Let's talk speakers. After all they are the bedrock of your event. You can have the flashiest tech out there for your event platform, but if your speakers aren't up to scratch then your audience will turn off. Hopefully some of the little tips in this blog will help you if you are organising an event and working with speakers, or a speaker yourself in this new virtual world.
Who are you working with?
So, firstly, make sure you check the credentials of the speakers you're thinking about engaging with. Even though the advent of virtual events is still very fresh, some people might have previous experience of speaking in similar settings. Maybe they've done YouTube and live streams before. Perhaps they have spoken at hybrid events, or maybe they're just very tech savvy and know how to deal with the intricacies of virtual speaking. You shouldn't disregard those who don't have any of these credentials, but it's definitely a plus if they do.
But let's start in true event planner fashion by assuming that they need to be fully coached in this virtual world of presenting....
Remember the story
We have spoken about the importance of storytelling in a previous post, but it is something worth repeating. Sustaining an emotional connection in a virtual setting is hard but it's not impossible. However, it does require that speakers display more energy, authenticity and passion for the topic they're discussing than ever before.
The presentation can't just be a busy succession of disconnected points. It needs a beginning, middle, and end, a satisfying conclusion, and an overall journey that captivates the hearts and minds of those watching, if you harness the power of storytelling with the energy authenticity and passion, you are well on the way to keeping a captivated audience.
Death by Powerpoint?
Look at your speakers' materials beforehand. A second pair of eyes is always appreciated, especially if you're dealing with something that is different and unusual. Not all speakers will be familiar with the best strategies for a virtual presentation. So give yourself enough time to make alterations if need be.
Remember that how we're addressing people has completely shifted - virtual means a shorter attention span, high chances of webinar fatigue, and a greater need for something that will keep the audience absorbed.
Take a good look at your speakers' slides. Are they too heavy on the text? Are they bland and boring from a design perspective?
The key here is to use your slides as a means to provide a visual representation to switch the focus from the talking head of the speaker. Catchy titles, bold graphics, bullet points, engaging visuals, animated graphics. These are the things you should be looking for. No one wants to sit through a two hour lecture that consists of nothing but black and white slides with walls of text. I am a huge fan of Canva for producing easy, good looking design for a range of things including presentations.
Also consider if you really need slides - do they add anything? Don't simply use slides to repeat what you are saying.
Every production needs a script
No matter how good you are at public speaking, I would still recommend that you arm yourself with a script. There's nothing wrong with coming up with extra things on the spot, especially if it relates to questions from the audience or something that will enrich your presentation. You should be thinking of your presentation like a production, not a Zoom meeting (more on that in a second).
Just like you would have some notes and possibly cue cards for an in-person presentation, having some sort of road map of what you're going to see, which slides, images, videos, you're going to show, and some headings and timing cues is a big step to ensure everything goes smoothly. Plus, you're only human. And you can't remember everything. You have the luxury in the virtual world of being able to position that script in front of you too, so that it can be easily referred to at eye level, without anyone actually knowing!
Set the scene
As mentioned above, you should think of your presentation as a production, imagine yourself or your speaker presenting the news! So it's all about professionalism, and there are a few easy things to consider here...
Lights: Try to light yourself from the front for best effect. A ring light is good, or use a mix of natural and artificial light for the an even front lit effect. Avoid back lighting!
Sound: For the best sound quality, even using a simple lapel microphone can increase the quality of your sound beyond the basic built in computer mic. These can be picked up for less than £20. Make sure you are used to using it though, and avoid large jewellery or other 'noisy' clothing when wearing it. You will know what I mean if you have seen a tv guest sitting playing with their necklace and wondering what that rustling or jangling noise is!
Camera: Make sure you have considered your backdrop carefully. Again, we have all seen this done badly over the past few months - backgrounds filled with clutter, boxes, papers and generally things that are just going to turn your audience off. Now is not the time to display your impressive book collection, as it will only distract rather than engage or impress your viewers! The same goes for your own personal appearance. You may have spent the last few months in loungewear, but there is nothing like dressing up to instantly feel the part.
If you live with other people, make sure you let them know exactly what time you'll be online and for how long. Preferably they won't make use of the Internet in order to help your connection remain steady the whole way through.
Whatever has the potential distract you or your attendees during the event, get rid of it, and that includes your phone, open windows and a myriad of other things. We might find those examples of children and pets video-bombing meetings hilarious, but not so much when it involves your presentation. Don't be remembered for the wrong reasons!
Action!: And you are on! Make eye contact with your camera, not the middle of your screen in order to try and engage with your audience so that they feel more connected. You are doing your best here to establish a human connection. Try to know a bit about the audience you are addressing - what kind of approach would they respond to best? Casual or strictly professional?
Be very clear about what you want to communicate and make sure you're providing these people with the kind of content and experience they can relate to.
If appropriate, ask them to say hello in the chat function and encourage questions, trying to keep that engagement and checking in going during the session.
And relax.....there is nothing quite like the high you have when you finish a speaking session like this. Relating back to the performance analogy, it is very similar to an actor coming off stage. I am sure you will have done a great job. Remember to thank your audience and follow up with any information and contacts you have referenced, it's a great way to set up your next speaking gig.
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.