Presenting online is still presenting

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Feb 22 2021 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

If I were to describe the following scenario to you, how would you react? “You are going to be speaking for an hour or so. You ask the audience to hold all their questions to the end, not to speak to either you or each other, and you are not going to look at them much either. How long would it be before their eyes glaze over and they are either playing with their phones, or wishing they were?”

The answer, of course, is that five minutes in you’d have probably lost them. So why do those leading webinars, webmeetings and virtual training present in what we know is the least effective manner possible?

In a standard presentation, a good speaker relates to the audience, draws them in, and checks her assumptions with facial expressions, body language and active questioning. Online, it’s “sit down, shut up, let me get this done and then we’ll talk.”

There are a couple of reasons that good presenters become far less effective in a virtual environment:

The technology makes us uncomfortable. When we are in a familiar setting, our brains relax and let us go with the flow. When we are worried about which button to push, or if people can see and hear us well, we are far less focused on delivering a good presentation. Very often this discomfort leads us to minimizing the use of the tools… not allowing chat or webcams, and going into lecture mode just so we can get it over with…. All at the expense of our effectiveness.

We aren’t getting feedback from the audience, and don’t know how to get it. In a standard meeting or talk, you are getting a lot of visual input. The audience smiles, nods, or looks confused, and we can respond accordingly. We hear them laugh at our jokes, or whisper to each other and you can answer any questions in the moment.

But online it often feels like we’re speaking into the void. By disallowing people to chat, or muting their microphones as a matter of course, we’re already limiting ways to get input. If we don’t utilize tools like polling, the white board and chat, we are cutting out some of the few ways of getting that input.

The most important way to get the feedback we need? Ask for it. Stop talking, pause, and solicit input by either allowing questions, asking questions of your own or just giving people a chance to process what you’ve shared.

More is not more. When we aren’t sure if the audience understands us, or we won’t get a chance to test their understanding, we tend to pile on the data in hopes of helping them “get it.” IN fact, the more data and information you provide, the more likely it is you’ll overwhelm them or bore them to death because you can’t see the horror on their faces. Don’t overload your audience. If you find yourself saying, “oh by the way,” a lot…. It’s probably irrelevant.

Your voice and body language still matter. This point is often lost on new virtual presenters. Even if they can’t see you, your body language, volume and other traditional presentation skills come across to your audience. If you are slouched over, speaking in a monotone or (heaven forbid) reading your script, your audience will tune you out quickly.

So here is the simple, irrefutable truth about presenting online. It’s more like a traditional presentation than not. The relationship with the audience remains the same, although the way you will interact and gather feedback is very different. Learn the tool, practice and be aware of the dynamics.

Remember, you have the responsibility of communicating to the audience. Do all you can to live up to that and you’d be surprised how effective these tools can be.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.