By now, virtual presentations are a staple in the way many organizations conduct business. But just because most people are used to presenting online doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. The best virtual presentations require more than just appearing on screen or sharing content — to really connect with and persuade your audience, you need to establish credibility, build trust, and appeal to your audience’s emotions.
To help you improve the way you present online, we’ve created a virtual presentation framework. This framework serves as an online presentation guide to help you break down and make sense of the most common elements of successful online interactions. As you get more comfortable with all the elements, you’ll be able to use the framework as a digital toolbox of sorts, calling on the right skills at the right time.
It’s important to note that these segments are not mutually exclusive, but should work together. After all, you can be credible without earning trust, and you can be informative without eliciting any emotion. The best online presenters and speakers will apply the framework as a whole to both their content and delivery. Read on for a more detailed look at each segment in the virtual presentation framework.
Credibility is a measure of how qualified you are (or at least, how qualified you seem) to speak on your topic. Basically, do you look like you know what you’re doing? On virtual presentations, you’ll need to consider:
How you set up your space
It may seem like a minor detail next to everything else you have to do for your presentation, but your home studio setup can greatly impact audience perceptions. If your face is dimly lit or your audience can’t hear you, it’ll make your entire presentation feel less professional.
Position your light source in front of you (whether it’s a window or a lamp), and test out different microphones to find the one with the best audio quality. You’ll also want to avoid distracting your audience with busy backgrounds (though don’t be afraid to show more personality than a blank white wall!). Even small, inexpensive adjustments can make a big difference.
How you present yourself
Any online presentation guide will tell you that to deliver an engaging presentation, you’ll need to practice. While one of the benefits of virtual presentations is the ability to include presenter notes, you also don’t want to look like you’re reading the entire time. Practice speaking with confidence, paying particular attention to your pacing and volume, as well as cutting out filler words like “um” and “like.” Lorraine Lee, the Managing Editor here at Prezi, shares how standing while you present and projecting your voice can help:
How well you know your material
It can sometimes be painfully obvious when someone speaks on a topic they don’t actually know much about. If you’re giving a virtual presentation, it means you’ve had the time to prepare and pick your topic. Make sure you’re speaking to your subject matter expertise, whether it’s for a keynote, webinar, sales pitch, or just an internal presentation.
Richard Mulholland, a global speaker and founder of presentation agency Missing Link, highlights the benefits of finding your “area of authority” and then focusing the vast majority of your attention on that subject:
While trust may seem very similar to credibility, there’s a key difference: Credibility determines if your audience finds you qualified to speak about your topic, while trust determines whether they’ll actually believe what you say. To build trust with your audience on virtual presentations, you should:
Appear on the screen
Body language and facial cues are crucial in conveying meaning, which is why it’s necessary to appear on-screen if you want your audience to trust what you’re saying. This also applies to screen sharing — if your camera’s on, but nobody can see you, then you’re going to lose out on opportunities to connect with your audience.
Vanessa Van Edwards, a keynote speaker and Lead Investigator at Science of People, explains that hands act as “trust indicators.” That’s why you should use tools like Prezi Video to bring your content on-screen with you, so that you can show your content while still using hand gestures to keep your audience engaged. Watch Vanessa’s video to learn more and to see these principles in action:
Back up your claims
With enough practice, you can say anything with confidence, but empty promises and hyperbole will only erode your audience’s trust. Make sure you use trusted sources while researching, and present facts and data as necessary.
Respect your audience
Don’t forget that while you’re the one presenting, your audience is also investing their time and attention into your content. Make sure your content is tailored and relevant, and be mindful of sticking to your allotted time.
You may also want to consider employing a more conversational approach to your virtual presentation. In a remote sales pitch, for instance, you don’t have to go through all of your content from start to finish. Instead, find out what your buyer’s most interested in and only focus on those topics.
Appealing to emotions
Even if your content is well-researched and expertly presented, it ultimately won’t matter if your audience can’t remember any of it. Part of what makes content impactful and memorable is having it resonate on an emotional level. Be sure to include these elements in your virtual presentations:
Displaying a wall of text on the screen is only going to result in glazed eyes. Use visual communication to help your message resonate with your audience — whenever possible, replace text with images, videos, and charts.
In this webinar with Tiffani Bova, the Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, she uses both photos and designed graphics, as well as clever placement of her visuals, to support her message. In one instance, she illustrates the divide between sellers and buyers by putting photos on either side of her on the screen, creating a more visceral and memorable message than a bullet point:
Because you’re working with limited screen real estate on virtual presentations, you’ll need to work harder to keep your audience invested and engaged. That means you should avoid becoming a static talking head or hiding behind your screen share. Take advantage of Prezi Video to add some interactivity to your presentation by pointing at graphics you want to focus on or emphasizing your message with gestures.
Plus, there are currently a wealth of tools that can help you better connect with your audience. Take advantage of the chat, poll, and Q&A functions on your video conferencing tools, or use third-party apps like Slido to create impactful conversations.
Stories are still one of the best ways to connect with your audience — they can take complex ideas and recontextualize them in a way that feels relevant and evokes emotions. And, our brains are already wired for stories (which is why they make up two-thirds of our daily conversations).
Try starting your virtual presentation with a story or anecdote to capture your audience’s attention quickly. Elena Valentine, the CEO and co-founder of workplace media company Skill Scout Films, explains how stories and anecdotes can make you more seem more human instead of just “the expert,” and why that works in your favor:
Using the virtual presentation framework
This virtual presentation framework is by no means comprehensive, but it can serve as a useful guide to online presentations with all the elements that go into successful events and talks. As you start putting content together for your next presentation, refer to the framework to pinpoint areas that you’re still missing and start incorporating them.