Virtual Presentations: The one thing that separates the best from the worst.
If 2020 caused an explosion in virtual presentations, aka ‘webinars’, it has simultaneously created an avalanche of time-wasting, mind-numbing ones.
After attending some really excellent virtual presentations and some incredibly awful ones over the last year, I’ve learned what one thing separates the best from the worst. Be warned! This blog is very much a ‘how to’; a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ to help you avoid the many pitfalls and focus on what makes a virtual presentation worth watching.
I’ll start by giving you some early warning signs of the worst ones. My advice here is leave early!
No Attention given to User Experience
The shared commonality between badly prepared and self-promotional virtual presentations is easy to spot. The presenter doesn’t prioritise user experience:
- You haven’t been given any orientation on the event at the beginning – format, length, options for audience engagement, etc.
- The host hasn’t done a trial run to pace the event or get familiar with the technology. For example, screen sharing is awkward, internet quality is unreliable, hosts forget to unmute their own microphone or forget to mute the audience, slide transitions are not smooth, etc.
- You have a worm’s-eye view of the host’s face. You’re looking up into their chin and nose – which makes human-to-human connection very difficult.
- The background is a distraction. It’s caused by the regular ‘disappearance’ of the host into the virtual background because of the lack of the necessary colour contrast. The non-virtual background is either too cluttered, or so strategically organised to show ‘taste’ that you are constantly drawn into it.
- It’s quickly obvious that you are attending a read-the-slide presentation, with slides that are too full, too rushed, too many, too few, too complicated.
- Everyone anxiously waits for the sales or self-promotion pitch’ – that’s the elephant in the room waiting run loose.
- The only reason you don’t leave early is the promised ‘bait’ at the end – usually a freebie, or a special offer.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Presenting is about Creating a Relationship
You can’t learn how to create and deliver a virtual presentation that engages and entertains the audience as well as one that gives them value from a cheat sheet – regardless of the hype! Yes, I do have a check-list below! Those guidelines will help you improve your presentation, not guarantee that your presentation will be “amazing”, “compelling”, “awesome”…
A check-list will NOT create a great presentation, not even a good one if you don’t establish why you’re presenting in the first place – whether it’s online or offline. Sure, presenting online does offer additional challenges and I’ll address those below.
The point I want you to get is this. Every time you present you create a relationship with your audience and it’s that relationship that determines the quality of your presentation and the follow-up. That relationship is what you need to get right.
To get that relationship right you need to know the simple fact that people are sick of being manipulated and sold to in these curated virtual presentations.
The unsuspecting newcomers quickly tire of the pitch, even when the packaging is becoming more subtle and sophisticated. If you present to sell or self-promote, even if you give the mandatory ‘crumb’ of value to justify your agenda, you’re wasting a great opportunity to build an authentic relationship with your audience.
I’m going to show you how to create a relationship with your audience that inspires, educates, entertains and gives value. And opens a door to doing business.
The worst were curated monologues
The worst online presentations I’ve attended over the past year were self-serving monologues from beginning to end.
They did not prepare the presentation to deliver audience-relevant information in an audience-friendly way. Instead they were one-way communication events, in which the audience was there to listen to the presenter. The presentations were generally driven by a thinly camouflaged agenda – usually a sales pitch.
The presenter talked at the audience throughout and tried to impress with jargon-filled slides and fancy technical manoeuvres. Only in the Q & A after the pitch did the audience have the opportunity to participate. Even that was structured as a follow-up from the pitch.
The best were engaging dialogues
If the monologue-format defined the worst virtual presentations, then the dialogue format was the feature of the best ones.
What defines a dialogue?
It’s reciprocal communication, i.e. two-way communication in which an exchange is happening between those involved as I’ve already talked about here. The best presentations are interactive dialogues that invite and facilitate audience engagement.
Here are some of ways you can integrate the dialogue format into your presentation:
- Make the tone, language and content personal, relevant and conversational
- Talk to the audience about what concerns the audience
- Tell personal, simple stories to create ways for the audience to easily identify with you and illustrate the point you are making
- Ask relevant questions to invite participation. For example, use closed yes/no questions at the beginning to get quick, easy responses in the chat boxes. Then as you move through the presentation ask open questions to get the audience to reflect and give their opinions. At the Q & A they let the audience ask their specific questions. That lets them control the dialogue.
How to create an interactive presentation
Here are a few ‘basics’ to create an interactive virtual presentation that holds the attention of the audience and helps establish meaningful relationships:
- Create a simple background that doesn’t distract the viewer (Use a plain wall, a blur background option, or a simple green screen)
- Use audio aids, i.e. a microphone with ear pods or a headset. They make a huge difference to the audio experience (There’s plenty to choose from, ranging from visible to invisible, etc.)
- Make eye-to-eye contact, i.e. look into the camera not the screen and ensure that your eyes are level with the camera. Use books, boxes, or whatever else you have available to raise your computer/camera.
- Ask yourself what does the audience need to hear about the topic, then give them that perspective – not yours!
- Create a structure to your presentation (use a simple story structure)
- Prepare well – do a few trial runs to check the technology, timing & the flow
- Prepare your slides as visual aids, i.e. they should arouse interest & curiosity
- Drop the manipulation tactics – NO ‘bait’ to keep people until the end & NO sales/self-promotion pitch! (What, NO sales pitch? If the only reason you create a virtual presentation is to sell, then you are wasting a golden opportunity to engage with an interested audience).
- Give them the promised FREE online presentation, i.e. tell them upfront there is NO pitch. Now everyone can relax and listen to you. This will be a new, authentic experience for many and one they will appreciate!
- Give them real value on your topic. That will open a doorway to building a sustainable, long-term relationship.
- Have your contact info. on the last slide so people can easily follow up.
Here are two pointers to help you plan and deliver your next virtual presentation:
Some people only want ‘free’ content. They are not YOUR real audience.
Engage with those who are genuinely looking for someone like you to help them.