Presenting with Impact During COVID-19

For many people, presenting in front of an audience is more terrifying than riding a roller coaster. The difference between riding a roller coaster and presenting to an audience is that you cannot close your eyes to avoid seeing what’s in front of you, nor can you scream aloud from the scene of terror you see in front of you. Keeping oneself poised and confident throughout the presentation is important to keep oneself engaged, and even more important is keeping the audience engaged throughout. Engaging the audience has become even more dynamic these days with COVID-19. Presentations are mostly virtual, some are practically conference calls over the internet, and for those who are presenting in a meeting room – wearing a surgical mask while presenting seems to have become a mandatory accessory. How can we present with confidence and make the impact to the audience with these dynamic presentation environments?

Situation #1 – The Webinar without a webcam

Most webinars are usually packed with information and have a 1-hour duration. For the audience, these webinars feel like an encyclopedia of content delivered in an eternal timeframe. I remember one webinar I attended – there were two presenters, and one of them fell asleep while listening to the other one present! While most webinars are filled with visual aids and one-directional speaking, presenters can make it more engaging. Technologies such as chat-boxes give some interaction with the audience, and some presenters ask the audiences to type in responses throughout the webinar. But there are other ways to keep the audience engaged:

[Tip: Tell the Story Behind the Picture ]

Too much text and information on slides distracts the audience to choose between reading and listening. Rather, use simple visual aids such as pictures or a simple written phrase. In the background, talk through those visual aids with anecdotes. Simple, short stories are the most engaging way to connect with audiences because these stories relate to their world. Speaking in their language and allowing them to understand how your content applies to their life allows them to visualize your presentation more vividly.

[Tip: Be the Rockstar Radio DJ ]

If you were driving and listening to the radio, with the radio DJ speaking in monotone – how long would it be before you switch radio stations? Using voice dynamics is important – and we all know we should do it… until we don’t do it! How can you ensure you use more modulation and intonation while presenting over a webinar? In your wordings, add emotional words into the sentences. For example, instead of saying “…this would impact sales results” Rather, say “Shockingly… this would impact sales results”. The emotional word in the sentence should trigger your voice to add the emotion behind the sentence’s words. Emotion is what drives voice dynamics. Remember – words without emotion, is meaningless.

Situation #2 – The Virtual Conference Meeting

There are so many virtual conference platforms these days that keeping up with them is almost impossible. What they all have in common is that they all allow you to show your face while sharing visual aids. Striking the balance between the amount of visual aids shown and webcam showing yourself is going to depend on the theme of your presentation. Nevertheless, while showing your face, how can you engage the audience? In this situation, eye contact is virtual and you are not really connecting with the audience while looking at their eyes on your screen. What’s one thing you can do to connect with the audience over a webcam?

[Tip: Show them what they should feel ]

Using your facial expressions and hand gestures, express the meaning and feeling behind the words you are presenting. If you have been on a lot of web conferences recently, you will notice that many presenters are seated with a shirt and tie and sitting steadily in front of a camera (and probably wearing shorts and sandals underneath) – and they speak and move like a university professor being asked to speak on a TV interview. No disrespect to university professors, I have had my share of those who were quite rigid and frigid in their presentation techniques. This is not university. You are not a professor. If you are able to – position your web conference equipment to be able to show yourself standing while speaking. While standing, your energy levels will be higher, your area of body movement will be larger and your voice would sound stronger. This is just human physiology. For myself, I usually stand with a flipchart behind me to be more dynamic. Having a flipchart instead of too many visual aids also makes it more engaging for the audience because you can interact with them while writing on the flipchart.

Situation #3 – Presenting with a Surgical Mask

In all my years of teaching presentation skills to doctors and specialists, I’ve never even seen a doctor present while wearing a surgical mask. With COVID-19, we are adding this accessory to our daily wardrobe, even while presenting in a professional environment. If you have ever tried to make a presentation while wearing a surgical mask, you will know that feeling short of breath happens when you try to project your voice. Moreover, the audience may not as easily be able to feel the emotion of your words without seeing your facial expressions. While being in the same room with others while presenting is almost a blessing nowadays, how can we use this opportunity to make the impact which we should be able to in-person?

[Tip: Look them in the eye]

Without being able to see your nose and mouth, looking them in the eye is going to matter more than ever. Using strong and sincere eye contact while delivering will show your confidence and eagerness to engage with the audience. While presenting, give the audience sufficient eye contact to show your sincerity. Usually, speaking through an entire sentence while making eye contact is sufficient. For those who are more energetic, switching eye contact to another person when pausing in the middle of a sentence, can increase the amount of audience members you connect with. When being asked a question after your presentation, replying with steady eye contact also conveys confidence and gives the feeling of trust. (In a previous blog, I touch upon how eye contact is universal in communications.)

[Tip: Speak with structure ]

Everything in life has a beginning, middle and an end. Presentations are no exceptions. During the beginning, give the audience a creative opening which captures their audience. Tell them a shocking fact, state a historical timeline of events, or paint a picture of a scene which they can relate to. Whatever you choose, make it related to the topic you are presenting on, and use it to give the audience a reason as to why they should pay attention to you. During the middle of the presentation, avoid sharing too much information which may lose the audience’s attention. Present key points and succinct information that supports the objective of your presentation. If you are unclear as to what kind of information that would be, when preparing your content, ask yourself why would the audience want to hear what you intend to say. At the ending of a presentation, the biggest mistake presenters make is they do not have a call-to-action – leaving the audience to wonder what change they should make after listening to your presentation. If the audience makes no change after your presentation, you wasted your effort, they wasted their time. The entire purpose of a presentation is to compel the audience to have a change – whether it be a better understanding of a subject or making a decision, there should be a change post your presentation. So let me ask you this – as a result of this article, what will you do differently to make an impact upon your next presentation audience?

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