As a communication expert, I have always preferred in-person meetings and training. But it’s not always possible and certainly, right now during the COVID-19 global pandemic, it’s not always safe. Together, we are entering a new reality where we need to seek human connection online instead of in person.

As more and more companies ask their teams to work remotely, many leaders are abruptly confronted with the need to conduct meetings, client calls, and presentations virtually.

For years, I have followed the guidance of Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, who penned a powerful article in 2012 in the Harvard Business Review, “The New Science of Building Great Teams.” 

Sandy says, “The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. The next most valuable is by phone or videoconference, but with a caveat: Those technologies become less effective as more people participate in the call or conference. The least valuable forms of communication are e-mail and texting.”

In the absence of face-to-face communication, it is critical that we become comfortable with virtual tools that help us effectively connect with and lead others – especially in times of uncertainty, as I wrote in my own recent article for the Harvard Business Review, “How to Reassure your Team when the News is Scary.”

At Global Public Speaking, my team and I have spent years conducting online trainings. Here are our collective suggestions:

Top 10 Tips for Presenting Virtually 

  1. Adapt the content to this new medium. Instead of just delivering information in the same way you would in person, analyze your content with a virtual audience in mind. How are you going to engage people? We use Zoom, which has great tools like breakout rooms, polls, and a chat function, as well as helpful tutorials on how to use them. 
  2. Speak directly to the camera lens. Our trainer and coach John Watkis says, “It’s hard to connect with a camera that doesn’t give you feedback or smile at you, but connection is equally important virtually as it is in person. To create a connection on your end, you can do two things: First, make eye contact with the lens, so participants will see you looking right at them. Second, put a picture of someone you like right above the lens. This is what voice actors do to help them sound more conversational when they record in the confines of a studio.”
  3. Assume the camera is always on. We have heard many horror stories of people on webinars forgetting their camera is on and doing things they would have never done in person. First, learn how to manually and easily turn on/off the camera and the microphone so that if the kids run into the room or you have to sneeze, you can do so discreetly. Second, assume the camera and microphone are always on and be on your most professional behavior.
  4. Bring your best self. Our trainer and coach Bill Beaman says, “Even though you’re not speaking in person, you still need to project a powerful presence. If it’s audio-only, your vocal energy and range will become even more important. If it’s visual as well, you will need to demonstrate your enthusiasm both vocally and with purposeful body movement (like intentional gestures) that overcome the deadening effect of an online connection. In short, don’t dial it in just because you’re not ‘live on stage.’”
  5. Pay attention to your background. Our trainer and coach Casey Carpenter says, “Before going live, turn your camera on. What does your background look like? Your meeting participants will see what your camera sees. Be sure your background is neat and uncluttered so that you make your best possible presentation. You may need to adjust your chair height accordingly.”
  6. Stand up whenever possible. I find that my energy is always highest when I am standing up with a tall posture instead of hunched over at my desk. I use a Varidesk standing desk which makes it easy to stand before a presentation, but when I travel, I’ll stack boxes on top of a desk in order to raise my laptop. 
  7. Pause and breathe before turning on the camera. So often, we join a virtual meeting and only then do we start to set up our notes or arrange our background. Take a minute to center yourself and pause and breathe before you click on the meeting link. Pausing and breathing will also calm your nerves and help you project your voice, to Bill’s point above.
  8. Talk through disruptions. Whenever technology is involved, things will invariably go wrong. Someone’s internet connection isn’t working, or you can’t figure out how to share your screen, or perhaps you lose your notes. Take a minute to talk through disruptions when something doesn’t work, such as, “I’m going to pause for a minute and share my screen. Give me one moment while I do this. One more minute, everyone, thank you for your patience” and calmly, confidently find what you need. If you are cool and collected, your audience will be as well.  
  9. Do a test run in advance. Just last week, I found out that my 6-week in-person public speaking course at Harvard University will take place online. Rather than wait until the first day of class to figure out how to prepare for this, my teaching team and I set up a 1-hour test run to troubleshoot the different controls and functions so that when class starts, we are ready to go. 
  10. Dress as you would for an in-person presentation, adapting for the camera. Whatever you would wear for an in-person presentation should be your default for presenting online, with a caveat: focus on solid colors. Prints look different on camera than in real life and can distract your audience; make attire part of your test run so your audience can focus on your message as opposed to your wardrobe.

In times of uncertainty, how you communicate with others will have a powerful impact on your professional or personal success – especially when you have to present virtually.

Please let us know if we can be of service to you and your colleagues. Our virtual 1:1 coaching and group training programs can help you speak with confidence and authenticity every single day so you can continue to build your business, move up in your career, and speak up on behalf of what you believe in.

Be safe, be healthy, be strong.

Warm Regards,
Allison Shapira and the 
Global Public Speaking team