Our Virtual Presentation Innovators have shown that they know how to deliver a compelling presentation from start to finish, which is why we reached out to some of them to answer some of the most frequently asked questions around virtual presenting. Read on for online presentation tips to help you find success on the virtual stage.
In this post, you’ll hear from some top experts and professionals who’ve mastered the art of virtual presentations:
- Dave McKeown helps leadership teams with their strategic growth goals, and will often use virtual presentations to walk teams through the planning process.
- Diana Chan is a career coach and job interview expert, and primarily uses virtual presentations in short tips videos, as well as on longer webinar trainings and her weekly live shows.
- Elena Valentine is the CEO of workplace media company Skill Scout Films, and uses virtual presentations in her webinars, conferences, and standalone videos.
- Jessica Chen is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and the founder and CEO of Soulcast Media. Virtual presentations play a big part in the corporate trainings she holds for groups ranging anywhere from 5 to 500 people.
- John Hall is the co-founder of Calendar, and is often booked as a virtual speaker for keynote speeches.
- Rich Mulholland is a global speaker and the founder of presentation firm Missing Link. He uses virtual presentations on both speaking gigs and webinars.
- Vanessa Van Edwards is a keynote speaker and Behavioral Investigator for Science of People, with more than 30 million views on her YouTube channel. She’ll often lead virtual presentations for both corporate clients and conferences.
The #1 virtual presentation tip
For Jessica, one of the biggest (and easiest) things you can do comes before you even create your presentation — create a proper home studio setup. “A good rule of thumb is just making sure that you’re two to three feet back from your camera,” she says. Lighting is also crucial, and even a cheap ring light can help: “Just turning the ring light on when you’re doing your presentation can make a world of difference,” she states.
John also stresses the need to be prepared, especially when it comes to the purpose of your content. “Really understand the goal of why you are presenting,” he says, noting that keeping the goal top of mind can make your presentation content feel more relevant and focused. “Sometimes I have a group that just wants to have fun,” he adds. “Other times, I have a group that wants to be very serious and tactical.”
But you can’t achieve your presentation’s goal if it feels disjointed, which brings us to Rich’s secret ingredient: a good segue. “My #1 tip to anyone delivering any kind of presentation is to know your next slide and set it up before you click to it,” says Rich.
For many of the Virtual Presentation Innovators, though, keeping your audience engaged is the key thing to focus on. Vanessa recommends changing “modes” every one to three minutes by switching visuals, telling a new story, or asking for feedback in the chat. “Listening to someone do the same thing, no matter how exciting, is just too hard on our attention-scattered brain,” she explains.
Your energy level as a presenter can also set the tone for the audience. “Operate at between 80 to 100 percent of your energy level and enthusiasm throughout most of the session,” Dave recommends. Diana seconds this: “Really show up with enthusiasm and excitement so that people can feel that positive vibe in you and get connected to you there.”
Elena adds that her top tip is something we already do every day: smile! “I’ve learned that smiling is contagious,” she says. “It changes my energy, and it absolutely changes the energy of my audience.”
What if you’re struggling to keep your audience engaged?
Having the right tools can go a long way in keeping your audience attentive and interested. Jessica points to Prezi Video as a game changer: “Every time I pull up a Prezi presentation, everyone is suddenly like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so interesting.’ Because now I’m part of the training. I’m part of the presentation.”
And when it comes down to it, that human interaction is at the heart of audience engagement. Elena emphasizes that you can’t think of yourself as the almighty “presenter” or “speaker,” but as more of a host of an experience. “When you host guests, you’re moving from place to place ensuring they feel welcome,” she says. “Create space in every chapter of your presentation to ask a question of the audience.”
“A big thing I do is I always check in. I ask questions,” says Diana, and John points out that this is especially important if the session is longer than 30 minutes. You’ll also want to be genuine and emotive, key components in our virtual presentation framework. “More and more of our presentations have become sterile,” Vanessa says. “Bring the emotion in.”
Balance is also key — you need to make your virtual presentation both verbally and visually interesting if you want your audience to stick around. “If you’re only verbally interesting, they will switch tabs and listen,” Rich explains. “But if you are only visually interesting, they will close tabs and leave.”
