Clear stage for your online presentation! What differences can you take into account to a live presentation to help your online presentation be well-remembered?
When presenting from home, you have new possibilities to create your virtual stage. You can stage your performance independently and amplify it with your most important instruments, body language and voice. You can use external media such as PowerPoint in a different way than you are used to. What both types of presentation have in common: Your audience is more likely to listen when you engage them actively.
Your performance on virtual stage
You always wanted to work in a tropical island paradise? Would you like to take part in video conferences showing palm trees waving on the sunny beach in the background? Like so many other people, I have been using Zoom software to communicate from my home office for the past few weeks. Online presentations make up a significant part of this. This is where you can show up against a variety of virtual backgrounds: The Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, between blades of grass, from space, in front of the North Pole light or in a stylishly furnished office. Without a doubt, the tropical island paradise and the sunrise in space are the big hits.
No matter in which virtual background you appear: I have seen several speakers whose arms or other body parts seem to disappear with the next slight movement. You can solve this problem by making sure you use a single color background that is well illuminated. If working without a virtual background, it is best to keep your room as tidy as possible. That way you do not distract your audience unnecessarily. What I see most often: crammed bookshelves (here I get curious about what books the speaker is reading), ironing boards and full-covered clothes-horse, bedroom, workshop with all kinds of junk, garden shed as well as photos and posters in different sizes. Without a doubt, a quiet background works best because the focus remains with the person.
Are you wearing clothes that contrast strongly with your natural or virtual background? Chequered, striped or other patterned shirts and sweaters flicker in the camera image and therefore make you look particularly restless. That is why I prefer plain colored clothes. How do you dress: Business, business casual or more in leisure-time style? It is the truth: I experienced an online participant who was dressed with a chic shirt on top, otherwise only wearing his underpants. This should not happen to you. Even if you can often see the upper body only: I always put on good shoes, too, so that even at home I feel like I am standing on a real stage.
In any case, think about your staging in advance: How do you want to affect your audience? How much do you reveal from your private surroundings? Have you eliminated potential background noise? Have you informed your roommates so that they do not accidentally appear in sound and vision to others during your online presence?
Once you have set up your stage, the next important aspect is how to make use of the area visible to your audience. To which areas will you move? How close are you standing behind the camera? How much of your body is visible? Do you present in a sitting position or do you prefer standing up? This is also part of your staging. When I moderate or talk, I prefer to stand up. I also improvise accordingly: the camera or camera lens always is at eye level. Accordingly, I place my laptop on a chair or pile of books on my desk.
Body language and voice are also important online
While facial expressions and gestures as well as your voice are already important in a live presentation, this applies all the more to your online performance. Since your audience can only capture this small section of you, your camera will have the effect of a burning glass. Your audience usually does not see your entire appearance as in the live presentation. Therefore the right camera setting is an important element while preparing your presentation.
Your facial expressions stand out especially when you are close to the camera: In most online presentations, I see the face and part of the speaker’s upper body. Only a few speakers show themselves with a full body shot – then of course the facial expressions are only minimally visible. As for all presentations, I recommend a genuine smile. If you are not already in the right mood, you can prepare yourself mentally for this. The easiest, but by far not the only technique here is to clench a pen between your teeth for about five minutes. Many people manage to put themselves in a good mood with a somewhat compulsive smile, and this is then transferred to your presentation.
Gestures, on the other hand, seem rather exaggerated online, so that a more subtle use is suitable here. Since your virtual stage is limited, expansive gestures such as wide arms are only visible when you stand further away from the camera. On the other hand, fast movements seem rather hectic online. Some cameras cannot capture fast movements, so your video is not fully transmitted and your image may even freeze temporarily. With regard to your preparation, you should practice with a video and subsequent analysis. Programs such as Zoom allow recordings even in their free version. Alternatively, you can also record and play the video on your smartphone.
You might as well play with distance: With quotes, messages and personal stories you get closer to the camera and look directly at your audience. On the other hand, if you are just about to prove a previously established thesis, you stand a little further away.
For your voice, what is important for a live performance is usually the same: voice volume and tempo, voice melody and pitch, emphasis and pauses color your speech and transport an essential part of your personality to your audience. It is even more important online to articulate yourself clearly, since your voice is always slightly distorted. Remember that video conferencing is challenging: Your audience tires more quickly, so you should reduce the pace of your presentation and deliberately include pauses. From personal experience, I recommend using an external microphone or headset. That way you can move more freely in front of the laptop and vary the distance without interrupting voice transmission. If you speak into a laptop integrated microphone, you depend on permanent proximity to it, at the same time limiting your range of movement for an interference-free transmission.
Online interaction with your audience
When using PowerPoint as a visual aid on real stage, you can create wonderful aha effects with meaningful photos and graphics. Conversely, excessive use of PowerPoint takes away much of your personal impact. As a speaker, you are constantly striving for audience attention. I therefore recommend to occasionally include black slides in your live presentation so that your audience follows you personally. This visibility is especially important if you are incorporating personal narratives, communicating key messages or making a direct call to action.
Online you should clarify in advance at which sections you switch to your slide presentation. Zoom allows for parallel viewing of both you and your slides. At this point, it is important to look into the camera lens to maintain direct eye contact with your audience. Alternatively, you can also embed slides in your background. This way you will remain in audience focus. However, you will have to decide about your position in order to keep the most important parts of your slides visible. So plan in advance how you will divide them.
You are certainly well prepared for questions and the discussion following your presentation: Expect all kinds of questions that might arise during or after your talk. Is there an online chat running on the side? Then double attention is required: Questions that suddenly pop up are not noticed by most speakers or distract them so much that their speaking flow and hence the structure is completely lost. You are on the safe side by answering all questions only after you have finished your presentation. This way you can focus entirely on your presentation at first. It is of great help if you – or the responsible moderator – ensure in advance that all participants are muted during the presentation. That way, no one will be embarrassed to listen to surprising and distracting background noises.
Ask a friend or colleague for assistance during your discussion: they can collect all arising questions, pre-structure them and hand them over to you in the appropriate section or at the end of your presentation.
Some participants may also switch off their video, thereby being invisible. If they address a question to you from off-screen, you still look directly into the camera. It is also possible that their Internet connection is too weak, i.e. their bandwidth is not sufficient to guarantee a perfect sound and image transmission.
It is especially interactive and motivating for the audience if you include online surveys in your presentation. Equipped with a corresponding app, you can ask pre-formulated questions to get a better idea of your audience’s opinion. Or you can allow open questions: as soon as the audience submits them, the answers become visible to everyone. It is important to address them: Some speakers ask their audience questions for the sake of interaction, but then fail to respond to the results. So keep this in mind and take the chance to discuss the results together. This is the best way to involve your audience in the content.
In summary, the last blog was about how to actively engage your audience in online speaking so that they resist distractions and listen to you carefully from start to finish. Here you learned how to perform on the virtual stage and how to keep in touch with your audience verbally and through body language. In the next blog, I will introduce the most important technical refinements to you, to ensure you are ideally positioned with regard to online presentations.
This post is also available in: German