and create your own using a tool such as Canva, or if you’re a bit more advanced, Photoshop.
3. Ditch the Sweatshirt
Again, looking professional is key. Not only will you come across as a more trustworthy source, but you’ll also feel more polish and prepared. When choosing an outfit for your presentation, consider avoiding disrupting patterns or shiny fabrics that might reflect on the camera. Keep your outfits simple; solid colors are best. The goal is to have your audience focused on you and not your clothes or surroundings.
4. Communicate Clear Expectations
Nothing leads to distraction more than interruptions, especially from the audience. Avoid this by clearly setting expectations before your presentation begins. Let your audience know when they should ask questions or expect to participate. For larger audiences, utilize the chat function of virtual meeting platforms for questions. This will avoid everyone talking over each other. Ask your audience to mute themselves before you begin to eliminate any background noise or other interruptions that could distract.
Making Content Compelling
The second, but equally important step to creating more effective virtual presentations is to make compelling content. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Unfortunately, there’s a lot of presenters that don’t follow through with this step - and it shows, especially on a virtual platform where your presentation is the central focus.
Here are a few action items to help make your content more compelling.
5. Use Images
This is a must. According to Prezi’s State of Presentations report, visual aids make presentations 43% more persuasive. Images and visual aids can also help explain complex information more coherently, leading to a better learning experience for your audience. If they understand what you’re saying, they are less likely to tune out and more likely to be engaged.
6. Choose Fonts Wisely
How often do we just slap on a font because it looks nice? I know I’m guilty of it. But fonts are important, especially when it comes to creating a pleasing visual experience for your audience. It’s important to select fonts that aren’t distracting, while also have a broad range of styles to help you illustrate and emphasize different points. Consider avoiding fonts like Calibri, Cambria, or Arial, as these standard fonts don’t offer style options. A better option is Helvetica, which comes in a broad range of weights and styles.
7. Use Animation
With so many different presentation tools out there, animation is fairly easy to incorporate into slideshows. By adding movement to text, graphics, and images you will be creating a more dynamic and engaging experience for your audience. Animation can also help you as a presenter pace your presentation.
Powerpoint users can utilize the Morph Tool, for an easy way to automatically animate, move and emphasize objects on slides.
Here’s how to use it:
- Create your slide with the text and/or graphic elements on it.
- Once your finished with the initial slide design, right click on that slide in the Slide Sort on the left and select "Duplicate Slide."
- On your new duplicated slide, move items/text around, change their properties, add effects, etc.
- With that same slide still selected, navigate to the "Transitions" tab and select "Morph."
- Finally, click “Preview” on the left side of the "Transitions" tab to see your animation in action! When there are common objects in two back-to-back slides, PowerPoint recognizes that and applies a smooth and simple animation transition from slide to slide.
This tool is helpful when trying to present a complex idea to your audience. If you have a detailed graphic with a lot of different elements, instead of showing the image as a whole, consider using the Morph transition to zoom in to detailed portions of the graphic. Move your presentation along with it to focus on certain sections within. Below is an example of this tool in action:
8. Create Sections
Linear presentations are a bore. 64% of people believe that a flexible presentation with two-way interaction is more engaging. This can be a challenge with virtual presentations because that audience feedback loop is broken. But creating sections can help piece the disconnect back together. Sections will allow a pause for questions or a time to incorporate a “quiz/chat/or polls” section to get the audience involved. You can achieve this in Powerpoint by utilizing the Slide Zoom Tool.
Here’s how to use it:
- First, you will need to divide your slides into sections by right-clicking on your slides and adding a section name.
- Go to “Insert”, and find the “Zoom” option.
- Click “Section Zoom”.
- Select which slides you would like, and choose insert.
- You then have a thumbnail of that slide, which you can use as an active link to that section.
- Create a “table of contents” with these thumbnails, and you will have an easy way to break up and transition your presentation into different sections.
Utilize the Opportunities Virtual Presentations Offer
We talked a lot about the challenges that virtual presentations pose, but we also can’t ignore the opportunities they offer. Sure, different processes and focuses become important when going virtual, but if we embrace these changes, we’ll open up new possibilities.
Yes, your audience might be more distracted and maybe more disjointed than if you had the crowd in front of you in person. But with a virtual presentation, you have the capability to reach more people than ever before.
Because the barrier of travel has been eliminated, your attendees could quite possibly be all over the globe. Keep this in mind when you're planning your presentation. Be mindful of time differences and schedules. And don’t forget the vast opportunity that you and your message has with this extended reach.
Creating and delivering effective virtual presentations will look a bit different than the traditional in-person method. But embrace these challenges. With the right strategy and the right content, you’ll be opening new doors of opportunity