By Lyn Roseaman, Toastmasters International
Standout speaking online brings its own challenges that even experienced speakers are grappling with. How do you set up your tech for great eye contact? How do you grab and keep your audience’s attention, especially if you can’t see them? How should you structure what you want to say to maintain interest and land your message? And what about words and gestures? No one denies that giving a talk is daunting at the best of times, but the challenges intensify when it comes to acing your online presentations with Confidence, Connection, and a message that drives Change.
I’ve been doing pitches and giving talks and presentations in workshops, debrief meetings and conferences since the 1980s and I was the terrified person clinging to the lectern so you couldn’t see my hands shaking, knees locked to stay upright and my breath so shallow that I sounded as if I was about to burst into tears. I was petrified and the nerves would not go away. I felt so alone. I didn’t realize at the time that nerves are normal:
There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.
– Mark Twain
Feeling nervous is part of being human. It’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe, but it makes our audience feel uncomfortable and concerned about our wellbeing. Online, they may choose to abandon us and stop listening.
This is the last thing we want. We want our listeners to be focused on what we’re saying and engaging with our message. To achieve this, we need to bring confident energy to the screen so that our audience can relax and connect with us and what we’re saying. Here’s how.
Get ready for your close up
When you go online from home, it’s easy to overlook your familiar surroundings – what can your audience see and hear, and is it what you want them to see and hear? What’s on the walls and behind you that the camera will pick up? Are there people or sounds that may interrupt your talk or meeting? Is the space you’ve chosen to send out the message you intend? If, for instance, you want to create a business environment, the kitchen is probably not the ideal room to set up your camera.
Think about being online as having a close-up. You’re on the small screen and the camera will pick up every detail, expression, and gesture. Is your lighting setting you off to the best advantage? Is the light behind the camera so that you’re not plunged into shadow? Is dazzling sunshine making you squint or bouncing flare onto your face, especially if you wear glasses? Capture a photo/screenshot before you go live to make sure you’re looking the part – you’re ready for your close up.
Handling the technology smoothly
Having to work with technology while presenting can sometimes be stressful. Online, we need to convey a feeling of calm and control when we host a meeting or event, handle technology and ensure everything runs smoothly.
In spite of doing all the appropriate tech checks, things can still go wrong. And people accept that this can happen. What’s important is that you handle it calmly and efficiently, explaining what’s happening. And even better if you have a participant to take care of the tech for you.
Body language and confident energy
Think of all the non-verbal ways you can convey confident energy online:
- It is hard to smile in a genuine way when you’re nervous, so smiling conveys confidence.
- A posture that is relaxed and assured. If you’re seated, push your bottom to the back of the chair and sit upright, both feet firmly planted on the floor. This will help to keep your posture stable and prevent any distracting swaying backwards and forwards.
- On the small screen reduce your gestures. Big gestures work in a large venue but online they can be distracting or disappear off the edge of the screen.
- Steady eye contact and the correct positioning of your camera lens at just above eye level helps you to come across as open and sincere.
- So close to the mic, people may hear your nerves in your voice. By breathing into your abdomen and relaxing your upper body you will create a rich vocal tone. Shallow breathing high in the chest is hard work and can make you sound as if you’re about to burst into tears.
Taking care of your setting, your tech, and your body language will all help your confidence to shine online.
When I think back to my first conference presentations, I like to think I gave a polished presentation, complete with comprehensive facts and figures, clear slides and an informative commentary. My audiences would applaud politely, thank me, and head for the coffee! At the time, I always wondered why other speakers had people queueing up to talk to them. I felt as if I’d been talking to myself. And, online, you may be doing just that if your listeners don’t connect with you and what you’re saying.
Those with people queueing up to talk to them had connected, both in terms of the value the speaker gave to the audience – their relevant message – and the way the speaker made them feel:
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
– Carl W. Buehner
What’s in it for me?
As a webinar host or presenter, it’s your responsibility to know what your listeners are expecting from you, i.e. answering their all-important ‘What’s In It For Me’ question – as quickly as possible – so that they have a reason to carry on listening. To achieve this, you need to know your participants and I don’t just mean their name and job titles. Find out who they are, what makes them tick, and why they’re attending.
‘You’ is the magic word
‘You’ is the magic word when it comes to being relevant and engaging online. In the English language, ‘you’ power comes from being both singular – a one-to-one conversation – and plural, including everyone. You-focused language creates a strong feeling of inclusivity and, at the same time, offers up a personal connection with each and every listener.
Barack Obama understood the power of ‘you’. In his 2012 presidential election victory speech, he used the personal pronoun ‘I’ 36 times. In stark contrast, he used ‘you/you’re/your’ 55 times and ‘we/us/our’ 97 times.
If you can take things a step further and create a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ in terms of encouraging interaction between presenter and participants, then you hit that ‘sweet spot’ of co-creation. However, to ensure things run smoothly, it’s important online for people to listen to each other and not all talk at the same time!
Dial down the PowerPoints and share a story
Storytelling comes into its own online. Human beings are hard-wired to connect through stories. When we tell a relevant personal story, openly and honestly, our listeners can relate to us as people. Stories not only create connections, but they are both engaging and memorable.
In her book, Now You’re Talking! Lyn Roseaman observes:
Engaging speakers share their message through stories. They can move an audience, even in business settings, to feel, laugh or cry, and are memorable for all the right reasons.
In stark contrast, sharing your screen and wading through bullet points is neither engaging nor memorable and fast-track to losing your listeners. Prioritize relevant storytelling at every opportunity.
In the words of John F Kennedy (US President, 1961-63), “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”
With our world currently turned on its head, online meetings, events, and conversations are our opportunity to remain visible, explore and share change and start building our future together.
Your new and relevant message
In a few keystrokes, search engines can tell us what’s new and different online. If we want to stand out and keep our listeners interested we need to ensure what we have to say is relevant and on-point.
When you are preparing for your meeting or presentation consider how you want your audience to feel, how you want them to think and what you want them to do after the event. Doing this will help you to Identify your message and make it relevant to now. Once you have your message you can make sure you only cover content that directly supports it.
Make it memorable with a rhythmic and rhyming anchor phrase that captures the essence of your talk in ten words or fewer, e.g. ‘Home is where we start from’ (Aileen Evans) or ‘It’s the world’s thinnest notebook (Steve Jobs).
Make it easy for your audience
Our attention spans are short at the best of times. Online, there is even less appetite for asides and digressions than when you’re in the same room as your listeners, so it’s crucial to get to the point and stay relevant. Less is most definitely more online.
Structure and signpost your talk so that it is easy to understand and follow. Consider a clear structure, such as a timeline, pros & cons, hero’s journey, etc. Break up your presentation into small ‘chunks’ of around five minutes each and top and tail each chunk with what you plan to cover and a keyword to sum it up as you move on to the next chunk. Signpost what you have to say to let your audience know the ‘road map’ or agenda for your talk to make it clear and easy to follow.
Now and going forward we need the skill to be able to talk, train and present convincingly and engagingly online.
Lyn Roseaman is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club, visit Toastmasters International.
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