blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

July 31, 2020

20 Tips for presenting online

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:30

Now that we all keep our physical distance from each other because of the Covid crisis, most of our presentations are online instead of on stage. The advantage is that we do not have to travel for them. But the disadvantage is that it is more difficult to stay focused when you attend an online presentation. And it is more difficult to engage your audience when you give the presentation. So let us take a look at 20 tips that I’ve distilled from my experiences as a speaker and an attendee in countless online presentations. Ok, plus a few sub-tips.

I am doing my online presentations in Microsoft Teams these days; earlier we used Skype for Business. But these tips are mostly tool agnostic: it doesn’t matter which tool you use.

Set up the right tools & environment

1.Find a place where you won’t be disturbed.

When you are presenting, you do not want to be disturbed by colleagues, family, pets, ambient noise or anything else. This will help your audience to focus on your story, and help you to concentrate as well. Yes, I have attended presentations where we all got distracted by a washing machine, a child running up or the cat walking over the keyboard. So take the necessary steps:

  • Pick a room that you have to yourself.
  • Arrange with your housemates or colleagues that they leave you in peace during the presentation.
  • Mute your phone.
  • Close the window, if there is a lot of noise outdoors.
  • When I present online from the office, I always book a small meeting room plenty of time in advance, because the open-plan office floor is unsuitable for such presentations.

Of course accidents may happen, as we saw with that BBC correspondent, whose children burst into his office while he was live on the News. But try anyway…

1a. Switch your status to ‘Do not disturb’ before you start

Make sure your status is ‘Do not disturb’ in chat & call tools like Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, when you share your screen. This will tell your colleagues that you don’t want to be disturbed right now and at the same time block beeping pop-up messages, if somebody tries to chat to you in spite of your status. The tool should automatically switch to ‘Do not disturb’ or a similar status ‘Presenting’ when you start sharing. But check to make sure, and adjust where necessary.

Take care if you have different chat tools on your computer, like both the new Microsoft Teams and the old Skype for Business. I’ve heard many people complain about Skype chat pop-ups while they were sharing their desktop in Teams.

2.Make sure you know how the tool works and test it

Presenting online with tools like Microsoft Teams is not very difficult. But you should familiarize yourself with the tool beforehand, if you have never used it or if you haven’t used it for a long time. It may have changed, as these tools evolve continuously.

So test beforehand all the functionality that you want to use: microphone, webcam, screensharing, switching between speakers, playing a video, the Q&A or chat, et cetera. Also play around with some ‘what if’ scenarios: what if you accidentally leave the meeting for example (hint: just open the meeting again). The more important your presentation, the more carefully you’ll need to test everything.

Specifically, Live Events in Microsoft Teams tend to go wrong, if you don’t prepare them properly. Live Events are more formal and more complicated than regular Teams meetings. I have attended quite a few Live Events where the organizers had forgotten to switch on the Q&A functionality when they set up the event.
Please note: do not test a Live Event with the event itself, because when you close the Live Event after your test run, it is closed forever and you cannot re-open it for the actual event. So set up a separate test Live Event with the same settings as the real one.

3.Set up a good microphone

Use for the audio a headset or speakerphone, rather than the built-in microphone of your computer. These devices make it easier for the attendees to understand you. Microsoft is working on noise cancelation using Artificial Intelligence in Teams, but it is better to avoid ambient noise and use a device that focuses on your voice rather than trying to fix it afterwards.

Do a test before an important presentation, if you are not sure of your audio set-up: ask a colleague to listen in a test meeting and give you feedback.

4.Set up your webcam carefully

Sometimes presenters look like they are in a horror movie because of the placement of their webcam.

  • Put the light source (like a window or a lamp) in front of you, so that your face is lit. If the window or the lamp is behind you, you will show up as an anonymous silhouette.
  • Put your webcam at the right height and angle, so that you can look straight into the camera. Don’t film yourself from above or below, because that will make you look awful.

Do a test beforehand at the same time of the day as your important presentation: is it in the morning when the sun may shine into your window? Or in the evening when you have to depend on lamps? When you do a test session, you will see your own video as it is shown to the audience. And adjust where needed, like putting your laptop on a few big books or lowering your chair to get the required height and moving a lamp.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle, in such a way that your face is lit: I am facing a big window.

