It’s conference season, but not as you’ve known it. Gone are the lanyards, the swag bags, and the networking events. All conferences have gone online now, and are likely to increasingly do so in the future.
While attendees get to learn from the comfort of their own homes, the change definitely feels more complicated when you’re asked to speak — whether it’s a keynote, a solo presentation, or a panel. Speaking up and standing out on a stage is challenging enough, but how is it possible to engage an audience speaking in front of your laptop?
Success lies in rethinking your approach. What you need for a large conference stage is the toolkit of the stage performer — presence, projection, power, the great prop, and so on. Online conferences require a more subtle approach. You need to cultivate a different kind of presence. Think TV rather than theatre, because when you’re speaking to an online audience, you’re broadcasting.
The secret to online speaker success is simple: conveying credible passion. It’s what makes for the best broadcasters on TV and the best speakers online. Credibility comes in your preparation, your clarity of thinking, and your ease under pressure. Passion comes through the energy in your eyes, voice, and gestures.
These tips will help you access both your credibility and your passion in your video conference presentations:
Speakers don’t project credibility on camera by accident. They look relaxed and natural because they’ve done the work. This involves:
1. Getting the brief.
Research the event. Request a briefing call with the organizers. Find out what they recommend. Ask them about their audience. Ask if you can attend other speakers’ slots prior to yours, or watch the replay.
2. Showing up to serve, not to sell.
Pull together content that helps the audience with a problem they commonly have (your audience research will help you with this). Name the pain point, then offer actions based on your expertise that can help them overcome the problem. Give away your golden nuggets. All good speakers do. Be generous. Audiences love speakers who come to contribute and serve, rather than come to sell. And the paradox is that the speakers who serve often get the leads long after their presentation because the audience remembers how you made them feel, and they refer you.
Once you’ve got the core ideas in mind, map them. Distill the talk down to an introduction, three key ideas, and a wrap. Make some core signposts and then practice, practice, practice. And cut, cut, cut. When speaking online, time seems to go far faster and you’re able to cover less. Distill the ideas to their essence and know your sequence.
4. Ditching the slides.
Don’t drown your audience in slides — they become deadly if you have too many. It’s much better for the audience to see your face than to stare at your slides. Cut your slide deck down to the essentials, and bring your ideas alive through stories, metaphors, and props. The audience will remember a great story or a descriptive metaphor more than any slides.
Make sure you do a tech run through with the organizers. Take their advice on mics, headsets, greenscreens, etc. Also, do your own run-throughs to help yourself feel more relaxed. Try to learn your first few lines and your last few lines so that you begin and end with confidence. Otherwise, you don’t need to learn your presentation by heart — just know your main ideas and how to segue between them.
6. Looking the part.
Have a sense of the formality of the event and the industry, and dress appropriately. Make sure you feel and look pulled together. Don’t leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time to get ready and test-drive your look on camera. What works in real life and on camera is very different. Bright colours often work brilliantly. Patterns usually don’t.
Once you’ve done the prep to ensure you’re credibility, work on the passion. It matters massively on camera and is the key to charisma. Let’s face it: there’s a pretty low bar for online presentations. Most are simply dull. People with a sparkle in their eye and warmth in their voices stand out. Work to incorporate these tips:
1. Sit up — or stand up.
Posture matters. It exudes confidence. If you’re sitting, set your laptop on two thick books so that it’s at eye level. It will help align you with the camera angle and give your voice power. Better still, stand up. Standing will boost your voice and your presence. Invest in a laptop stand or repurpose home furniture — it’s up to you.
2. Eyes up.
Film actors know the importance of hitting their mark. Do the same. Test out the best position for your chair, standing desk, and laptop for the shot. If you have noted, make sure they’re level with the camera at the top of your screen so that your eyes don’t keep wandering down. Also, make sure you pin the square showing your face at the top of the screen so you don’t look down to check your performance.
3. Get grounded.
You want to seem as relaxed and grounded as possible. Feel your feet planted firmly on the floor and your sit bones on your chair if you’re sitting. It will help makes you feel safe when the pressure hits, which is crucial for staying calm.
4. Imagine you’re talking to an old friend.
Smile and show delight in seeing your audience. (Think talk show.) Keep that sense of warmth and ease as you chat. Keep your breathing relaxed and sending it low and wide into your torso. Come back to this sense of old friend and low wide breath in every pause.
5. Speak through the screen, not at it.
To give your energy extra topspin, find a spot outside the window that you can gently send voice and energy to. Even as your eyes look at the interviewer, your voice travels further. Also, use gestures to give you energy. When the hands move, your vocal tone varies, which allows you to sound passionate, enthusiastic, and engaging — a tall order when your audience is staring at a screen pinging with messages.
These skills that work for online conference presentations can also help you ace your online presentation at work. Perfect them now and they’ll help you step up for a new era of presenting online.