I was preparing for two presentations yesterday.
The first was for a group of three in which we discussed a presentation that they were to deliver to a prospective client. The second was to a group of at least 40 who were to listen to me speak about what I am doing to stay relevant in this surreal environment. Each presentation required a different level of mindset, preparation and delivery, yet both had one common thread – they were delivered online.
Even for someone who specialises in public speaking, presenting online has its own set of challenges, and with so many of us migrating towards online platforms to stay connected, presenting online is crucial for getting our message across. There are similarities with presenting to a live audience and the preparation / delivery process is much the same; albeit, with a few tweaks that start with your mindset.
Working from home can, for some, induce a sense of relaxation. We can get caught in a trap of feeling lazy and consequently approach our presentations in the same way. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in this and prepare your mind accordingly. Remind yourself that the way you present, the way you speak and the way you approach the event will determine how well it goes – and your appearance can remedy a part of this mindset.
Just because you are speaking to a camera, doesn’t mean you are not entirely seen, so have a think about how you show up and how you look. You wouldn’t want to look undressed and lethargic in front of a live audience – and speaking online IS speaking to a live audience, sometimes to a global audience.
You may have heard the phrase, “picture the crowd naked” (which by the way, is not good advice!), but don’t reverse it! Make sure you are wearing pants and other relevant cover-up necessities, so people don’t see you near-naked. I’ve witnessed people reaching for a document or a glass of water and in doing so, showing me their ‘home comforts’ which led me to question how serious they were about the presentation. How you dress is all a part of your preparation which, like a live presentation, is just as important online.
Before your online event, prepare yourself just like you would a real-life presentation. Understand your subject, your intent and your desired objectives. Do your research, have an agenda and have a plan for what you want to say. If you are presenting to a new audience, find out who is joining the event by looking at the registrations and familiarise yourself with who everybody is. The more you know about your audience, the more comfortable you feel. The other part is being aware of how you present and everything else around you.
One of the things you need to be aware of is your body language. Do you sit or do you stand? How far away from your screen do you sit? What’s too close? It’s also difficult to gauge the audience body language and therefore worthwhile checking in with everyone intermittently to ensure they are following you - especially with those who have no video. When presenting to small groups, it’s important to check in with anybody who hasn’t responded and for longer sessions, it’s a good idea to give everybody a break to relax their eyes, otherwise you and the audience may lose focus.
You need to also be aware of where you are looking. Depending on what you use (laptop, camera or iPhone for example) you may need to adapt to your tech to maintain eye contact. For recording videos, you have to look and focus into the camera lens (not the screen) - the little red dot on your device. Be aware of what you do too – remember if you pick your nose, yawn or roll your eyes – people can see you!
This sense of awareness should also extend into your own environment.
As we are now working from our place of comfort, we can be oblivious to our surroundings. Check what’s behind and around you, and if you need to clean up your surroundings. Do you need to move certain objects and reposition things? One way to check is to do a test run – set up your laptop / phone and see what your background looks like.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the environment. Familiarise yourself with your chair, get a drink and place it somewhere easily accessible; if necessary adjust your screen so you feel comfortable with its position. Make sure you have everything you need within distance, so you feel totally at ease with your environment – this includes understanding the system you are presenting from.
6. System Check
A system check is vital to mitigate any issues - I did a check before my recent LinkedIn Live chat with Nathanial Bibby to understand the platform and its functionality. Check your connection, your sound / microphone, your camera, slides and PPT. You can upload your slides and screen share to talk through them on your presentation platforms (feel free to reach out if you’re unsure how to do this).
Check how long your software facility will allow you to present. Most of us would be familiar with Zoom, which is great for one on one calls, however they have a limit of 40 minutes for larger meetings. The last thing you want is to be on an important presentation and you get cut off!
Once you are prepared, checked and ready, it’s time to get comfortable being slightly uncomfortable! Whether it’s to three or forty, the basic principles of speaking to a live audience still apply – know your content, keep it simple and deliver it with confidence.
Think of this as practice – while we are in isolation use this time presenting online to hone your skills to improve and gain some more experience to have a better understanding of mindset, preparation and delivery for when you are next asked to present to a live audience.