Prepare your story

5.Keep it short

People find it more difficult to focus on a screen presentation than on a real-life presentation. So keep your story as short as possible. If you had a full hour to present on stage, could you do it in 30 minutes online? I recently heard some presentation gurus (Bob Bejan and David Scott at Microsoft Inspire) compare online presentations to television, while on stage presentations are like theatre: it is different. And they are Americans, so they added that the television audience is used to having a commercial break every 20 or at most 40 minutes…

Don’t make your presentation shorter by talking and flipping through the same number of slides faster, because then you’ll lose your audience within minutes. But try to focus more concisely on what’s important. And take advantage of the opportunities the new medium offers. For example, it is easier to follow a demo, because everyone is close to the screen. And you don’t have to explain at length where people can find more information; just put the link in the chat window.

If you have an informal presentation that encourages discussion, then you may take that full hour, to give the participants the opportunity to interact. Don’t wait until the end for that interaction, because your audience may have left or fallen asleep before they get a chance to ask anything.

5a.Plan a break in long sessions

Anything over an hour is tricky. If you have more to say, for example in an all day training session, give people at least a ten minute break after each hour. Five minutes turns out to be too short for people to grab a coffee, unless their machine is very fast…

6.Make it varied

Especially when your presentation is longer than 30 minutes, make sure it is not just one voice droning on, reading out loud a series of boring slides. That is never a good idea, but online it is even worse. Apparently people’s attention starts to drift after 10 minutes, so something has to happen to wake them up and keep them engaged within that time frame, like some interaction.

  • Put some fun & surprising stuff in your presentation. But don’t go crazy; you want people to understand your story.
  • Structure your story in several short chapters.
  • Switch several times between slides, demo and your video for example. Don’t make it to hyperactive: stick with each at least – say – five minutes.
  • Take questions after each chapter. You expect there won’t be many questions? Prepare some other interaction: ask the audience a question, include a poll.
  • Have two speakers instead of one: each does her or his chapter. Or one is the speaker and the other leads the discussion and handles the questions that come in via the chat. Some interaction between these speakers makes the presentation more lively.

7.Make it extra clear

Because you don’t see your audience in an online presentation, or at least not as well as in an on-stage presentation, it is harder to judge if they understand your story. So you need to make it even more clear proactively. For instance:

  • Include a summary slide with the key points at the end of each section. Just the essentials, no fluff that does not contribute to the story.
  • Make the slides available afterwards, in case they want to check something back.
  • Have a logical scenario in your demo, if you have one.
  • Explain what you are trying to achieve as the user in your demo, not just the details of where you are clicking for instance.

For important presentations, you can practice by yourself: record and re-watch your presentation. Or pull in a colleague for feedback from a different perspective.

8.Get a moderator

When I do an official online presentation, I always ask a colleague to act as moderator, so that I can focus on my story. The moderator keeps an eye on the questions and comments that come in via the chat or Q&A, answering the simple or practical ones and voicing the questions we should discuss in the presentation.

When we do (for now: did) our presentations in the office, my moderator sits in the same meeting room as me, so that we can communicate more easily. I would just look at her or him to see if there were questions. When we are collaborating online from different physical locations, the speaker needs to leave some room – or rather: time  - for the moderator to interrupt between sections of the story. And the moderator should be able to switch on her or his microphone.

When I had the role of moderator for some of my colleagues, they asked me explicitly to interrupt (at the right time of course) with questions. Questions from the chat or questions I came up with myself, anything. They just did not want to talk into a black hole without any interaction.

The moderator can also do take care of the practical stuff: give you a sign when your audio or video drops or when you are sharing the wrong screen, help people to get into the session, switch the recording on and off, et cetera.

At the start

9.Open the session early and test

Open the session plenty of time in advance, so that you can test if your audio, video and shared screen work well, as well as your connection to your demo environment or anything else that you want to include. Take at least 15 minutes, so that you have time to fix or ask others to fix any problems you may experience. More if you are not used to giving online presentations with your tool of choice.

  • Ask an online colleague to help you: can they hear you properly? Can they see your screen?
  • If it bothers you that your attendees can already enter your session and see your preparations, you can set up the invitation to have the attendees wait in the lobby before you let them into the session. At least, Microsoft Teams an Skype for Business have this option; I don’t know about the other tools.

