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How to present effectively in a virtual setting

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has led almost all businesses to shift to remote operations. Most industries had no choice but to conduct interactions remotely using digital technologies. 

But while the shift has been greatly enabled thanks to digital technologies, interactions are faced with a challenge. The virtual environment is different from the physical environment that we were used to and recognising their differences is important in making the most of our virtual interaction. 

In this article, we will discuss the emerging virtual environment, how it differs from a physical environment and what we can do to make an effective presentation in this setting.  

 

Stark differences between physical and virtual presentations 

Gel Nolasco, Guild Solutions, Inc.’s Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer said that the approaches to a physical versus a virtual presentation differ, and it is important to note that unless these differences are acknowledged, we would not be able to present effectively either on our meetings at work or lectures in school. 

Nolasco put together key differences between the two based on the environment and the effect on the presenter. 

Presentation Type 

Environment/Audience 

Effect on presenter 

Physical 

  • Low to medium reliance on tech  

  • Easy-to-see verbal cues 

  • Herding behaviour 

  • Very familiar technology and environment  

  • Easier to adjust to the audience’s nonverbal cues   

  • Easier to influence the audience’s behaviour 

Virtual 

  • Heavy reliance on tech  

  • Absence of non-verbal cues  

  • Largely visual engagement indicators 

  • Must exhaust all possible features of tech  

  • Must know how to maintain attentiveness  

  • Must allow for interruptions and breaks 

 

Let us take a look at the important points. 

In physical presentations visual and other non-verbal cues that allow for immediate responses from the audience can easily be received by the presenter. This cannot, all the time, be true in a virtual setting. A major challenge to a virtual presentation is the inability to read the room as turning one’s camera on is optional in a virtual meeting. This could be challenging for a presenter since he/she could not know if the presentation is going well as he/she could hope for. 

Another important thing to note is the heavy reliance of a virtual setting on technology which means that in order to be effective, the presenter must make use of the available features of the technological platform that is being used.  

Lastly, virtual presentations or meetings must allow for interruptions and breaks to make way for rest. 

 

Why recognise these differences? 

Nolasco said that for one, not recognising these differences will result in presenters speaking to their audience as if they are physically altogether. Not applying the approaches to a virtual presentation may result in its ineffectiveness. 

Another reason is it may contribute to burnout. Let us face it – we have been working from home for a long time and a lot of things at work or at school can cause people to be burnt out. Thus, it is important that your presentation deliver value to the audience in a manner that it would not add to the burden of working from home.  

Lastly, there is a shift in the way we consume things – including media. The new wave of entertainment technologies contributes to the current generation’s expectations of learning – it is becoming more democratized. People are free to choose which content they want, and virtual presentations and learning are competing with them. Presentations should be as entertaining, educational and empathetic as possible to avoid learners dropping out of the session. 

 

Virtual presentation principles 

With all these differences in mind, what are the things we can do to present effectively in a virtual setting? Here are Nolasco’s four tips: 

Make it personal. Let the audience feel that you think of them. Express your gratitude for taking their time to attend your presentation and for letting you in their homes (virtually).  

Make it easy for them. Attack the expectations head-on as they have several priorities at home and at work to attend to other than your presentation. Expect also a lot of distractions so make sure to keep it exciting and easy to understand by slicing the information into segments.  

You should also connect with them by empathising and sharing experiences and life stories. This will make them feel that they are really part of the conversation.  

Make it relevant. Present with truth and keep your plot intact. You should present facts from research and cite your sources. Check also your audience and their language. Respect their learning types and cater to all of them if possible. Inject humour from time-to-time as well.  

Focus on the technical. Make sure you understand your equipment and setup – camera, mic, lights, background – and see if they work or not. Check also your slides and rehearse your presentation in front of a test audience to receive feedback so you can tweak your presentation before the proper. Do this so you yourself would come in clear and not cause any distraction to them. 

Be engaging. Interact with your audience by asking them questions and encourage them to use engaging tools in the platform that you use. For example, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have reaction emojis that allow users to respond to questions without speaking. You can also ask them to unmute or turn their camera on when they want to say anything but do not force them.

 

Communication Imperatives 

Now that you got the tips on how to do effective presentations, here are a few reminders from Nolasco for effective communication: 

  1. Keep in mind that the main goal of communication is to be understood and not become a superstar. Much of the preparation must be done on the presentation itself and not on your appearance. 

  1. Aesthetics is important. Add fresh perspectives to your presentation. Many people get it wrong when it comes to their deck. Some presenters place their wordy presentation in their decks and do not know  how exhaustive it can be for their audience. Be as visual as possible – present your data into images or graphs that the people will easily understand instead of filling the entire screen with texts. A basic study on principles of design can help you in creating a set of pleasing visuals. 

  1. Use the appropriate application or tools in your presentation.  

  1. Love your audience. Empathise, prepare, acknowledge and respect your audience. Keep in mind that they are in the discussion and they should feel they are.  

Presenting in a virtual environment is different from presenting in a face-to-face environment. It requires a set of different approaches to how we treat our audience, tools, and presentation.  

Now that the virtual environment is the widely used setup nowadays, it is important to take note of the ways we can present virtually.   

This article is lifted from a full webinar session by Gel Nolasco entitled “Presenting in the Age of Virtual Presence”. Watch the full session here: https://bit.ly/3uHvH3N