It has been a year since the global pandemic took the world by storm and threw us unexpectedly into working in a virtual environment. There have been many adjustments we’ve all had to make as we transition to working from home in a shared space with roommates or spouses and even kids, with multiple Zoom meetings going at the same time. It’s confining, disruptive, loud, and even bizarre at times. News reporters have had to create make-shift sound studios in their closets, and many of us are using our beds and couches as our desks.
It hasn’t been all bad. There are benefits to being able to throw a load of laundry in between calls or maybe starting dinner earlier since you no longer have to commute from the office or pick up your kids from school, but make no mistake: Zoom fatigue is real. Many of us continue to struggle on how to present ourselves professionally in this virtual world.
In March, the Global Mentor Network (GMN) hosted a Ask a Mentor LIVE session with three leading public speaking experts. Our President and founder, Thuy Vu, seven-time Emmy award-winning journalist, moderated our session with two leading experts in public speaking, Gloria Cohn, an Executive Trainer at Grant and Associates, Susannah Baldwin, Leadership and Communication Coach.
They provided advice to our audience on best practices in speaking on virtual meetings and offered actionable advice you can use right now.
Here is a breakdown of the discussion:
Q. How do you keep your audience engaged after bouncing from one Zoom call to the next?
It’s best to start the meeting with a set agenda. There is an old formula that leaders have always used (virtual or not).
- Tell them what you are going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you told them
The audience will pay more attention if they know that this meeting is going to be efficient and is worthy of their time. Clarity and purpose are crucial to making your meeting or presentation run smoothly.
Some people toyed with asking a question to start the presentation, hoping it would inspire them to participate. The downfall is that many used open-ended questions, which often leads to no participation from your audience. Instead, use an icebreaker that includes a poll or a rhetorical question, or a provocative quote.
Q. What are the biggest mistakes people make when presenting?
Being unprepared. People often think that they can “wing it.” But winging your presentation shows because you will search for the right words and use many filler words (umms, uhs, ya’ know? etc.) and will ramble. Practice running through your presentation out loud and record it. It’s painful to listen to yourself speak, but that is why it is so important. You will hear yourself make mistakes, and you will be able to correct them before you present them live. If you don’t record yourself, Thuy spoke about how she will present it to her 13-year-old daughter to have a live audience.
We talked about the proper way to set up a meeting, but it is also essential to be clear and concise throughout your presentation and remember the 10% rule. Your audience will only remember 10% of what you said. So don’t make the mistake of keeping that buried at the bottom of your presentation. Tell them the conclusion or the main point up front, then dive into the details.
Q. Cameras on or off, and where do I look?
If you’re presenting to an audience, the recommendation is for cameras to be on. People want to keep their cameras off because they would like to instead catch up on email. Making them put their cameras on will keep them engaged. As a speaker, you should always have your camera on. If you have slides, do not read your slides (no death by PowerPoint), have a bulleted list of things you want to say. There should be one message per slide. Don’t overstuff your slides. A good exercise is to self-edit. Print out your slides, lay them on the floor, and see if there are slides that you can eliminate and speak to instead.
If your audience is looking like the old game show “Hollywood Squares,” you might be wondering where do I look? It is best to look straight into that little green light on your computer. It is awkward not to look at someone’s face when speaking, but looking into the camera allows your audience to feel like you’re talking to them. You can put a photo of someone that gives you an incredible feeling right near your camera to help you remember where to keep your eyes fixated.
Q. What about my background, and is it OK to use a virtual background?
Keep your background as simple as possible. Now that we have a preview into people’s habitats, it’s easy for our minds to wander about where they live and their hobbies. Don’t give your audience that opportunity. Keep your background clean and free of distractions. If you must use a virtual background, keep it simple. Some companies have provided employees branded backgrounds to use. Just do not pick the beach or somewhere else people would rather be than sitting in your meeting. Also, some backgrounds end up making your body parts disappear. If you gesticulate when they speak, your hands may go missing during your presentation with a virtual background. This is distracting to the audience. Be careful of using the filters that are available to you as well. We all had a chuckle about the recent mishap of the lawyer using the cat filter by accident. Remember, just because you’re virtual doesn’t mean you want to look less professional.
Q. What to wear?
Now that you’re working from home (WFH), we dress much more casually than we used to. Who wants to wear jeans when you can wear joggers, but you want to look professional if you’re presenting on a call. Ditch the wrinkled T-shirts and top knot and dress (from the waist-up at least) in what you would wear to the office. Avoid white as it can be too glaring for the camera and crazy prints, and don’t over-accessorize. Simple and professional. Remember to always dress for the role you want, not the role you have.
Q. How do I avoid looking like I have raccoon eyes?
Lighting and camera angle will improve your appearance on a virtual call. Keep your camera angle pointed down or staring straight ahead rather than pointing up. Suppose you’re using a laptop, place books under the laptop to help with the height. Having a suitable desk and a monitor can improve your camera angle. Sit up straight. Susannah recommends sitting on a barstool when presenting so you can avoid slumping into a comfy chair. Keeping upright even standing helps bring energy through the camera.
Lighting is also essential. If, throughout the day, your lighting changes, you can end up with raccoon eyes or looking like you are part of the witness protection program. Avoid this by investing in a $15 ring light. This is a little secret that TV journalists swear by. It will brighten your face and give you a less shadowed appearance.
For more tips on how you can improve your public speaking skills in a virtual world, catch the replay of our webinar and view our resources on how to up your career game on gmn.net