9a. Keep an eye on who is already in the session

Regular attendees may turn up early as well in the session: people who want to be sure that won’t miss the start and who are not entirely sure if the tool is working for them. They are very welcome in my presentations, because it is a nice opportunity for inexperienced attendees to test their set-up. But you do need to be careful what you say and who is listening.

So assume that your microphone is open and people are listening, unless you have checked that your microphone is off. And keep an eye on the list of attendees who have joined, so that you can welcome new joiners and for example switch to English in an international presentation where you have been babbling in Dutch during the preparation.

9b. Start on time

Because you have set everything up and tested it early, you can start on time. Hopefully your audience has also connected early, to troubleshoot where needed, but you cannot be entirely sure they managed to do so.

Start on time anyway, but if there are a lot of people still entering the session, you can spend a bit more time on a general introductory welcome. You’ll want that introduction anyway, instead of diving deeply into the specialist content right from the first minute.

10.Record the session

There are always people who would like to attend your presentation but who are unavailable at that time. And people who would like to watch some or all of it again at a later date. For that purpose, tools like Microsoft Teams have the option to record the session. Such a recording captures all of the audio, video and screen sharing that the attendees in the live presentation heard and saw; the chat is captured separately.

A recording is quite handy, but for privacy reasons, you do have to warn the attendees that you are recording the session. If they don’t want to be recorded, they can keep their video off and keep quiet and ask their questions in another way.

11.Explain the rules of engagement

Even in a real-life presentation, you may want to talk briefly about the housekeeping rules. It is even more important when you have an online presentation for an audience that is unfamiliar with online presentations in general and your tool in particular.

So explain everything carefully, so that they feel comfortable and are able to fully appreciate your presentation.

  • How can the attendees enter the online presentation, for example by clicking a link in the invitation.
  • How can they ask a question, for example in the chat windows and/or by raising their hand, because all of their microphones are be muted.
  • Announce that you are recording the session and tell them that the presentation slides will become available, if that is the case.

For important presentations with an inexperienced audience, I provide such details in the invitation (with a link to additional information on how to use the tool). And then I put up a welcome slide with the title of the presentation, a warning about the recording and a screenshot showing how they can ask their question in the chat window.

I put up this welcome slide early: as soon as we’ve finished testing, so maybe 15 minutes before we kick off the actual session. We also usually have some small talk, mentioning when we will start the actual session and how they should use the chat. This helps the attendees feel welcome, sure that they have found the right place and that everything works as it should for them, both audio and video.

Webinar welcome slide in MS Teams

Start slide of a webinar presentation, explaining how to ask a question via the chat and that the session will be recorded.

12.Mute the attendees

Do you have a large audience of online attendees? Make sure their microphones are on mute. In small, informal presentations, the attendees can mute their own microphone, to allow for flexibility: they can unmute to ask a question or add a comment. But in larger, more formal presentations, set up the meeting with muted attendees.

Make sure your own microphone is unmuted when you start talking! Especially if you have more than one speaker and only the current speaker has activated her or his microphone. Yes, we all know we should unmute ourselves before we speak, but it happens to everyone that they forget it once in a while. One more reason to have a moderator, who can give you the hint to unmute.

During your presentation: Audio

In an online presentation, your audience cannot see you as well as when you are on stage. So your voice becomes more important. You need to set up your microphone carefully, as we already discussed, but also pay attention to how you sound during your presentation.

13.Be clear

Make sure you talk into the microphone, don’t speak too fast and don’t mumble. Ask your moderator or anyone else to give you a hint when you are hard to understand, so that you can tweak your voice when needed. We are in this together!

Also leave some pauses, to allow your audience to think of what you said and come up with a question. This will also allow your moderator to step in with questions that were asked in the chat.

14.Be natural

Avoid reading out loud a written text, because then you don’t sound natural and it will be hard for your audience to stay engaged. Talk to them, like you are in a real-life conversation. You are a real human being, aren’t you, and so are they. So it is also ok to include personal experience and mention how you felt about what happened in your project.

During your presentation: Screen sharing

15. Share what you want to share and nothing else

Determine what you want to show your audience: a slide deck? A demo involving multiple tools? And then select how you want to share it.

In Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business for example, you can share a PowerPoint presentation directly, share a specific tool (like a browser window) or share your desktop: the audience sees everything that you see on your computer. I usually share my entire desktop, because I tend to present a mix of slides and a demo in various Microsoft 365 tools. Then I don’t have to worry about switching what I share.

