7 Presentation Tips for Speaking Online in a Virtual World

So much public speaking nowadays happens not out in public but right from your computer: you lead or participate in a Zoom meeting or you speak to a prospective client on Skype. These are both forms of presenting in our virtual world.

What possible snafus await you? After all, they can only see you from the waist up.

Here are 7 presentation tips for speaking online:

  1. Raise your computer. The most flattering angle for the camera to capture your face is from the same level or a little above your face. You don’t want your computer camera looking up at you – it’s not a flattering angle for most of us. Grab some books or a slim box (or use a laptop stand like the one pictured above) and put your computer on top of it until the camera is right across from your face.
     
  2. Imagine your audience. The first time I taught a webinar, I had a strange experience: I felt like I was talking to myself. Even though I could see these tiny squares of poorly-lit faces, I felt stiff and disconnected from my audience. So, the next time I taught a webinar, I tried something I learned as an actor: imagine that your best friend is sitting inside your computer (or inside the camera lens) and talk to her. I was warmer and more lively imagining a real person and my evaluations were much better the second time around – even though the material I presented was identical.
     
  3. Relax your face. If you’re teaching online and unfamiliar with the software, you may be looking at your screen with a worried or worse, panicked look on your face. This will only make participants feel worried and anxious too. So, practice with the software ahead of time or assign someone else to be your “technical director” so they can deal with any glitches. If you’re flying solo and something misfires, and you need to spend a moment searching your screen, keep your face relaxed, unknit your brow and put a pleasant Buddha smile on your lips – this will actually help you feel more relaxed too.
     
  4. Watch your background. What can people see behind you? Unmade bed? Not so great. Walk around your office or house and find a pleasant, not too distracting background.
     
  5. Adjust your lighting. The light source should come from in front of you. Avoid backlighting – which can make you look like a scary silhouette. My friend, the artist Miriam Schulman, uses a “Diva Ring” which is a light fixture that casts a soft, flattering light. I’ve never tried it, but when I’ve seen Miriam at the other end of a Zoom call, her lighting is beautiful.  
     
  6. Dress the part. Even though participants can usually only see you from the shoulders up, wear something that looks great on you from the waist up. In fact, the better you dress from head to toe, the better your posture will be and the better you’ll feel, in general. When you feel better, you’re a more relaxed and a more confident presenter.
     
  7. Watch your eyes. When you’re looking at the little black dot (the camera) at the top of your computer screen, your audience will feel like you’re looking at them. If you need to look elsewhere – like on your computer or on your actual desk to refer to your materials, that’s fine. Just make sure that every so often you look at the camera. As long as you check in with your audience from time to time, they will experience good eye contact from you.

What have you learned from either presenting online or participating in online forums? What has helped you be a better online presenter? What do you notice others doing that’s either a pet peeve or something you’d like to emulate? I’d like to hear. Please comment here: