How are remote presentations different from in-person ones, and how can you make the most of those differences?
Plan for different channels and attention levels
Unlike at in-person conferences, you don’t have a lot of control over how people experience your presentation. Some people will be connected to the phone conference, but won’t be able to view your slides. Some people will be part of the phone conference, but not the Web conference, so they’ll need to change slides themselves. Some people will read your slides in order to catch up on parts they missed. Some people will listen to the recording after your session. Some people will just read your slides.
As much as possible, plan your talk so that you can make the most of the different ways people will receive your message.
To accommodate people on the phone, do not rely too much on visual aids, and explain important points out loud. Indicate when you’re moving to the next slide. Include the slide number on all pages of your presentation.
To accommodate people who may drift in and out of your presentation, verbally and visually emphasize important points, repeating as necessary.
To accommodate people who are reviewing the slides or recording, write an article or blog post with a more coherent version of your presentation.
Build interactivity into your presentation
At first glance, remote presentations may seem less interactive than real-life ones. You can’t see body language, and it’s difficult for people to interrupt during a conference call. However, you can still build interactivity into your session, and you should. Here are some reasons why and some tips for doing so.
- Both real-life and virtual presentations benefit from the increased engagement and energy of interactivity. Your session is competing for attention against e-mail, instant messages, and other distractions, and interactivity gives your session an extra punch.
- You don’t have body language cues to tell when people are interested or bored, and it’s not as easy for people to interrupt with a question. Interactivity gives you a way to check the pulse. Ask questions, conduct polls, and get people to share their stories.
- Different opportunities for interaction open up with a remote presentation. You can ask people to share their thoughts and questions during the presentation instead of waiting for the end, and they can answer each other’s questions or discuss topics themselves, too. On some web-conferencing systems like Centra, you can even ask people to annotate the slides, or to break out into groups and discuss things there.
Don’t be afraid of a little silence on the line. What seems like an uncomfortablely long silence to you gives people time to think about what they want to say, and eventually pushes other people to say something.
When asking people to interact, I find that it’s often helpful to encourage people to use the text chat. That way, more people can share their thoughts without trying to figure out whose turn it is to speak, and this also brings in shyer people. If your phone or web conference allows people to raise their hands, you can use that to queue people for speaking as well.
As you become more comfortable with building interactivity into your remote presentations, you’ll find that you’ll learn as much from the participants as you share with them.
In a session called “Presentation Secrets of Comedians and Stage Performers to Keep Audience Attention” at last year’s IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, Barclay Brown shared a story about watching a presenter make the mistake of wrapping with “Thanks, you’ve
been a great audience.” He explained that although speakers might see themselves speaking to an audience, listeners think of themselves as individuals, not a group. Good speakers make that one-on-one connection even with hundreds or thousands of people in the room.
In a virtual presentation, the perception of being an individual is even stronger. Your audience members don’t see the other participants. Pay attention to the words you use so that you can make the most of that one-on-one connection. Use sentences like “Have you ever experienced this?” instead of “Has anyone here experienced this?” You can still summarize group results, but keep that one-on-one mindset as you go through the rest of your talk.
Provide next actions
Think of things people may want to learn more about or do after your presentation, and take advantage of the fact that most of your participants will already be on a computer. Give them a URL where they can find out more, take the first step, or even fill out a survey about the session.
Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me questions – I’ll come up with more tips that way. =)