online presentations

Because of the Corona Virus, lots of people are asking me for urgent help with their online presentations. I’ve split this post into too parts – general help about online presentations and how they’re different from in-the-room presentations and then some specific stuff about the “software de jour” to do that with – Zoom.

Some thoughts on how online presentations are different from live ones

Many of the things that are reasonably good things to do when you’re in a room with people should be done differently online – here are some tips to make the transition easier. I’m not pretending this is a comprehensive list, it’s just the first seven things that occurred to me when I was asked some advice. It’s based on experience, not research (so treat accordingly – although I have a shed-load of experience, of course 🙂 ). Feel free to pitch in!

Simon talking about presenting and where the camera feels like it goes
Simon talking about presenting and where the camera feels like it goes
  1. Be bigger. Screens etc on suck the energy out of your delivery (from the audience’s point of view) so to keep people engaged you need to work harder. It might feel weird of course, because there’s no audience to work with, just a camera, but you should absolutely go biiiiiiig
  2. Look at the camera. Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but so many of us (me included) have our attention dragged towards the part of the computer/phone/whatever that is moving – and funnily enough that’s the bit showing us. But from the audiences’ point of view, you’re not looking at them any more!
  3. Have more going on. With no “you and your personality” to keep people engaged, you need more to happen on your slides (or whatever). It’s perfectly okay to have one slide for as long as you need to when you’re live, but online that can mean that people lose focus and perhaps even try to multi-task. I’m not saying you should put in tons of animation for the sake of it, but when you’ve got an option to ‘have more happen’ take it (within reason! 🙂 )
  4. Find ways to make people pay ACTIVE attention. We all do it – we try and multitask – thinking we can both listen to a presentation and have our emails open in another tab on our browser. We can’t. It doesn’t stop us trying though… So when you present, try things like having key information only available visually on a slide. Don’t repeat it out loud, and make sure you tell people they need to read the screen, so that they’ve got to come back to you and your presentation
  5. Test the tech. Yes, yes, that’s obvious. Right? Right? So why do we not do it? Remember that your audience will associate your technical prowess with the value of your content, so if your technical abilities let you down, they start to wonder if your material is up to scratch too. Test things the day before, using the exact set-up that you’re going to be using for the online presentation itself and check how to do things like shift between screens. Then arrive early and check it on the day! 🙂
  6. Show your face… Yes really. Whenever you don’t need the slides, turn the slides off (and rehearse doing that – see the note above!). If your software allows you to be a small, floating head in the corner of the screen when you are showing slides… do that! Do whatever you can to be seen to be a real person
  7. Go somewhere sensible. Another obvious tip this one in some ways, but make sure you go somewhere with a fast WiFi upload speed (as well as download) and without background noise. Use a headset mic to make your voice clearer in comparison to the background sounds… and find somewhere without people walking past in the background, dogs barking, children rushing in…
  8. Downloads in advance, please. Some things are best looked at in good, old-fashioned paper. As a rule of thumb, if it’s tables or complicated diagrams your best bet is to give it to people in advance so they can print it. Yes, I know all about the environmental implications here, but there’s a trade-off about the presentation actually working. The research is very clear that people ‘think better’ with paper compared to screen.
  9. Don’t chalk and talk. Well, don’t just… You can (sometimes) get away with shoddy slides if you’re in the room, because people don’t want you to see them turning off and being rude, but online it’s different. One powerful way of keeping people engaged is to simply ask questions. That’s easier in the room than it is online but it can be done. Zoom, for example, allows you to include polls and quizzes in your presentation. (Recently I’ve been using software called Poll Everywhere which is much more powerful.). A quick-and-dirty way of doing things that works very well because of it’s fun-factor is just to ask participants to hold up coloured card to reflect their answers to questions. Do it when everyone can see everyone else’s face for added impact.
  10. Change your medium. Because of the technical challenges of online presentations there’s a tendency to only use one form of delivery – sticking to the one we get working most reliably. But that’s boring for audiences, so try to mix it up. In particular you should try and change medium when you change topic. This is a bit of a bigger issue, so I’ll talk about it in a bit more detail below.
Chalk - untreated presentation medium

Changing your presentation medium

Crudely, there are two big times when you should change medium

  • when you change topic, so that people get a fresh start and re-engage; and
  • when you can more closely match the medium to the message by using a different way of sharing things.

Let me give you an example of that last one to make it a bit more clear.

I recently did and online presentation for a group of social media consultants and one of the questions was about how to hold the audience’s attention if you presentation is a long one. I could have talked. I could have had a slide ready to go. What I did instead however, was share my screen and use a sketching app to draw a ‘hand-drawn’ graph of attention-vs-time. Because the question was about the passing of time, watching me draw it while I talked it gave a better feel for what I was talking about in a way that wouldn’t have happened if I’d had a slick powerpoint slide available.

drawing a graph freestyle in an online presentation

Off the top of my head, the different media I’ve used in recent online presentations includes:

  • just me as a talking head
  • videos I’d made and had loaded, ready to play
  • slide decks in Keynote and Powerpoint etc
  • using a whiteboard app on the computer
  • using my iPhone as a second camera to show my writing and drawing on paper on my desk
  • chatting in breakout rooms with semi-fixed questions to report back to the main group (and without!)
  • combinations of the above!

But before you do that, remember tip five above!

One of the most popular apps for getting started is Zoom. The free version is pretty powerful and the paid version is fantastic. Most of us are going to be starting out with the free version though, so that’s what I’m demo-ing here, in an impromptu series of videos without much planning and absolutely no editing! If you’re making a presentation from a Mac computer you’ve got more options, including the hugely powerful Ecamm Live, which is my personal favourite.

Scheduling your online presentation using Zoom – a few dirty tricks and Gotchas

I’m not making any claim that these videos are slick – just trying to be helpful quickly! 🙂

Getting started like that is pretty straight-forward. To be honest, using Zoom is relatively easy all ways around, but here’s another scratch video with a couple of dirty tricks to look better when you share you slides on your screen with other people.

Sharing your slides in online presentations

And that’s it! 🙂

Recording your presentations – a couple more gotchas!


One final video? Okay. How do you change the background when you’re making your presentations?

Oh, if you prefer, there’s a fun/quick summary video of those thoughts below.

There you go. As always, chip in if you have thoughts – there’s a lot more to it, but those should move you along nicely!

By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to our Remote Impact training. It’s the “proper” training for better presentations online – if you want to be something a bit better than “just about managing to turn the computer on” 🙂 And if you’ve been hit by the Covid19 crisis, we’ve got a bit of help for you in this blog, too!

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