Mastering Virtual Presentations
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Did you ever think you’d be doing more presentations virtually than in person? A few years ago, I don’t think anyone would have made that prediction. And although in person appearances will happen again to some degree, it is important to master the skills needed while presenting and communicating in a virtual or hybrid environment. Here is some advice from the experts:
- Mind the time. If you are providing a presentation with little or no audience interaction, do not go over 30 minutes. Based on research, the optimal length of a linear presentation, especially if it’s pre-recorded, is between 16 and 30 minutes. If you are engaging with the audience, or have a Q&A at the end, you can extend the time to 30 to 45 minutes. When the presentation is more of a group discussion, then up to 60 minutes is fine.
- Presenting vs. facilitating. When you are presenting you have control of the mic and when you are a facilitator you are passing the mic. As a facilitator you need to be skilled in collaboration and managing group dynamics which is more casual than formal presenting. If you are facilitating you need to balance audience interactions while minding the time and agenda. Both presenters and facilitators need to be empathetic to the audience needs.
- Asking your audience questions. To keep engagement high, you may want to ask some questions of your audience but this should be kept to a minimum. Sometimes you can simply ask participants to share a quick response like pushing a reaction button or by answering a poll question. You could also include a question on a slide to obtain responses. Save time for a final Q&A to clarify questions and accept new inquiries.
- Using the chat function. While some presenters love an active chat, others do not. As a presenter or facilitator, you will want to make it clear at the beginning of your presentation how you want participants to interact with you and each other. Questions can be accepted throughout, after certain sections, or at the end. Today’s audiences tend to be more vocal so giving them a means to share their feedback is important.
- Number of presenters. Consider the length of your presentation when determining how many people should be presenting. Typically, each person should have at least 15 minutes so if your presentation is 30 minutes, you could have two speakers either splitting the time or trading off. Make sure you have a smooth transition between speakers by practicing.
- Screen size considerations. In virtual presentations people watch on multiple kinds of devices from a phone or tablet to a laptop. In this case it’s often best to design your slides for the smallest device. Keep slides simple and make sure your fonts are big enough to be read (24-32 font size is accessible to most).
- Equipment recommendations. Most of us don’t have fancy technology so keep these tips in mind to achieve a professional look.
- Camera – Prop your laptop up on a box so the camera is at eye-level.
- Light – Position yourself in front of a window or desk lamp for natural front lighting. Don’t sit with a window or bright light behind you, or your face will be hard to see.
- Microphone – Use your built-in computer microphone or a wired headset. Bluetooth earbuds should be avoided if they are prone to cutting out.