Giving compelling presentations is essential to achieving success as a PM, business analyst, cybersecurity expert and countless other technologist positions. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many competent presenters have been forced to make remote presentations, which poses new and sometimes complex challenges.
For example, surveys show that more than half of participants multitask during virtual meetings and presentations (even during "fun" meetings, presumably!). To combat distractions, you need to make an even bigger effort to keep people engaged, warned Mathias Björkholm, a former tech pro, founder and co-CEO of Pickit.
How can you get your message across when you’re not in the same room with your audience? Here are four best practices for making effective and engaging remote presentations.
Speak to Your Audience
As with in-person presentations, virtual presenters need to understand their audience and focus on addressing their goals and concerns; however, this is a situation where less is often more.
A remote presentation needs to be even more relevant and concise than an in-person one, noted Matt Abrahams. Co-founder of Bold Echo Communications Solutions, and lecturer in strategic communication and effective virtual presenting at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, he offered this additional tip for technical presenters: “Remember that people want you to tell them the time, not how to build the clock.”
Ask yourself: What do I want people to know, feel and do as a result of my presentation, and what’s the best way to get that message across? Communicate your goal in advance and stick to the subject to keep your audience aligned and engaged.
“Use inclusive language,” Abrahams said. Speak directly to your audience by saying “you.” For instance, instead of reviewing the results of previous meetings (which wastes everyone’s time), say something like: “As many of you are aware, we are here to consider expanding our scope for the upcoming sprint.”
Create Interesting Visuals
Research shows that people only remember 10 percent of what they hear but 80 percent of what they see. Increase your chances of achieving your objectives by stealing a page (or two) from magazine layout designers. For instance, ditch the tired stock photos and use more images and slides with varied designs and colors. (Fortunately, there are plenty of tools, templates and image collections to choose from.) Don’t limit yourself to PowerPoint slides—incorporate interactive content, video and websites into your presentation to keep things interesting.
The human brain can think much faster than we talk, so add a little more text to each slide and talk a little bit less in order to hold your audience’s attention, Björkholm suggested. Also, blur or adjust your background to help people focus on you and your material.
Prepare and Practice
Standing up during a presentation helps keep your energy level high and makes it easier to use positive body language and gestures to keep the audience engaged. Make sure your camera and microphone are working and properly positioned. Always check your lighting beforehand.
Although it takes a little practice, you want each member of your audience to feel like you are speaking directly to them. Train yourself to look directly at the camera by placing a photo behind it.
“You must practice,” Abrahams insisted. It is the only way to become aware of the way you come across and hone your delivery skills. Practice varying your voice, tone and pace by recording your presentation, playing it back and critiquing your performance.
Finally, communicate a contingency plan, just in case you or your colleagues encounter technical problems during the presentation. For example, a colleague could step in for a minute or two if your internet connection unexpectedly drops and you need to log into the presentation again.
Engage Early and Often
Why wait? Invite the attendees to connect and engage before they login by creating a short, descriptive title for your presentation. Need help? Check out these tips for creating catchy titles. Beforehand, you can also pose a few high-impact questions in the meeting invite to get them thinking about the topic.
Even if you’re sharing your screen, ask the participants to turn on their webcams and keep them on the screen so you can get some sense of how they’re reacting to your message.
Just because you’re presenting doesn’t mean you need to talk all the time. In fact, avoid long monologues at all costs. Break things up by involving other speakers or calling on specific attendees for feedback. “Feel free to put people on the spot,” Björkholm noted.
One way to make a presentation more interesting is to create an interactive experience. Research shows that people tend to lose interest after about 10 minutes in a virtual setting. Use collaborative tools such as digital whiteboards, or take a poll or chat every eight to 10 minutes to help people reengage.
“To make sure your presentation goes smoothly and that your audience remains engaged, consider creating a call sheet, like the ones used in television and film production,” Abrahams suggested. Having a call sheet (or a minute-by-minute schedule) helps you adjust the pacing and create a more effective and interactive presentation.