Successfully Engage Your Audience Online
You’ve committed your precious time to a webinar. Perhaps the topic or presenter captured your interest. But 10 minutes into the session, you're checking your phone, thinking of your to-do list, or feeling frustrated because it looks like you won’t get what you’re hoping for from the session.
You aren’t engaged.
Online meetings and events take more intentional planning and delivery than in person sessions.. Every minute counts when you're online. As a host or presenter, there is a unique skill and energy level needed to deliver successful online events. Getting and sustaining engagement is critical to effective event communications.
My investment in developing skills to deliver presentations began four years ago. A trial session with a presentation coach showed me a blind spot. I had become “that” corporate presenter. You know the one: monotone voice, boring information and filler words like umm, aha and so. My colleagues had been experiencing it for years. No one had taken the time to tell me my presentation skills needed work.
It was Elissa Bernstein, Presentation Coach and co-owner of the Vox Method, who gave me the needed feedback. She showed me how I could become a better presenter. The higher ratings on session feedback surveys reflect that my clients notice my presentation skills.
Since the pandemic, the move to virtual meetings has increased dramatically, and introduced the need to hone in on additional skills. I’m working on my storytelling, slide content, sentence structure, energy levels, body language and letting my personality come through. I intently watch other presenters and study their techniques. I’ve experienced more bad presentations than I care to recall. I know the benefits of developing my presentation skills, so I’d like others to consider professional development as well.
I reached out to Elissa Bernstein once again to ask about her views on what’s happening today with event presenters. She begins by saying, “The first thing to remember is this: A presentation is a presentation of yourself. That’s so much harder online.”
Here are some additional tips from our conversation.
What are the key things to be aware of when trying to make a good impression on a video call?
First, we all tend to talk too much. And then we rush to try to get it all in. Be the rare person who listens more than they talk!
Another major issue: run-on sentences. The never-ending sentence that covers many ideas all connected with ‘and,’ ‘but,’ ‘so,’ etc. Instead, state one idea at a time. Then, take a little moment before your next idea. It will feel interminable at first. But you will sound more clear, invested and confident.
Don’t forget your voice. Even with a microphone, it’s important to speak up so you can access the expressive part of your voice.
Also, always start by asking questions or commenting on what was just said. Then you can veer into offering an opinion.
What’s the hardest part of connecting with a virtual audience and building trust virtually?
Connecting virtually is exhausting. We don’t get any energy off of the people on the screen.
The solution? Stop expecting the same feeling you get from a live audience. Instead, be self-generated. Be interested in what you’re saying. Even with a live audience, most speakers are under-energized. This is your opportunity to lift your game.
Practice in front of a blank computer screen and learn to generate the excitement. Like a YouTuber filming a video - just you and the camera.
Eye contact is essential if you want to connect to your audience and gain their trust. Remember, that webcam is where your audience is. We’re drawn to the people on the screen instead. It feels like eye contact to us. But it’s not for them. So look at the camera, at least for key moments.
Don’t underestimate the impact you can have through a webcam. We’ve all been inspired by great speakers we’ve seen on TV, or our computers. We’ve felt their passion, energy, and commitment right through the screen. Be that kind of speaker.
Why is it important to look engaged during video calls?
We feel removed from the people on the screen but, at the same time, everything is magnified. We’re in a close-up. It’s important to be conscious of facial expressions.
And as listeners, it’s a huge challenge to look engaged. We may think our expression is neutral. But we can actually appear disinterested.
So learn how to listen actively. Don’t just put on a fake smile. Instead, think: “how interesting” or “good point!” This will energize your face. Yes, it’s a bit of acting. But it’s nothing you wouldn’t do in a face-to-face conversation. You are presenting yourself and your professionalism. Make the right impression.
Active listening is also a great way to support the speaker. Facing a Zoom room of glum faces isn’t fun. We’ve all been there. Just having one engaged face is a real boost.
What impact can working with a presentation coach have?
I was preparing a speaker for a big event. He was extremely shy with a very monotone delivery. We didn't have a lot of coaching time, so I didn't have high expectations.
Well, what a transformation! He just got it. He applied every tool and every piece of advice I gave him.
He turned his generic material into compelling stories. He changed his writing from stuffy to conversational - even humorous. His delivery was strong and engaging. He ended up being the strongest presenter in the group, many of whom started way above him in level.
As they always say about star athletes: It's not about natural ability; it’s about the drive and ability to learn.
Who seeks out your help?
We get a range of experience and ability, including a lot of introverts, and a fair share of speakers with performance anxiety.
Introverts often worry that they don’t have the personality for public speaking. But that’s not true. A great speaker is one who can access their true selves, and introverts are actually good at this. There’s a lovely genuineness that comes across.
Extroverts are usually far more comfortable with the performance aspect of presentations. But they can also overdo it and lose their authenticity. It’s a fine balancing act.
What’s the one preparation routine that presenters still get wrong?
Not checking the technical set-up. It’s more complex now with online speaking, but this was already a big problem in face-to-face presentations.
You don’t want to end up as a cat.
Elissa’s Pro Tips
Cut your material WAY DOWN. Most speakers overload their audience and then rush, in order to get through it all.
Start your preparation early so you’ll have time to practice.
When writing, speak out loud and transcribe. Use conversational language.
Avoid run-on sentences.
Take a little pause before each sentence. This will control your pace.
Get invested in every idea.
Personalize your material. Tell us how you feel. Use storytelling elements.
Start by watching a recording of a recent presentation and do a self-assessment.
If you want to go further, get some professional feedback. Increase your polish and confidence. It will also be more fun - for you AND your audience!
You will give hundreds, maybe thousands of presentations in your career. Why not be great at it? Everyone has that potential.
If you want the professional’s opinion, reach out to Elissa for a complimentary assessment.
About Elissa Bernstein
Elissa helps presenters around the world transform the traditional corporate presentation into a memorable experience. She brings her unique brand of storytelling and her rich background as a lawyer, writer, singer and actor to provide a broad-based coaching experience that is transformative on both a personal and professional basis. Her great passion is in helping all speakers reach their true potential.
About the Author
Lisa W. Haydon is a high business acumen leader, credentialed sales professional, and executive coach. Lisa has led teams and clients in industries such as banking, commercial lending, capital markets, technology, consulting, and professional services. Her hands-on experience in executing change and growth mandates enhances client results. She is known for delivering transformational results with diagnostic tools, consulting and coaching.
Lisa is the founder of Pivotal Coaching, which specializes in sales effectiveness and leadership development services for companies optimistic and ambitious about growth. More information is available on the Pivotal Coaching website. For more on its proprietary diagnostic tool, visit our services page.