Best practices for visually engaging virtual presentations
You have mastered the art of creating an engaging slide deck for your in-person presentations, and now you’re ready to feel that same confidence with visuals for virtual presentations. While the same basic skills and principles apply, the key is learning how to use them in this new environment.
Fortunately, a few simple tweaks and attention to some nuances can take your virtual presentations from merely adequate to visually engaging.
Using visuals: Virtual vs. in-person
Remote presentations allow attendees anywhere in the world to participate live or watch the replay later. However, they also present unique challenges when it comes to connecting with the audience and delivering an engaging presentation.
When you’re physically in the same location as your participants, you are able to draw energy from a live audience. However, when you are talking to a monitor or staring at a camera, you don’t see smiles, nodding heads or other body language to indicate how your audience is responding to what you are saying.
As a result, your visual presence can “shrink” and, as a presenter, it is easy to default to being a disembodied voiceover to a parade of slides. But don’t let this new environment upend your success. Consider these tried-and-true tips for using slides to enhance -- not overshadow -- your message.
Tips for effective virtual visuals
1. Glance and grab
This is shorthand for a vital principle of communication: Your message should be clear and easy for your audience to grasp. That is, the audience should be able to glance at the slide, grab the key information and turn their attention to what you are saying.
Poorly designed visuals can compete with your message. But if you design visuals with “glance and grab” in mind, you are inviting the audience to engage in the conversation.
You can take the “glance and grab” strategy a step further by creating slides that are relevant, subordinate, visible and pictorial (remember the acronym RSVP):
- Relevant: Ensure that each slide is relevant to what you’re saying as you are saying it. The purpose of each slide should be obvious and necessary. Not relevant? Cut it out. There is no rule that says everything you say needs to be captured on a slide!
- Subordinate: Your slides are subordinate to you as the speaker. You are the headline act. If you find yourself saying, “I know you can’t read this, but” or “I know there is too much on this slide, but,” then your slide is distracting the audience rather than engaging them. Your words, not your slides, should carry the show.
- Visible: For in-person presentations, the rule of thumb is a minimum 30-point font. For virtual presentations, make sure your slides will be visible and readable on all types of devices (laptops, tablets, and phones). Check out how much pinching or spreading is required to view your visuals on a phone or tablet.
- Pictorial: To aid listener comprehension, make sure your slides are more visual than textual. Avoid paragraphs or long sentences. And if you can make the same point with a picture, use a picture. Reduce visual “noise” by avoiding bedazzled graphics, animations, or poorly applied transitions.
Hint: Stick to the basics. In addition to the risk of distracting your audience, the more complicated the graphic, the more likely you’ll experience slowdowns or choppy streaming.
3. Face time vs. slide time
When it comes to virtual presentations, consider balancing face time with slide time. The best mindset here is asking yourself: What’s important for my audience to see -- and when?
The ratio of face time to slide time depends on the purpose of your message. When credibility is critical, your face should be full screen, not a slide. For example, when you are making an offer at the end of a client presentation, face time allows your authenticity to shine through. Closing a deal, making a promise, during Q&A, and introducing a panel member are other times when you will want to have direct eye contact. Eye contact facilitates a connection with your audience and communicates integrity in your messaging.
Hint: Map out for yourself when you want to be talking directly to your audience and when to display visual support.
4. Now you see me, now you don’t!
For in-person presentations, when you want to direct listeners to look at you, versus a slide, one of my favorite hacks in PowerPoint is to click the letter “W” or “B” on the keyboard. Pressing W displays a white screen, while pressing B displays a black screen, and you can proceed with the conversation with all eyes on you. When ready, pressing the W or B key again resumes the slideshow.
The virtual version of this hack is not as elegant, but it’s just as effective and with practice, you can do it with ease. To do this in Zoom, continue speaking as you click the "stop share" button. This will bring your face full screen. Finish your thought, and when it is appropriate to return to the slide deck, simply click "share."
Admittedly, this feels awkward at first, so be sure to practice this transition to make it seamless. Avoid relieving your awkwardness by announcing “I am going to stop sharing now.” This is the equivalent of a stage actor announcing his or her entrance and exit each time, “the villain enters stage left.” Imagine how strange this would sound to the audience.
5. Next slide, please!
When presenting in person, there are times when someone else is tasked with advancing your slides. For example, when speaking at an in-person product launch, a business leader may be handed a “pickle,” a device that when “clicked” alerts someone behind the scenes to advance the slide. The same thing can happen virtually; however, to date, I haven’t discovered the “virtual” equivalent of the “pickle” tool.
Recently, when coaching 10 teams preparing to make a virtual presentation to their executive leadership team, I learned that all the slide decks would be consolidated into one file and someone would be assigned to advance the slides. The default solution, to say “next slide, please,” would distract from these career-defining presentations.
The solution: Use a private chat window to send a “prompt” -- as simple as a forward slash (“/”) -- to alert the person to advance the slide. This accomplishes the goal (without the distraction) and allows the speaker to stay focused and continue speaking.
In our digital world, high-powered speakers master the art of creating visually engaging virtual presentations. Your in-person skills, combined with these tips, will have remote audiences connected to and engaged with your presentation!
Stephanie Scotti is author of the bestselling book “Talk on Water: Attaining the Mindset for Powerhouse Presentations.” She has coached for every type of presentation from Fortune 500 CEO keynotes to TED Talks to multimillion-dollar sales pitches. Visit her website to learn more.