Some thoughts on presenting online

online presenting blue

Over the last few years, presenting during video conferences has become a new medium in the business world. The advantages of this technology lie first and foremost in its versatility and speed that make communication more flexible and cost-effective.
To the presenter the “online gap”, the physical absence of the audience during a presentation, poses a serious challenge. In this virtual environment extra care needs to be taken to connect to the listeners and keep their attention. It is much more difficult to perceive the listeners’ reactions, to “read” their body language on screen and to adapt to these signs like the presenter would be able to in a presentation with people present.

Dealing with different programs at the same time — in the business world PowerPoint (presenting) and Microsoft Teams (video conferencing) have become the established standards for online presenting — puts a further strain on the presenter’s concentration. Video conferencing software offers various options to display content as well as the presenter on screen. The presenter has to decide which option to choose at what point during the presentation in order to make the experience for the audience as lively and memorable as possible.

Ideally the presenter should talk standing up, with proper lighting and a good camera at eye level. Often this might not be possible because an extra camera is not available and the presenter has to do with the built-in camera of a laptop computer, presenting sitting on a desk in front of the computer.

Under such circumstances the laptop computer should be put on a stand so that its camera is elevated approximately to the presenter’s eye level. If a computer stand is not at hand a pile of books will do the trick. The presenter’s face should be properly lighted from the front (see illustration above), this may as well be daylight from a window. Back- and ceiling light should be avoided because it casts undesired shadows.

The presenter should look at the camera as often as possible. At moments when it is not absolutely necessary to show visuals on screen it might be appropriate to stop sharing the content in order for the presenter to appear bigger on screen. Varying different appearances makes the presentation more interesting for the listeners and helps keeping their attention. Question-and-answer sessions at the end of a presentation should always be done like this.

Presenting during a video conference is not a one-way street. Sometimes listeners neglect to turn on their cameras so that they cannot be seen by the audience or the presenter. As a presenter you should always ask all participants to turn on their cameras. It is only polite to show one’s face. This gives the presenter a chance to establish some interactivity and rapport with the audience. Since there are name tags attached to the listeners’s windows you can address them by name and make your talk more personal.

Whatever the setting of your presentation — real-life or virtual — the same rules of communication apply. In a virtual environment, visuals are given more prominence. The audience tends to focus mainly on the presentation slides. Visuals need to be crafted even more carefully. Different screen sizes need to be considered when preparing a presentation since we do not know what devices the listeners will use to watch. Make your visuals bigger, clearer, and present them in sequences. Take care to synchronize your talk properly to the visuals you show.

When presenting during a video conference, bridge the online gap and make your presentation as lively as possible!