Tips and Tricks For Successful Online Presentations
Online vs. Offline Presentations
The Battle For Attention
Some speakers believe they can deliver an online presentation as they would a live presentation. They use the same structure, the same slides and probably speak as in a live presentation—loudly and forcefully. But the context of an online presentation clearly differs from that of a live presentation.
To be effective, you need to be aware of those differences and adapt your presentation delivery. Let’s look at the differences and what you can learn from them.
Online presentations are different from live presentations. A physical room connects people and creates a group feeling. That also needs to be achieved during an online presentation.
In contrast to live presentations, the distraction factor in online presentations is several times higher. During a live presentation, all of the audience sit in the same room. The setting connects people; they feel like a group. It would be embarrassing for a participant if, for example, their mobile phone rings during the session. Most participants try to listen attentively. After all, they’ve made the effort to join in (which might have involved travelling to the meeting venue) and now want to take maximum advantage of the event. There are usually very few distracting factors in the meeting room, like ambient noise.
However, during online presentations there may be countless distractions, e.g. a colleague asks a question, your stomach is growling, you need to go to the bathroom, several applications are open on your desktop, you receive an e-mail, a reminder appears, a new message pops up, the phone rings, the postman delivers a package... and much more. Since participants in the office or at home aren’t under observation and there’s no “peer pressure”, they can allow themselves to get distracted very easily. Simply observe your own thoughts and behaviour during an online presentation.
Notice when your attention wanders during an online presentation. These distractions usually occur because your brain and body aren’t challenged enough.
Interestingly, this phenomenon is even observed during smaller online meetings when the participants’ cameras are activated. Even when a webcam is trained on us, we still feel less visible than we would if another person were in the room.
As speaker, you therefore need to make your online presentation so stimulating and interactive that most viewers will give you their undivided attention instead of drifting off.
To be effective, online presentations require a different structure, a different design and different body language than live presentations.
A further challenge that a speaker needs to confront during an online presentation is the lack of eye contact. During a webinar, you usually can’t see the participants. You lack the feedback of body language, not unlike a radio or television broadcast. You speak at your computer, so don’t perceive the physical reaction on the opposite side. This means you’re missing an information channel that has evolved over millions of years of human history—one that has been constantly refined. During a live presentation this visual information channel constitutes an essential component of successful communication. You therefore need to guess or sense participants’ reception. You may know from your experiences with live presentations just how various topics and elements of your presentation come across. However, in your online presentations it’s better to solicit feedback via the chat function or polls in order to gauge the mood and create a sense of community.
During online presentations speakers have to compensate for the lack of eye contact through interaction and experience gained in live presentations.
Another challenge is the technology. Are the microphone and the webcam working? Is the Internet connection stable? How do you manage the software for the online presentation? What functions are available? You need time to properly prepare your presentation. In any case, you should have a backup computer available that you can use in case of technical difficulties. Rehearse your presentation together with a co-presenter before going live. Should technical difficulties crop up during your online presentation, your co-moderator can bridge the gap while you’re switching over to your backup system.
Four challenges you need to address:
Controlling group cohesion via interactions (chat)
Compensating through experience and interaction for lack of eye contact
Reducing distractions for participants by ensuring your presentation has a gripping structure, compelling content and an engaging design, as well as focusing on your voice
Avoiding technical problems through proper preparation
The distraction factor is a big problem in online presentations. You can captivate audiences with brilliant rhetoric and by making the structure of the presentation exciting.
Let’s look at how you can structure an ideal presentation.
When drafting your presentation, allow yourself to be guided by the following three factors in particular:
Plan a joint effort: engage a subject matter expert as speaker, assisted by a second person familiar with the technology. Or host a web “chat show” with an interviewer and experts.
The expert can then use slides to visually and vividly answer questions from the audience. It’s helpful if the questions are moderated in advance. When creating the registration with modern webinar tools, such as GoToWebinar, you can define a free text field in which interested parties can enter questions about the topic at hand.interested parties can enter questions about the topic at hand.
To what end?
What is the objective of your presentation? What do you want to achieve? Persuasion, education, motivation or lead generation for marketing and sales? Determine what you really need to get out of it.
Who’s the target audience? In my “Presentation Booster Method”, I classify the participants with the aid of a motive chart which I’ve developed. It represents what drives people, what they’re looking for, what interests them. I distinguish four types of participants: red, yellow, green and blue. The four types of participants have different mentalities and expect different forms of content. More on this later.
Once you‘ve determined the three primary factors, develop your structure, for example, as follows:
Important: When you begin your presentation, motivate your participants to listen attentively.
Focus particularly on motivation at the beginning of your presentation. Generate curiosity. Use motives from the aforementioned motive chart. Begin with a strong introduction: “I will be showing you how you can save money in X department.” This appeals, for example, to the discipline type participant in the blue field of the motive chart. If you’d rather appeal more to the yellow stimulant types, begin the presentation with “I’m going to show you how you can make your presentation more innovative.”
The stimulant type you want to address depends, of course, on your line and nature of business. For a tea producer you’ll most likely find the right motive in the green field of the motive chart. In this case, harmony, poetry and nature are images that often arouse emotions in interested parties. On the other hand, for those in the insurance industry, you’d primarily apply the motives from the blue field.
