Optimize Your Virtual Events

Videoconference technology has emerged as the savior of the pandemic era. In the midst of the disruption, if not near destruction, of numerous formerly multi-billion dollar industries, notably restaurant, hotel, wedding, airline and fitness, virtual communication has helped all of us to function and survive. I suspect we’ll all agree that face2face interaction is preferable, but videoconferencing has done an admirable job of helping us weather the storm.

Videoconferencing has greatly expanded online distance learning and allowed schools to continue educating students. Wedding planners are helping couples stage small ceremonies that allow potentially hundreds of guests to witness and virtually join the festivities. Fitness instructors and trainers are coaching their devotees via laptop webcams in living rooms and kitchens and ballet instructors are doing the same for their students.

Managers are holding video meetings for their teams. B2B sales professionals are introducing new products and services to prospects by way of video sales calls. Conference planners are scheduling and producing everything from panel discussions to district meetings. It’s all good, but it’s time to pay attention to videoconference production values and the viewer / participant experience. Things can go wrong and the program can go down in flames. As with face2face events, an action plan is needed to optimize your virtual event so that objectives will be realized.

Let’s start with the basic technical set-up. Virtual events are nearly always viewed on a small screen—tablet or laptop–and for that reason virtual event content planners, producers and speakers would be wise to think of television. Whatever the purpose of your program, be it a classroom lecture, B2B sales call, music lesson, or company meeting, content planners and producers should visualize a small screen perspective as their guide.

If the budget allows, hiring an event technology manager will be money well spent. Event tech managers will ensure that the sound, lights and background set are appropriate for the occasion. Placement of the laptop is integral to locating the most flattering camera angle for the speaker. Two or possibly three microphones may be used to adequately capture the speaker voices. Lighting is everything in show business and the event tech will position the lighting so that the set is neither too dim or too bright and speakers are not in shadows. The set background must also be considered. Having a bookcase in view is always a plus, as are a couple of healthy plants or modest floral arrangements. The company name and logo should also be visible, but its presence need not overwhelm.

Regarding the presenters, panel discussion participants are typically seated, whether all are in a room together and socially distanced or reporting in from remote locations. It is usually preferable for featured speakers to stand while delivering their presentation, since standing telegraphs energy and allows the speaker to use body language that is more communicative and engaging.

Next, think of shaping and delivering program content in a way that will connect with and hold the attention of its virtual audience. Psychologists have documented that virtual events tax our attention span because they’re literally difficult to watch for extended periods of time. Experienced producers of virtual events recommend building in some sort of a diversion about every 20 minutes, to keep everyone’s brain comfortable during the proceedings. Explore the options and learn to use the special features available on your videoconferencing platform. Polls, yes/no questions and small group chatrooms (breakouts) make the viewing experience more enjoyable for audience members. An event tech manager can be helpful with this process as well.

Pace the event content flow by breaking it down into 20 or so minute chunks and interspersing the text with interactive activities that draw in audience members and make them part of the show. Speakers and other performers have always used certain tactics to engage live audiences and now in the 21st century, speakers, event content planners and producers are discovering new, tech-based tactics to win over virtual audiences. It’s show business history in the making, folks.

Finally, there is the increasingly common hybrid classroom or special event to master, where part of the audience is live and the rest are viewing the proceedings virtually. Hybrid events pose a challenge, but they are not insurmountable. If it’s in the budget, renting or buying one or more big screens will create a more immersive and rewarding experience for both virtual viewers and the on-site audience. Interaction between face2face and virtual participants could create exciting possibilities. Q & A, simultaneous polls, contests and games can get them talking to each other as they watch the action happen live. Confer with your event tech manager and find out how to optimize the experience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Present With Pizzazz

In this column I have often urged those who want to establish themselves as experts in their chosen field to find speaking and teaching opportunities.  Getting out in front of an audience is a time-tested way to identify and impress potential clients and referral sources,  a good way to drum up business.  So maybe it’s time to review a few useful presentation techniques that will make you feel more confident and therefore more likely to pursue this strategy.

Keep it simple and tell a story

The best speakers know that the more complex the topic,  the more important to make it easy for the audience to understand.  Distill a complicated message into fewer words.  Include a personal anecdote or story that illustrates a key point you’re trying to make.  A story makes your presentation more compelling by placing the message into a context that is relevant to the audience.  A story paints a picture and helps the audience make sense of the topic.

You are the star

You are the speaker and the stage belongs to you.  Do not allow slides to upstage your talk.  How do you do that?  By not using your slides as a crutch.  By not posting your entire talk onto slides.  Avoid presenting a boat load of text-heavy slides that you read from,  instead of speaking to and connecting with those who came out for you.  

On your slides include important charts and graphs,  key statistics,  major talking points and relevant visuals that support and advance your message.  Practice your presentation often and get to know your material,  so you won’t be overly dependent on slides.

Engage and involve your audience

Most of all,  give the right talk.  Know what the audience expects you to address.  The person who schedules your talk can help you choose a topic and give you the heads-up re: big questions that audience members may want answered.  To keep your audience engaged,  pose a question or two at some point in your presentation.  Also,  be willing to answer questions as you go along and make your presentation more of a conversation with the audience.

We deliver

While good content is essential,  that alone will not win over an audience.  Body language and delivery also matter.  Audiences size up and judge a speaker within the first three minutes of a presentation.  Be sure to project confidence,  expertise,  good humor and approachability.  Smile,  make eye contact and use a pleasant,  yet authoritative,  tone of voice.  Show appropriate enthusiasm and passion for your subject matter.  Let the audience know that you like being up there speaking.  

How to get to Carnegie Hall

Practice and practice some more.  It takes a lot of work to make a presentation look effortless.  Skilled presenters give the impression that their clever ad libs and convincing responses to questions are all ex tempore,  but nothing could be further from the truth.  The fact is,  successful presentations are built on lots of preparation and rehearsal time: wordsmithing what may sound too complex or unclear,  deciding what text and visuals to include on slides,  how to integrate the slides with the talk,  anticipating questions and formulating good answers.  Read your talk out loud and record your voice,  to make sure that you pace your delivery appropriately.

An effective presentation should inform, educate and entertain.  Make that happen when you simplify your message and de-clutter your slides,  interact with the audience by asking and answering questions throughout your talk and practice a lot.  Hit your mark and the audience will regard you as an expert.  Mission accomplished.

Thanks for reading,

Kim