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Reclaim home court advantage for virtual presentations

Athletes who play on their home turf have an advantage. Whether court, field or ice, teams win more at home. 

Why? Some believe the advantage comes from athletes being able to follow their routines and play in familiar surroundings. Some give credit to the support of home-team fans. What it boils down to is this: The athletes are most comfortable at home.

If athletes are at their best at home, what about you?

As speakers, business leaders have a similar advantage presenting to their “home crowd.” Again, it’s all about comfort. When you’re comfortable giving a high-stakes presentation -- like a product launch, plenary conference session or shareholders meeting -- you get the feeling you’re “in the zone," just like an athlete in peak performance mode playing on home turf.

The recent shift to virtual presenting is a whole new ballgame for speakers. Pivoting from in-person events to virtual venues has many leaders feeling like they’ve lost the familiarity of the home advantage, even though they’re now literally at home. Ironic, isn’t it?

Sure, working from home and participating in remote meetings is a regular part of our work life today. But the ever-changing world of technology is rapidly innovating, and business leaders are finding there are nuances to delivering high-stakes presentations in digital environments. As a result, they’re feeling off their game. They’re uncomfortable. Sound familiar?

Get back in the game! You can recapture your home advantage -- while at home -- by applying my five key principles to help you achieve peak performance in this new game of virtual presentations.

5 key principles to gain the home advantage when presenting virtually

I recently coached leaders preparing for and delivering presentations in three different high-stakes virtual events: a shareholders meeting, an annual leadership forum and a global conference. (In fact, I’ve been coaching leaders for more than 30 years!)

Here are the five key principles we focused on—to help those leaders get comfortable, stay comfortable, and gain that all-important home advantage.

 

1. W.A.I.T.: Why Am I Talking? 

W.A.I.T. Ask yourself, “Why am I talking?” This valuable question is integral to in-person and remote presentation success alike. But in a virtual environment it’s mission-critical. Since you’re not able to see, physically shake hands, and emotionally connect with your audience before stepping up to speak, it’s essential to be clear about why you are talking, on this topic, at this time, and to this audience. Crystal clear. What you say needs to be compelling, engaging, and focused on what’s important to your listeners -- not just what you want to tell them. Get comfortable with your W.A.I.T. to build the foundation of your home advantage.

Key questions:

  • What’s the W.A.I.T. for your virtual presentation?
  • How will you measure the presentation’s success?

2. Practice is the price of proficiency

Practice is a must-do for every high-stakes presentation. In a digital environment, practice takes on a whole new meaning. Sure, your nerves kick in with in-person presentations, but you know the gig, you’re comfortable with the process. You know your job is to focus on messaging and delivery. You know how to advance your slides. You know where to look. And you can count on audience feedback that helps calm those jitters and energize your delivery. 

A winning virtual presentation requires the same focus on content and delivery -- and so much more! Why? Because when you present virtually, you just won’t be able to rely on the same supports and situations you’re used to. And when something’s new, it’s uncomfortable. So get comfortable. With practice.

As usual, you’ll need to practice your talk. I recommend you also practice with technology -- the virtual platform, the slides, the camera, the clicker -- so it becomes second nature. Then make friends with devices like your tripod, ring light, microphone, and teleprompter app, just to name a few. Don’t just take a test drive. Practice until you get it right. Then do it again. And again. 

Follow what top-performing athletes know: Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Finally, unlike during in-person events, production support and technical resources likely won’t be a glance or arm’s length away. Those resources may now require a text or IM to reach. Make sure you know how to perform in the clutch and give yourself that home advantage.

If all of this tech talk has you sweating, take a deep breath. Remember, this is all completely doable if you’ve practiced in advance, the right way. Think of your practice in layers:

  1. Practice your talk out loud, as you would for an in-person event, until you’re confident in your content and have mastered an engaging delivery.
    • My tip: Practice with family members, colleagues, or your coach over Zoom to get honest feedback about what resonates, what needs emphasis, and where you have work to do.
  2. Practice with the technology -- all of it -- until you’re comfortable you know what to do and how things work.
  3. Practice speaking to the camera. It may feel awkward to look at the camera, rather than at the faces on your screen. But when you do, your audience will feel like you’re looking at each one of them individually. Trust me, this is powerful. Think about the journalists, talk show hosts, and comedians you invite into your home every night. You want to create that same personal connection with your audience, and it takes practice.

My tip: Imagine your camera is your front door and you’re welcoming guests to your home for a dinner party. That will translate to a sincere smile and engaging eye contact—and not an averted gaze or a creepy intense stare. 

Key questions:

  • Who will you enroll as your practice partners?
  • What 3 steps will you take to ensure you’re ready to connect?

3. Balance face time and slide time

In a virtual presenting scenario, you need to rethink your slide support strategy. What will your virtual audience see? How will your slides and your face be displayed? When will your audience need face time, and when will it make sense to show slides? 

