With the pandemic changing the structure of most industries, people are having to rethink ways of working—especially event professionals. One thing we’re all sure of is that the show must go on. This means there’ll be more events happening virtually, and chances are that you might be invited to speak at one of these events.
After Zachary Lipton, a machine learning researcher, posted a tweet on attending virtual job interviews, we realized that the dynamics of interacting with your virtual attendees are going to be very different from in-person attendees. But don’t worry—we have some quick tips to help you adapt to the new way of engaging with your virtual audience.
Get comfortable facing the camera
Unlike a regular in-person session, where you have to face the audience and grab their attention, virtual events mean you’ll be looking at the audience on a screen or sometimes just talking to a presentation in front of you, and most often you’ll be looking at yourself in the camera. The best thing to do while preparing for a virtual speech or a presentation is to practice in front of your camera and get comfortable. In the absence of visual feedback from your virtual attendees during a session, use a mirror to monitor yourself. Alternatively, you can record yourself on the camera when you practice and watch it back to identify any public speaking hurdles you might face.
Use good lighting
To connect with your attendees during a talk, they should be able to see you clearly. Keep your room well-lit. You might even rent some good lighting equipment. Make sure your face is visible and your expressions are clear. The lighting should be in front of you and not behind to avoid appearing in the silhouette. Ideally, the light should fall softly and evenly on your face, which means don’t light yourself from too far above or below, which could result in deep, harsh shadows. The ideal positioning would be to set the light in front of you and slightly off to one side or the other.
Most often than not, people resort to dressing in a casual way while working from home. However, our advice is to dress for the occasion. This will give you the feeling of actually speaking at an event and encourages your audience to take you seriously. Plus, who doesn’t like to see a pretty face? Make sure that you don’t dress in the same color as your background so that you don’t get lost in it.
Ensure that you’re heard
After setting everything else up, don’t forget to turn your mic on. Invest in a good microphone to cut down background noises and enhance voice quality. People generally don’t understand the impact your voice can create in a virtual session. If you can’t be heard, people will leave. Pick a place that’s quiet and away from kids, pets, or any noisy background. Also, be sure to test out your mic beforehand to work through any obvious technical difficulties.
Speak slow but be clear and energetic
Give your normal voice some extra energy. Add some spark while your attendees watch you talk. Start on a pleasant note like, “Hey everyone! It’s so great to get started and I’m glad that you’re all here.” Since your voice and the visuals on the screen are all that your attendees can see and hear, it’s okay to be slightly more enthusiastic.
Speak slowly so you sound authoritative and people understand what you say. Choose your words carefully and speak at a measured pace. Enunciate each word clearly to get your message across.
Keep your attendees engaged
Involve your attendees in your session to keep them interested. Ask questions and wait for people to answer. Matt Abrahams, a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer, says that to be better virtual communicators, the two most important factors we can leverage are prosodic behavior and vocal quality. Prosodic behaviors include actions such as turn-taking, interaction pacing, and listening.
In order to ensure equal participation in the session, Matt recommends three ways to show gratitude for your contributions:
Verbal acknowledgment: When your attendees add to the session, respond appropriately, and recognize their contribution. For instance, you can say, “Thank you for your input,” “That’s a good point,” or “That’s a great observation.”
Add feedback: Voicing your feedback on a particular discussion assures your audience that you’ve been listening to them and their input adds value to the session. For example, you can say, “In addition to what X said,” “To summarize what you’re saying…,” “Do you think there’s an angle Y to X’s discussion?”, and more.
Non-verbal acknowledgment: In the absence of physical presence, when your attendees interact or contribute to the conversation, use sounds of acknowledgment like hmm or uh-huh.
Use some additional support
Running the show on your own might be a bit of a hassle if you’re presenting and also answering questions. Get someone to help you with questions, comments, or any technical issues so you can focus on what you have to say. Having a moderator in a session ensures smooth transitions during breaks, after a session, and while running Q&A sessions. Ensure that you and the moderator both learn how to navigate the virtual tool that you’re using to run your sessions.
While public speaking is a skill that some of us ace, virtual speaking is a completely different ball game. Gauging your attendees’ reactions in a live session is more direct and understandable. However, speaking at virtual sessions is new and requires audio and visual feedback for seamless interaction. Essentially, the focus now shifts from capturing attention to activating captured attention, and new skills have to be developed to tackle these new challenges.
We hope these tips will be of some use while speaking at your next virtual conference. If you have spoken at a virtual event before or have any additional suggestions to create a great experience, let us know in the comments below.
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