As we come up on a full year of online events replacing in-person events, I often wonder how many people have been burned by poor virtual event experiences. How many people have sat through so many hours of boring Zooms they’ll never give another virtual event a chance?
How can we, as event planners and presenters, combat this virtual event fatigue and bring quality content to the table for our attendees?
Cristian Shirilla got creative since he was stuck in quarantine while creating his talk for Video Sales & Marketing World
After producing seven virtual events in 2020 and attending countless others, I’ve learned quite a bit about what it takes to make a great online presentation that captivates, educates, entertains, and leaves people feeling like it was a fantastic use of their time.
I’ve distilled these down into some of the key things you can do right now to improve your virtual event presentations. Here are eight ways to make your virtual presentations memorable and engaging:
1. Look and sound professional
The way you look and sound are the foundation for your virtual event presentation.
Without high-quality audio and proper lighting, even the best content won’t be enough to engage your audience. In fact, poor audio or lighting can even distract so much from your presentation, people may only remember those negatives, or worse, tune out completely.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to make sure your audio and video are ready for showtime.
First off, make sure you have the right equipment. Let’s talk audio. Using an external microphone or even headphones with a microphone can make a huge difference in the quality of your audio content. It helps eliminate echo, makes sound more crisp, and avoids background noise.
Once you’ve nailed your audio, it’s time to work on video quality. Your laptop’s built-in webcam is probably decent enough but you have other options. If your session is pre-recorded and you have a relatively new smartphone, you can likely film your talk on your phone and wind up with higher video quality. Another option is to use an external camera that connects to your computer.
I asked speaker Ramon Ray for his thoughts on this. He said “[I use a] Logitech Brio with Logitech Capture Software. SO MANY people are into the ATEM Mini and other really "cool" and advanced solutions - but I wanted something simpler with minimal hardware and heard about this!”
His camera quality is great even when zoomed in as you can see below:
Finally, you’ve got to nail your lighting.
First, try to face a window to get as much natural light as possible (though avoid direct sunlight!). If that doesn’t cut it, Grab any lamps available around you and position them in front of and beside you. A simple and inexpensive ring light can also be a great solution. As you’ll be the focus of this talk, make your face well-lit without significant shadows.
However, when it comes to lighting, fixing one problem may create another: glasses glare. To avoid glasses glare from additional lights, I recommend adding something to soften the lights if possible or potentially removing your glasses. If all else fails, simply tilt your head until you find a comfortable angle that avoids glare as much as possible.
Showing my overhead lighting (and how to avoid a double chin) in my session at Video Sales & Marketing World on "How to Look and Sound Great on Camera"
When you put your camera, lights, and audio setup all together you’ll be ready to give a next-level presentation with flawless quality!
David Meerman Scott’s tech setup
David Meerman Scott’s setup shown above you can see how he has an external camera attached to his computer, a ring light, and more. Granted, David’s setup allows him to do unique things like have his slides behind him so his video takes up the full screen in any platform he’s presenting in.
David Meerman Scott’s presentation setup
In his book, Standout Virtual Events, David talks about how we need to get creative with virtual and not simply try to replicate what we did at in-person events.
2. Optimize your internet speed
Ah, internet. The downfall of even the best speakers can be poor internet connection. There’s nothing more disappointing than getting to the most important moment in your talk only to have your connection cut out!
There are a few simple things you can do to improve your internet net speed to make sure you’re ready to go for your presentation.
Before anything else, test your speed using a simple (and free) internet speed test tool like Speedtest by Ookla. Once you’ve evaluated your internet speed, you can look for ways to improve it if necessary.
The minimum bandwidth for using Zoom is actually quite low (about 1.5 mbps) but for quality streaming, it’s important to have faster speed and a consistent and reliable connection.
So what can you do? First, close out all tabs and applications you’re not using on both your computer and other devices. In fact, I recommend taking your phone off WiFi as well and, if you can, prioritize your device during your talk.