Finally, who controls the audience’s onscreen view, you or someone else? It’s a lot like broadcasting the big game: What’s important for your audience to see, and when?

The ratio of face time to slide time depends on your message. Balance content with context and connection. If you’re making an ask or an impassioned plea, for example, you want to be looking at your audience to communicate credibility and conviction. 

Consider the content of your slides and how it pairs with your talking points. Help your audience by giving them the time they need with complex slides. 

Or, if what you’re saying is the priority, focus on face time instead. When you’re comfortable with the balance between face time and slide time, you’ll achieve the home advantage.

My tip: Share your strategy with the virtual event organizers or production team, and map out when you should be talking directly to your audience and when to display visual supports.

Key questions:

  • When does your content deserve slide time? And when does your message deserve face time?
  • How will slides influence how you craft and deliver your message? How will your message influence how you create and display your slides?

4. “Glance and grab” wins

“Glance and grab” is the idea that you never want to compete with your slides for your audience’s attention. It applies to in-person and virtual events. If your audience would struggle, even a little bit, to decipher what’s on your slide, it needs to be simplified. Period. 

You want your audience to be able to glance at the slide, grab the idea and return to listening to you.

Of course, there’s a twist on the concept for virtual events. When considering slides for a virtual presentation, keep in mind your audience may be using different devices. Someone using a smartphone will have a very different experience than someone on a laptop. Make sure you create an engaging and informative experience for everyone, regardless of tech type.

Key questions:

  • With your message in your specific virtual arena, are slides a smart strategy? Will slides enhance the impact and takeaway, or will they distract?
  • Will your slides be effective on different devices?

5. Make a stand!

I mean this quite literally. In today’s Zoom-consumed world, sitting while presenting has become the default posture. Just say no! When delivering a high-stakes presentation, you need to step up your game and stand tall. The simple shift from sitting to standing unlocks energy and projects confidence and authority. 

And remember, standing doesn’t mean your feet are nailed to the floor. In fact, a modest shift from one hip to the other is completely natural, and can serve as a visual cue that you’re about to introduce something new. 

Standing also frees you to move your hands, arms and shoulders, which can be beneficial to communicating clearly, comfortably and authentically. You don’t stand stiff in front of an in-person audience, so you shouldn’t in a virtual setting, either.

My tip: Align your camera even with your eye line. If you have a standing desk or laptop stand, this will be easy to accomplish. If not, use a box or stack of books to raise your device. The goal is to be able to look straight into the camera, just as you’d look someone straight in the eye.

Key questions:

  • Will you need additional props to feel comfortable standing in front of the camera?
  • How do you look presenting standing up? Do you move too much or not enough?

6. Bonus: Expect the silence

Here’s a sixth bonus principle that surprised even me. Despite all your effort, your planning and your practice for this all-important, high-stakes virtual presentation, there’s one thing that may still catch you off guard: Deafening silence when you finish speaking. 

You won’t have the real-time feedback of in-person presentations, like smiles, nodding heads, facial expressions or applause. It’s just like those athletes playing today for cardboard home-team fans.

My clients have confided to me that the most jarring difference between in-person and virtual presentations is wrapping up their dynamic delivery to absolute silence -- the kind of quiet in which you can hear a pin drop. There’s no immediate feedback. No high-fives. No hands to shake. Nothing! It leaves many feeling a bit deflated.

To get more comfortable with the silence, seek feedback during and after the event. If there’s a social media feed during your presentation, encourage your audience to share their thoughts. Even emojis can offer feedback that indicates engagement and energizes your delivery. After you present, ask for feedback via a survey.

My tip: Ask selected colleagues to reach out to you following the presentation to offer their feedback and support.

Key questions:

  • What can I do to seek input and encouragement during my virtual presentation?
  • How can I seek feedback and support after my virtual presentation?

Presenting virtually is a game-changer. The struggle is real! Apply these principles to reclaim your home advantage.

Embrace the change, accept the challenge and get comfortable to ensure you master the nuances of virtual presenting and get “in the zone” for your next high-stakes presentation. And then, knock it out of the park!

 

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stakes presentations. She has over 30 years’ experience mentoring every level of professional, from newly minted executives up through the C-suite echelons and into the president’s cabinet.  Today she is a trusted consultant and speaker coach for companies ranging from early-stage start-up to Fortune 500. She has also developed a strong following at elite institutions such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as serving as a TEDx speaker coach.

Her first book, "Talk on Water:  Attaining the Mindset for Powerhouse Presentations," was a #1 Hot New Release in Business Communications on Amazon in 2018.  She is a regular contributor to SmartBrief, the leading digital publisher of targeted business news. Learn more at www.professionallyspeaking.net and www.professionallyspeakingblog.com.

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