How to have a strong presence during a virtual presentation

Whether it's for school or work, these are the tips you need to know to impress and engage your audience and get your message across.

I'm someone who's happiest word smithing written communication, but seemingly overnight, the pandemic forced us to embrace video meetings and presentations, which often require presenters to talk at the screen without seeing people's faces. Presenting normally was hard enough but now these added changes can make even the most comfortable, confident speakers miss a beat or two.


If the thought of public speaking terrifies you, you'r not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 73% of American adults have a fear of public speaking. That's less than the 20% of people who reported being scared of death, according to a Chapman University study.


With virtual work and communications primed to persist beyond the pandemic, it's worth learning how to present effectively and compellingly.


Here's what you should keep in mind when preparing for your next presentation.


1. Focus on breath and tone

During virtual presentations, people may not be looking at your face. In fact, they're probably not because they're looking at the visuals on the screen. This is a big deal because you no longer have body language the make you more expressive. Now, just like radio talkshow hosts, your voice, tone and inflection are your biggest assets to convey your message. Speak slowly and consider using pauses to dramatize and emphasize important parts of your presentation.


This might be the classically trained singer in me talking, but breath control is also key to good virtual presentations. Taking controlled, deep breaths from your abdomen, rather than your chest that results in raising your shoulders, allows you to speak more slowly and consistently. You'll also have enough breath support to lower your voice, just slightly, which has been correlated with increased persuasiveness.


Record yourself before you give the presentation and listen to it to make notes of what you should work on. You can even send it to a family member or friend to get their feedback.


2. Posture, posture posture!

In-person presentations give you the opportunity to stand, take up space and communicate with non-verbals in addition to what you're saying. While virtual presentations lack the standing element, posture is still important. Research shows that your posture not only affects how people perceive you, but also influences how you view yourself.


We've often ben told that standing up straight communicates confidence, even power, but it turns out that it also has the power to build up your self-confidence.


3. Look at the camera, not the screen.

This is far easier said than done, especially if you're presenting slides in presenter mode. It's also natural to look at people's eyes during a virtual meeting, but there's a problem with that. Unfortunately, if you look at your screen. rather than into your camera, people watching you speak feel as though you're not looking at them.


Like posture, eye contact makes people listening to your presentation feel more engaged and helps better communicate your key messages.


4. Minimize on-screen text.

We've all had to sit through a presentation with way to much text on screen. Poorly designed slides only showcase little thought put into how to best illustrate key points. Although you can spend hours perfecting your slides, you don't have to do that to have a presentation that looks great, refined and targeting.


Design elements like a color scheme, graphs and tables, high-resolution images, animation and using the rule of thirds can quickly elevate your slides. Additionally, you can utilize virtual trainings, like those found on LinkedIn to improve your design skills.


5. Rehearse, then do it again.

Knowing your content in truly the best way to be successful and persuasive. Plan what you're going to say for each slide and rehearse it.


I like to print my slides out in handout mode so there's three slides on each page with lines to write notes. Then I hand-write my script. Writing things by hand helps me retain information and memorize the content of my presentation far more quickly.


But, if this isn't your style, then there are plenty of other viable options. Presentation apps and platforms like PowerPoint, Canva and Google Slides have a space for slide notes that you can see in presentation mode. Or, you can write notes on note cards, or even type up talking points on an 8x11.5" piece of paper.


One thing I never recommend doing is using your phone for notes. It most often comes across and unprofessional and ill-prepared, neither of which you want to impede the hard work you put into your presentation.

If you need help refining your presentation skills, don't hesitate to reach out!