But if you share your entire desktop, please make sure that you close anything that should not be visible, like private documents and sites with confidential information. If you often get sensitive email, close your mail programme, or share a second screen (if you have it) where you don’t get pop-ups about the mail messages you receive.

When you have more than one screen, like your laptop screen and an additional monitor, share the correct one and remember which screen you are sharing. If you get confused and risk talking about things that are displayed on the wrong screen, just reduce it to one screen by duplicating the original one or simply unplugging the additional screen.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation; an example in Microsoft Teams.

15a.Hide technical pop-ups

Your audience should be able to focus on your story and on what you are showing them. So no technical windows or pop-ups.

In Microsoft Teams for example, you tend to see a small pop-up about the meeting itself on top of the presentation you want to show. Minimize the pop-up, so that your audience can see the presentation properly; this won’t cancel your meeting or anything.

Hide technical pop-ups, like the meeting pop-up in a Teams meeting: minimize it.

Hide technical pop-ups, like the meeting pop-up in a Teams meeting: minimize it.

16. Be aware that your audience may not see exactly what you see

If the network or system is overloaded, there may be a delay in what the audience sees. Usually audio can keep up, but video and screen sharing may be lagging behind a bit. So take care:

  • Move your cursor slowly in demos and wait a second before you click.
  • Don’t move your cursor around too hectically anyway, because that may leave a strange trail of ghost cursors for the audience.
  • If you know this problem may appear (as we did in a training series at a multinational), ask a colleague to participate and check if you aren’t moving too fast.
  • And don’t include crazy animations that may not clunky or downright confusing for your audience if the connection is slow.

16a.Sharing a video requires extra care

You can play a video in your presentation. But be careful. Often the video does not play smoothly for the audience. And in Microsoft Teams, the audience will only hear the video’s sound if you check the checkbox ‘Include system audio’ in your sharing options. Make sure you test it, if you want to play a video.

During your presentation: Webcam for video

Switch on the webcam, so that the audience can see you. This makes your presentation more personal and engaging. You are not a robot or some disembodied voice after all. But you need to set up your webcam carefully, as we already discussed, and pay attention to the camera during your presentation as well.

17.Look at the camera to make eye contact

Most of us tend to look at the screen where we see the video feeds of other people. But if you want to make eye contact with your audience as the speaker, you need to look into the camera instead of the screen. Well, one-way eye contact: they look into your eyes, while usually in a big presentation you cannot see them.

This eye contact is very important, even if it is one-sided: people are a lot more engaged when the speaker is looking right at them. This is especially important when you are just talking to them, video only. When you are showing your slides or your demo on the big screen, and your video is only a small thumbnail in the corner, then you can afford to look at what you are presenting sometimes.

18.Aim for a quiet video image

  • Don’t wear psychedelic stripes or patterns or too much bling bling, because it will interfere. On the other hand, don’t wear the same colour as the background, because you will blend in too much and end up as a ghost.
  • Don’t move too much, because it makes the participants uneasy and it can decrease the video quality.
  • Make sure you have a quiet background, without people walking in it. Blur your background or pick a neutral background in Microsoft Teams. Or if your tool does not have that option, pick a neutral wall in your room. It is fine to show something personal, like a painting or bookshelves in the distance. But the more formal the presentation, the less distracting your background should be. In any case, you don’t want your audience to see your laundry.
Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

19.Don’t forget your camera is on

When you share your screen with your presentation or demo, your video is still visible as a small thumbnail, in Microsoft Teams for example. You may feel unwatched, when you are by yourself in a room, but your audience can still see you. Don’t forget that and do anything that you wouldn’t do in public…

If you fear you will forget your camera and your story is focused on what you share on your screen anyway, just turn off your camera. I also turn off my camera when I am one of many attendees in a large group in an official presentation, where my face is not important. That might save me embarrassment and a messy video feed when I lean away from the camera.

And…

20.Go for it!

It may seem bit daunting, giving an online presentation. But when you prepare your presentation properly and when you get some assistance to help you out before and during the session, you will very probably be fine. If you have obviously made an effort, your audience will be quite willing to forgive any imperfections and improvisations.

In online presentations, you can connect with people with whom you would not have connected in the physical world, because travel would have been too expensive, too time consuming or too impossible in general. You see, on the one hand we are locked down, but on the other hand our world is opened even wider via online presentations.

So just go for it!

 

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