If you’re really struggling, before you go all-in on paying for faster internet, you can try moving closer to your router or even connecting directly with an ethernet cable. Sometimes a certain wall or obstruction can be causing more problems than you might think.
Finally, you can get a WiFi extender to help your internet reach your desk with a little more strength. Goodbye choppy internet connection and hello smooth sailing presentations. I personally have the Google Nest WiFi mesh system and I absolutely love it.
3. Get to know your audience
One simple way to make your presentation better that is often overlooked is getting to know your audience. When you present, make sure you take the time to talk with the organizer of the event ahead of time to learn more.
Ask them what the attendees are expecting from the event, who they are, and what they’re like. Is this a professional event or more personal? Is it intended to be tactical or inspirational? This will serve as a basis for how you guide your session.
We saw a great example of this recently at IMPACT. We had a magician at our end-of-year celebration and he not only took the time to get to know our event, he looked up information about our company and worked it into his tricks.
Magician Daniel Martin performing at IMPACT’s end-of-year celebration
By taking time to understand the goals and vision of the event and the audience, you can tailor your presentation to be more relevant. This will also help you keep your audience engaged because they’ll see you’ve taken time to care about them specifically and are not just regurgitating a previous talk again and again.
4. Get familiar with the tech ahead of time
No matter how many virtual presentations you’ve done in the past, it’s your duty as a speaker to make sure you know the platform you’ll be using.
Even if it’s something you use often, like Zoom, platforms we know well evolve and there are more variables that come into play. Maybe the event organizer has turned on breakout rooms or turned off the ability for the audience to chat. Perhaps you plan on using polls but the organization hosting the event hasn’t upgraded to the level of Zoom that offers.
🔎 Related: 5 best virtual event software options for businesses and brands
If the event host offers a tech rehearsal or gives you any guidance (which they should), take advantage. If not, make sure that you check in with the event organizer early on to confirm all tech details.
Beyond just the event platform, you need to be comfortable with your own tech as well. If you get a new camera or microphone, make sure you’ve tested it on your own time. Don’t be caught fumbling with the audio source as you’re trying to start your talk.
While a poor tech experience can make attendees quickly lose interest, a polished and flawless presentation can captivate your audience and keep them wanting more.
Be memorable for your polish and not your stumbles.
For instance, when speaker Ian Altman played an audio clip of a mock sales call while showing the call notes being typed, complete with typing sound effects, in his presentation at our Digital Sales & Marketing World keynote event, our audience was blown away.
They were far more engaged than they may have been if he just told the story without any audio or visual additions.
But, if this had been a clunky experience where Ian had struggled with the sound or screen sharing, the moment would have completely lost its magic. How smoothly he pulled this off played a huge part in the success of this presentation. He had clearly practiced this and was confident in delivering the message while running the presentation.
He didn’t just get to know his tech - he leveled up his presentation by pushing the boundaries of what live streaming tech can do.
If you have slides and plan to share your screen, you may want to use a clicker. This can be incredibly helpful when you want to stand farther away from your camera.
5. Optimize your slide content and layout
When designing your presentation slides, they’ll probably be larger to you than they’ll eventually be to your audience. Make sure you design them with large text and simple bullet points, much like you would if you were presenting at an in-person event.
If an event gives you a template to use you should follow their guidelines but if your text feels small, you can ask them for a screenshot of what the final presentation will look like in the platform.
In addition to the size of your text and images, make sure your slide content is brief. If attendees are forced to read too much they’ll focus on reading and tune out the speaker.
Ann Handley does a fantastic job of making her slides simple visual aids that guide her conversation without being distracting. They are easy to read and reinforce her point.
If you’re using animated GIFs in your presentation, make sure those are not on screen for too long that the repetition becomes distracting.
Perhaps, you don’t even want to have slides and want to go a more analog route. (or ANNalog route…) In addition to great digital slides, Ann Handley has been making custom-designed hand-drawn “slides'' for some of her presentations. This is a fun way to surprise the audience with something different and show that you put a lot of time and care into preparing your talk.
