With more and more business being conducted over the internet, many companies are looking to use online presentations for marketing and business development activities. Yet, as a relatively new concept, there are fewer resources available for presenters wishing to improve their online presenting skills. Here we offer some tips on how to go about preparing and delivering an online presentation, from the initial planning stages to delivery.
Software and Technical
There are a lot of technicalities involved in conducting a presentation over the internet, and many decisions to be made regarding these. It is important to make the choices that are right for your particular presentation; and to be aware of the difficulties that could arise in this situation.
- The first question to be considered when preparing for an online presentation is whether the presentation is to be live, pre-recorded, or to be used for both? This decision affects the way you will conduct your presentation, and which hosting sites or software you will use. Both have their merits, and it depends on your target audience: for example, a presentation that is designed for use as a general marketing tool will need to be pre-recorded as a webcast, for viewers to peruse at their own leisure; whereas a sales presentation directed at a specific company will need to be live, to ensure the best chances of interactivity, and of closing the deal.
- Choose the right software. We have reviewed various online meeting software applications for hosting a presentation online, and have also conducted a slide sharing websites review. Consider the overall capabilities of each, but also how suited the software is to your individual purposes. Would it benefit you to use screen sharing software? Or to record the presentation as a PowerPoint file and send it remotely? Each has its benefits and limitations, and they should be taken into account.
- Is it worth asking your service provider to host and manage the event? For larger webinars, many providers tend to offer this for a fee. It can remove a lot of the stress and difficulties of organising such an event, especially if you are not familiar with the process.
- Check your animation. Hosting anything over the net tends to produce a small delay, but certain animations can look awful (if they function at all). On top of this, many slide sharing websites and programs do not support several common animations. Incorrectly functioning animation could distract and irritate your audience; which does not bode well for a successful presentation. Similarly, watch out for video – streaming a video live will not work well, especially if you are using screen sharing. Be prepared, and check that everything you are using works remotely beforehand.
- Remember Murphy’s Law: if it can go wrong, it will. Prepare for connectivity issues, incorrect access codes, and set up a live meeting ten minutes early. Ensure that everyone has the right details, and an alternative method of contacting you if they experience problems.
In any presentation, it is important to ensure that your message is sound. Every presentation has a purpose, and everything that is said should be focused on conveying this message. In a remote presentation, this is even more important. As an example, if you don’t think your prospects would ever agree a deal over the web, the focus in an online sales presentation might be to generate a face-to-face appointment.
- The first thing to do when beginning to write a presentation is to consider your audience. Even an anonymous audience can be understood in terms of personas. If you are inviting certain people to your presentation, ensure that everything is tailored specifically to them. If your presentation is being pre-recorded for anyone to find, think of the types of people you are hoping to get watching it. Will they appreciate a serious presentation, or a light-hearted one? Do you want your audience to be taught or persuaded (usually both)? There is always a question to be answered, and this should be your first point of call in considering your message.
- Simplicity is the key. The human brain can only hold a limited amount of information at any one time, and this is significantly reduced if attention spans are waning. In turn, too much information can reduce attention levels: it becomes a vicious circle. When aspects such as body language and eye contact do not come into the play, it can difficult to keep your audience engaged remotely. Audience members feel free to check their email and surf the web, and find it easier to drift off into their own thoughts. Don’t overload your audience: whittle your presentation down to its most important points, and they will find it much easier to pay attention, and to remember.
- Have a clear structure. Pre-recorded presentations are, by nature, linear; but presentations conducted live have the option of being interactive. Consider providing a (small) live audience with a list of possible topics, and asking them to choose those that they feel most relevant to them. You’ve instantly created respect, as they believe that you truly care about what they want; and you need not bore them with aspects they are not interested in.
- Use stories. This goes beyond using the familiar anecdote to get a few laughs before you plough into the heavy stuff: use the stories to tie into your material; to explain it; to keep it interesting; and to better enable your audience to remember. A more formal version of this is the corporate case study, but any story appropriate to the audience and relevant to the material can aid retention. A remote audience will struggle to listen to continuous patter: link it all together, and they will find it much easier to follow.
Without the physical presence of a presenter, it can be even more difficult to retain interest. If an audience has nothing to watch, they become more easily distracted by their surroundings. Not only are visual aids necessary, but they should animate in the correct places to draw the audience’s attention to the focus of the message.
- Again, the most important rule to follow here is that of simplicity. This is important in any presentation, but especially in one being conducted remotely, as attention is already more difficult to attain. If your slides have too much content, the audience will not know where to direct their attention. Keep them simple and reduce your text significantly. There should be a clear focus to each slide, and visual aids should support your points made, without distracting from them.
- In a remote presentation, everything needs to move faster to ensure that your audience stay focused. Keep your visuals moving: switch between images and diagrams, and make sure that every point builds. Leaving a static slide up for too long will encourage your audience to look elsewhere.
- Ensure that your most important points are emphasised. Use animation, such as a growth or colour change, to draw the audience’s attention to specific details. With the presenter unable to direct the audience to the right places with gestures, it is important to do so using effective slide design.
The most noticeable drawback in a web presentation is the lack of the presenter’s physical presence. Using eye contact to engage the audience, and being able to see whether they are paying attention, prove invaluable in face-to-face presentations. In a remote presentation it is important to engage your audience by other means, and to devise methods of checking that they are still following you.
- Ask questions. If you are conducting your presentation live, use polling facilities to gather feedback. If your presentation is pre-recorded, ask hypothetical questions, or pose challenges, designed to make the audience think. This method of including and involving your audience helps to bridge the gap between presenter and audience (however far in miles!).
- Emphasise important points with your tone of voice. Without body language to show your enthusiasm, it is important to exaggerate this. Similarly, pause for effect: it is a sure way to make your audience pick up their attention.
- Be careful with your use of humour. This can be risky in a normal presentation, but it can be even more difficult to convey a joke over the internet. Irony especially is less likely to work in this situation.
- In a live presentation, if your software allows it, the use of a pointer can be extremely useful. Use the meeting software pointer to gesture at parts of the screen when presenting, as this can translate across the internet.
Watch your timing. Don’t go over the attention span limit (20 minutes) unless absolutely necessary. Use soft breaks such as quiz questions, polls, Q&A, and changes of presenter to reset attention levels. In a remote presentation more than any other, this is important. Nobody likes sitting in front of a computer screen for too long, and minds will start to wander. If you do make your presentation that little bit longer, make sure it is really worthwhile.