Presenting Virtually

Virtual presenting is something we’re all doing more and more of lately. And while engaging audience members in-person is challenging, virtual presentations bring new barriers to audience engagement. You might have had trouble getting folks to queue up to the mic for questions at the end of your panel, but now you’re contending with all manner of work-from-home distractions. It’s important to address these barriers because we know that when an audience engages with content, they are more likely to remember it and act on it. While teaching remotely has its own distinct considerations, this post will focus on keeping your audience engaged while you’re presenting virtually.

Focus on Compelling Content and Delivery

Compelling content and delivery form the foundation for audience engagement. The characteristics of your specific audience should impact your content and delivery. This means you can’t keep using the same slide decks over and over again with different audiences. Different audiences require different slide decks if you want to set the scene for engagement.  

For example, if your audience is novice or not well steeped in your subject matter, you’re going to have to discipline yourself to stay high level and keep your delivery explanatory in tone. On the other hand, if your audience is well-versed in your topic area, you should feel free to speak to specifics and even invite reaction and feedback in your delivery.

Finally, don’t forget to use both verbal and non-verbal cues to grab your audience’s attention. Verbal cues may include: “As you can see on this slide…” or “The bottom line here is…” While non-verbal cues include things like looking directly into the camera, smiling while you speak to ensure an energetic tone, and forcing yourself to endure moments of silence while waiting for audience responses.  

Use of Visuals to Reinforce Your Message

How many of us have despaired hearing yet another presenter say, “I know you can’t read this, but this chart is showing…” Remember, if you have to explain a slide, it’s probably not a very good one. In order to simplify your slides, make sure you’re using consistent fonts, colors and text placement throughout your deck. Charts, graphs, tables and text must be readable.

When it comes to content on your slides, each should have one concept. An easy way to hold yourself to this is to make the title of your slide that key concept. Then use the body of the slide to reinforce that concept – to build on it rather than introduce a new thought.

Slides should only include your key points. And those key points should be streamlined so that you can capture them in less than eight words. This makes the presentation much more digestible for your audience and frees them up to engage with the content. Remember: your slides are for the benefit of your audience. They are not your script.

Plan Opportunities for Interaction

There are a lot of ways to engage an audience virtually. Creating moments of interaction before, during and after your presentation can improve the chances that more people will engage with your content.

For example, prior to presenting on the topic of presenting virtually, I ask attendees what their biggest challenge is. Overwhelmingly the responses have all been around audience engagement, which led to a series of presentations on that topic. And now, days after the presentations have been given, this blog post serves as virtual “leave-behind” that presents another opportunity for people to engage with the presented content.

During your presentation, carve out time for audience engagement and let your audience know this is coming. Audience engagement takes time, so prioritize it by making sure you know when and where and for how long you’re going to do it in your presentation. Make sure you verbalize your intention to hear from your audience. It changes the way they listen and gives them time to build up the courage to join in.

The best way to encourage audience participation is to ask precise questions. For example, rather than opening with “How is everyone doing today?” you might ask “What’s the weather like where you are today?” or “On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being very energized, where would you put your energy level right now?”

Finally, when you ask for audience engagement, use what you get. Share the poll results and discuss them substantively. When people respond to your questions in the chat box, call that out verbally and thank them for their contribution.

Smooth Logistics and Technology

You can have the best content, the most creative visuals and the most fun methods of engagement, but if you fail to plan your logistics and tech, it’s all for naught. Given how often we’re all presenting virtually these days, it’s worth it to create a comprehensive virtual presentation check list for yourself that you can revisit in preparation for each presentation. This should include things like:

  • Know the platform and the options it provides.
  • Do a dry run to check for sound and slide visibility.
  • Set up your video shot ahead of time. Adjust your camera so it’s at eye-level and ensure your face is adequately lit.
  • Spend one slide on housekeeping to ensure participants know what to do if they experience tech difficulties.
  • Silence your phone, turn off your email notifications and let others in your household know not to disturb you.

Some of the best learning occurs through connection and engagement. The four tips outlined here are aimed at supporting that kind of learning. The good news is that even if things go awry in your virtual presentation, there’s always a way to make a connection with your audience. And even a little bit of that can go a long way.

Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams, M.A.

Senior Director of Communications and Marketing - AcademyHealth

Lauren Adams, M.A., is senior director of communications and marketing at AcademyHealth, where she oversees th... Read Bio

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