In order to maintain a high attention level during your online presentation, plan to include interactions. These can include:
Ask open-ended questions that your participants can then answer using the chat function and also allow participants to ask questions during the presentation, again via the chat function. Your co-moderator (if you have one) can then answer them during your presentation.
Ask questions - estimates, general knowledge or attitudes - and provide multiple choices of response. Polls not only generate a buzz among your audience, but you also obtain insight into your webinar participants’ preferences and priorities. Quiz: Have your participants answer multiple- choice questions, like the popular television quiz show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Sharing the Microphone/Webcam
Give individual participants the opportunity to get involved. Webinar tools such as oToWebinar allow you to not only share the microphone with participants so that they are heard by the entire audience, but you can also display the participant’s webcam transmission (if they’re agreeable to appearing on screen). Involving participants via audio and video transmission requires technical know-how. Therefore, make sure when choosing your webinar tools that your participants can participate in your webinar by phone or computer and VoIP.
Use virtual drawing tools to visualise ideas and emphasise key points in your presentation. Tell your story through images and also offer your participants the opportunity to draw something on the screen.
You should allow for interactions about every ten minutes. Address a maximum of three points in the main body of your presentation. They could be three solutions, three sides of an argument or three examples.
Summarise the main points again at the end of your presentation. Clearly bring home your core message again and call on the participants to undertake a specific action, depending on what you expect of them. For example, during a sales presentation: “Take advantage of the webinar offer now for a special price”, or during project presentations: “If you have any further questions, you can direct them to me when I’m finished.”
Visualisation should be varied. This helps the participants to better retain information and to follow the subject matter more closely throughout the presentation. One trick to master is to let your slides work for themselves while you only marginally comment on them. Don‘t describe what‘s on the slide - simply reference it so that participants are forced to look at the slide in order to follow you.
If you begin explaining the slides - “Here you can see point A, point B, etc.” - your participants will quickly become bored. So use transitions that reveal the contents bit by bit or use several slides that build on one another, and tell the participants something that’s new to them.
However, if you use a slide format that most participants are familiar with, don’t use animations or cascaded slides; get straight to the point. This is always the case when you display a well-known flow chart, project plan or the like. The slide then merely serves as a reiteration and doesn’t need to be explained.
The Differences Between Live and Online Presentations:
Offline (live on site)
All your options are open
Internet bandwidth is a limiting factor.
Number of Slides
Offline (live on site)
The speaker is the main focus and the slides offer helpful support.
Use more slides to maintain the participants' attention.
Offline (live on site)
Less is more when your audience is looking at a projection of your slides.
The audience is looking at a screen directly in front of them.
Offline (live on site)
Recommended: at least 20 pt
Since users can directly change the display size on the screen, you can reduce the font size to 14 pt.
Offline (live on site)
Some limitations. It's important to make sure all colours are accurately displayed.
Modern monitors have high contrast. This means that you're completely free in designing full colour slides. Participants will see them as you do.
You can create eye-catching graphics quickly in Microsoft PowerPoint with SmartArt. Your images should have a minimum resolution of 960x720 pixels. Images are available in many archives, for example, Fotolia, iStockphoto, FlickR, Wikipedia, Getty Images, MEV, Shutterstock or Pixelio.
One of the most important personal performance factors for online presentations is the voice. A pleasant and melodious voice that listeners can easily understand is most effective—and this can be achieved with practice.
Vocal coaches confirm that clarity of voice is far more important than volume. Volume is very useful when delivering presentations in large rooms. However, in an online presentation, it’s more important that your voice is clear and understandable.
Three effective voice exercises for online presentations:
- Get a wine cork and clamp one end of it between your teeth to loosely hold it in your mouth.
- Now speak so that your tongue doesn’t touch the cork. For example, read the alphabet aloud.
- Put the cork aside and repeat the alphabet.
Vowel exercise (from Michael Rossié, former actor and now presentation coach)
- Take a word, e.g. “authenticity”.
- Replace all its vowels with just one vowel, e.g., iithinticiti, aathantacata, and write down the new word.
- Say the word several times with the vowel variants.
- Practise tongue twisters, e.g. “The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.”
- You can find further examples under http://www.engvid.com/english-resource/50-tongue-twisters-improve-pronunciation/.
Live and online presentations differ in several respects. For example, Participants in online presentations are distracted very quickly and you have no direct eye contact with them. If you wish to conduct an effective presentation, you should therefore observe the following points:
- Develop an exciting presentation. Engage your participants at the beginning of your presentation and motivate them to listen further. Allow for interactions about once every 10 minutes, e.g. chat, polling, etc. Structure your presentation in three parts: introduction, body and conclusion. Address three points in the main body. Your core message and a call to action should follow in the conclusion.
- Diversify your slides. You may also use more slides and even animated builds to create a sense of anticipation. Use pictures and graphics to leave a lasting visual impression.
- Train your voice. Clarity is more important than volume. Practise the cork, vowel and tongue twister exercises.
- Take whatever time you need in advance of your presentation to verify that all technical tools are functioning properly. During an online presentation, a co-host should operate the online platform and answer questions so that you can fully concentrate on your presentation.
I wish you much success with your presentation. I’m available for any questions, ideas and comments you may have.