Why virtual presentations need an outline


Lately, I've been working with a lot of sales people and trainers who have to deliver online presentations and learning. One common question that pops up is: "why do I need an outline for virtual presentations when I don't use one when I'm face-to-face?"

I don't bother asking why they don't outline their "regular" presentations. First, it would just sound smug and nagging. Secondly, I know why: they are "unconsciously competent". They can organize and present their thoughts without giving it too much conscious thought. But for most of us, presenting online is different enough that we have to give it conscious thought - a lot of thought.

It's that having to think about it that makes new online presenters uncomfortable. If you've ever taken a golf lesson and become so hyper-aware of what you're doing that you become completely dysfunctional, you have experienced this feeling.

Here are some simple tips for creating a usable outline for your presentation:

1. Print out your PowerPoint slides and have them beside your computer, preferably in notes format so you can write all over them. Making bulleted notes, (as opposed to big blocks of text) will help you stay on track without reading to your audience. As old-school as it sounds, I do this every time I teach an online class.

2. Build conversation breaks and interaction into your presentation so you don't ramble uninterrupted for too long. One of the most common things that happens online and often doesn't in the "real world" is the tendency to ramble on and on without acknowledging or interacting with your audience. In a classroom or meeting you can see someone's eyes and body language. Do they have a question? Are they confused? Online you lack those signals and consequently keep talking until there's a reason to stop.

3. Have a "check-in" strategy in advance. There are plenty of tools for interacting in a web conference or webmeeting, but because we're often not comfortable we tend to ignore them. Build chat questions, polling and even just calling for a show of hands (most platforms have a "raise hand" button- just look for it) into your presentation.

These things happen spontaneously in traditional settings but when we're uncomfortable we tend to try and lessen the complexity of what we're doing, and the audience frequently goes passive.

The key takeaway here is that when something doesn't come naturally, we tend to do what's comfortable instead of what's most effective. It might mean being a lot more thoughtful and mindful of what we're doing than we normally are. That might not be a bad thing, but I don't want to sound like I'm nagging.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.

Older Comments

Hi Wayne,

I love your advice. It's very practical and checking in, as you mention, is vital as the speaker has to try ways that are often different to face to face presentations, when operating online.

I particularly liked the pragmatic piece of advice regarding the notes on PowerPoint handouts. Before this step though, an outline with a mindmap to plan what PowerPoints you're going to use, along with shows of hands etc, can help give a structured and engaging talk/discussion.

The irony of spontaneity holding hands with fluency is in the preparation.

Thanks again for your well-honed article.