How to give an effective virtual presentation

Doing a dry run of your presentation is important, as is keeping the messaging clear and concise
by Bethan Rees

virtual presentation_1920

In a blog for Lifesize, a videoconferencing company, John Yarbrough says "it's tempting to think that the same rules that apply to in-person presentations would apply to virtual presentations as well", but they require different approaches.

Here are some tips to host virtual presentations effectively.

Timing is important

While presentation participants are sitting at home, there are many things that could potentially distract them, from children to pets, emails to instant messages. Yarbrough recommends keeping it "concise and straightforward" because of this, even for longer presentations, such as a webinar, in order to stay focused and on topic. He explains that the average attention span when listening to a presenter is between five and ten minutes, so in order to avoid "listener fatigue … you want to pack a punch".
"Make sure you only have what you need open on your desktop before starting the presentation"

In a Forbes article, Dana Brownlee echoes this and quotes professional speaker Rob Jolles, who explains that in virtual presentations 10 minutes feel like 20 minutes in real life. Jolles recommends developing a "communication shot clock" and limiting stories to 45–60 seconds "to keep the programme moving". Brownlee says part of keeping participants attention is "customising content to make it more digestible in a virtual setting" by, for example, stripping down presentation slides to just one or two key points, using more visuals and keeping comments to the most salient points.

Preparing your desktop

An inevitable part of virtual presentations is sharing screens, whether it's for the duration of the presentation or just a few moments. In the Lifesize blog, Yarbrough suggests making sure "that you have the content you want to present already prepared". He says that the "first few moments of your presentation are critical to establishing a connection with the audience", and adds that the audience doesn't want to see a speaker trying to find the content to present, a messy desktop or personal information. So, make sure you only have what you need open on your desktop before starting the presentation to save any embarrassment and to keep things running efficiently.

Engaging the audience

Calling on the audience to participate is a good way to keep the presentation engaging. In a Harvard Business Review article, leadership coach Gia Storms advises giving the audience an "early heads-up" that they will be invited to participate. "This will help people stay attentive and poised to participate, and it will minimise their likelihood of multitasking or checking out". You could also ask a few select people to contribute prior to the presentation, Storms adds, and call on them early on.

She says that when you ask a question, you should allow time for an answer and "wait confidently for someone to answer, rather than automatically interpreting silence as a lack of engagement". She explains that it can take longer to digest information virtually, so recommends using "those extra seconds as an opportunity to listen deeply before asking a follow-up question or calling on a volunteer".
"A dry run is essential so that you're comfortable with the platform features"

In another Forbes article, organisational and leadership development consultant Mary Abbajay says you should engage the audience "as if you were doing an in-person presentation". For example, incorporate chats, use polls and utilise the raised hand features. She also recommends interacting with the audience by name, using the participants list.

Do a dry runFail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the adage goes. In the Lifesize blog, Yarbrough recommends testing your microphone, screen sharing and camera before the presentation, allowing for ample time to rectify anything that isn't working properly.

In the second Forbes article, Abbajay says "nothing kills a presentation faster than a presenter who fumbles with the technology" and that a "dry run is essential so that you're comfortable with the platform features". In the first Forbes article, Brownlee agrees, and says a dry run is "absolutely necessary".  She continues: "There’s a difference between knowing that you’re going to run a poll after slide five and practising it so that you’ve got an example ready to share during the downtime while the audience is voting (to avoid that dreadful awkward silence)."

Setting – background and lighting

Abbajay also offers up advice on getting the lighting right and choosing an effective background for a virtual presentation. She says that "as a presenter, it is essential that people can see you well", and having a light in front of your face can help with this. While natural light is best, a lamp in front of your face can also help. She adds that you should use a background that "enhances your professional image and is aligned with your message". Or alternatively, make sure it is a clear background, free from the clutter that could be distracting.

Virtual presentations offer a lot of benefits for participants, but it’s necessary to do the groundwork beforehand to ensure it’s engaging and runs efficiently, avoiding any awkward silences.

Seen a blog, news story or discussion online that you think might interest CISI members? Email
Published: 15 Jan 2021
  • Soft Skills
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Career advice
  • soft skills
  • working from home
  • presentation
  • Covid-19
  • career development

No Comments

Sign in to leave a comment

Leave a comment