Be sure to not overlook your audience’s effort as well. “If someone has chosen to join your session, that’s a commitment that should be honored,” Dave says. Acknowledging your audience and providing some intention-setting questions at the beginning can ensure they don’t feel like they’re wasting their time.
Setting yourself up for success
Being prepared for your virtual presentation doesn’t necessarily mean memorizing everything. Diana suggests at least getting your opening and closing statements down, as those will form the first and last impressions that your audience takes away.
Rich argues that you should be rethinking the way you approach your entire presentation for virtual events, and emphasizes the importance of visuals. “In in-person events, I would think in slides,” he says. “Now I think in scenes.”
Once you start presenting, there are some easy things you can do to create a strong initial impression. Vanessa recommends giving a little space between you and the camera, and waving hello, nodding, or smiling as your first actions instead of asking, “Hey, can you see and hear me?” Get more tips from Vanessa on avoiding awkward starts:
But above all, don’t take yourself too seriously. “Get out of your head,” says Elena, who’s even started saving her Prezi Video bloopers while recording. “While it can be frustrating in the moment, it sure makes me laugh and calm down.”
On the virtual stage, body language becomes even more important due to the limited screen real estate you have to work with. “Body language sets the tone right from the start,” says John. “If you don’t come off as positive, engaged, and entertaining, people tend to have their eyes wander to something else on their computer screen.”
“I do all my virtual sessions standing up and find it adds to my own energy levels, helps with my train of thought, and ends up drawing the crowd in more,” says Dave.
Rich agrees: “Just stand and deliver! Use your hands naturally, lean in for effect, and step back when you want to show scale.”
“How you say what you say really matters,” adds Diana. “This is where the eye contact comes in. Your smile, your facial expression, your posture, the distance from your camera, and the height of your chair all have an impact on how people view your presentation.”
Beyond the nonverbal communication, you’ll want to inject anecdotes to keep your audience engaged. Elena likes to start with a story to immediately capture attention:
And if you know your audience well, try injecting some humor. “Many presenters think they can’t be funny virtually because they can’t hear the laughter,” Vanessa says, but echoing Elena’s advice earlier, she adds that it’s best to not take yourself too seriously. “My tip: Go for it…and laugh yourself.”
Avoiding tech issues and limitations
Tech issues are a virtual presenter’s nightmare, but there’s one issue in particular you should be prepared for. “People will forgive mediocre visuals,” says Elena. “They will not forgive bad audio.”
She suggests testing out your audio beforehand, and if you want to be extra prepared, you can even dial in on your phone at the same time (on mute), so if your audio gets cut off you can jump back in immediately.
For audio, Diana advises avoiding earbuds if possible, pointing out how wireless earbuds can make the sound muffled, and wired mics can produce scratchy sounds if you move around at all.
A common tech limitation that John sees a lot of people flag is the barrier they feel when talking to a screen, but he encourages a shift in perspective. “Rather than creating mental barriers, look at the positives,” he states. For example, you can create more personalized Q&A sessions now that you can see everyone’s names on the screen.
Ending your presentation with impact
After your virtual presentation, you’ll want to make sure your audience remembers your content. Dave likes to ask everyone to respond in the group chat with what they found most useful from the session. “This helps cement a key takeaway for them and instills value in their minds,” he explains.
Preparing something ahead of time can pay off as well. “I always explain to my host exactly how I will end and I ask them to start speaking the instant I finish,” Rich says. And after questions, he suggests asking for one last chance to provide a summary of your primary call to action. “You don’t want the last answer to be the last word.”
How you engage your audience after your presentation ends matters as well. Both Diana and Elena repurpose their presentations by splitting them into smaller clips to share on YouTube and social media. They also recommend including a clear CTA, whether that’s connecting with them on LinkedIn, signing up for a newsletter, or visiting a website.
Be sure to follow these online presentation tips before your next virtual event to stand out and capture your audience’s attention. For even more inspiration, check out videos from all of our Virtual Presentation Innovators!