Why would they? Presenting over video generally means speaking at your computer for however many minutes, anxiously wondering how your speech is going down while worrying whether your neck looks funny from the camera angle you’ve chosen.
That hardly sounds like a blast for you or for the audience. But according to communication coach and Georgetown University professor Sarah Gershman, it doesn’t have to be this way. You may never be able to bathe in the buzz of the room over Zoom, but on HBR recently Gershman said that it is possible to make presenting over video way less awkward. Here are her tips:
1. Use the chat feature.
In-person presentations often begin with a brief introduction and a round of hellos or applause. Then the speaker launches into what’s hopefully a strong opener.
How does the average Zoom presentation or webinar start? Fiddling with equipment and the speaker asking, “Can everyone hear me?” The whole thing feels awkward and impersonal from the get-go. The way to fix that, according to Gershman, is to recreate some of the interactive feeling of a normal presentation using the chat feature of your chosen video platform.
“You could begin with a relevant question and ask people to type the answer in the chat. For example, you might ask everyone to write one thing they hope to learn from the presentation,” she writes. “Make sure to read aloud at least some of the answers (and use first names if you can). When you engage the audience immediately, you feel as though people are listening, which raises your confidence for the rest of the presentation.”
2. Keep it conversational.
This might sound like an odd tip at first. The whole problem, after all, is that presenting over video makes it hard to get any sort of back-and-forth going between the speaker and the audience. But Gershman says that, despite the limitations of the tech, speakers should still show their awareness that there are real human beings out there listening.
“One way to simulate the back and forth nature of a conversation is to ask rhetorical questions throughout your presentation. For example, when you introduce a new idea, you might say, ‘Are you ready to try something new?’ Or, if you want people to notice something, you might say, ‘Do you see the shift from low to high on the chart?'” she suggests.
The conversation might be one-sided but these gestures can be enough to keep the audience engaged and the speaker from melting down with anxiety.
Some speaking tips are so fundamental they work in every format–they’re just even more important for video presentations. One of these is empathy.
One of TED curators’ top tips for speakers, for instance, is to remember everyone is on your side. The audience isn’t there to judge you. They’re there to learn from you, and it’s your job to serve them. The key to keeping your cool as a speaker, in other words, is to try to put yourself in the place of the audience.
Gershman believes empathy is especially important over Zoom. “Keep in mind that it is difficult and draining to listen to a virtual presentation,” she advises. “By empathizing with your virtual audience, you shift the focus away from yourself (and what others think of you), which relieves speaking anxiety. Empathizing also helps you design a presentation that best helps your audience and serves their needs.”
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