Finally, consider how you’ll share your slides and screen. While not every platform may allow for this, you can get creative by putting slides behind you or beside you.
Many presenters, including Ian Altman who I referenced above, use a platform called ECamm Live to help make this possible. The Ecamm Live broadcasting studio allows you to add background content, overlays, and more.
6. Utilize segments
In addition to making your content easy to read, you also want it to be easy to follow. Dividing your content up into segments can help with this.
While this is true of any presentation, even in-person ones, it becomes even more important when you’re presenting in a virtual space because you don’t have the audience’s collective energy to draw from.
In fact, you may be losing your audience without even realizing it. Everyone’s attention spans are short and there are plenty of distractions just a click away with email, phones, and more.
Segments help keep your audience with you throughout your talk by dividing it up into chunks they can pay attention to for shorter periods of time.
IMPACT’s Zach Basner does a fantastic job working segments into his talks to make it easy to follow along with what he’s teaching.
You can clearly see from this slide he’s going to cover four things: composition, exposure, lighting, and audio. He then has each of these segment titles pop up when he starts a new segment in his presentation to help the audience follow along.
Dividing content up like this makes it easier to digest and retain as well as easier for you to present.
7. Involve your audience in your presentation
Yeah, yeah, I know, the concept of “engaging your audience” is not only a given it’s kind of been beaten to death. However, there are endless new ways to get creative with how you engage your audience. Involving your audience in your presentation is the best way to keep their attention and help them feel connected to you even through a screen.
Ian Altman uses Ecamm Live to take questions from the audience Q&A and put them on screen while he answers them. This simple addition of putting the question on screen makes attendees feel more involved.
He uses this same functionality, shown below, to share poll results, offers, links to his website, and more.
Polls and Q&A work great but how can you take it a step further? What if when you asked a question you gave a copy of your favorite book to the first person who answered? What if the first person to speak up in a discussion got a coffee on you?
In one of our recent events, a speaker asked a question and when someone answered, he surprised them by telling them they’d receive a copy of his book for being the first to participate.
This is a great way to surprise and delight your attendees and keep them paying attention wondering what will happen next. It also helps bring your virtual interactions into the real world, making them that much more memorable and meaningful.
You can also engage your audience via social media through hashtags, community groups, and more. While not everyone will have two monitors, many are capable of multitasking to watch and participate in a virtual event at the same time.
🔎 Related: Use Text-to-Subscribe at Live Events to Supercharge Your Email Marketing
8. Use all of your on-screen space
Last, but certainly not least, one of the most important things you can do to be memorable and engaging in your virtual talk is to make good use of all of your on-screen space. This includes everything from your background to the clothes you’re wearing.
Your clothing on screen
For instance, if your shirt has a logo on it, is it visible? YouTuber Philip DeFranco created these shirts so that his phone number would always show up on the screen during his daily videos:
I always wear a shirt with IMPACT’s logo whenever I’m speaking at external events as a subtle reminder of who I represent.
Many dress “up” for presentations as they would for in-person talks. Though you don’t have to go all-in on this of course! Take Marcus Sheridan for example. He’s business on the top but comfy on the bottom.
Framing your shot
When you set up your camera be sure to test how you look and your distance from the camera.
David Meerman Scott often talks about how your proximity to the camera affects how your audience will perceive what you’re saying. You need to be close enough to make it feel like a conversation you’d have in person, but not so close that it’s distracting.
When a presenter is in-frame, you can see their facial expressions and absorb what they’re saying along with their visual cues. However, if someone stands too far back or even sits down and leans back in a chair (yes, I’ve seen people do this), it not only makes it harder to pay attention, it feels like the speaker isn’t engaged in the presentation.
Making the most of your background
In addition to how your face and clothing show up on camera, consider your background.
You especially want to make sure there’s nothing potentially offensive or incredibly distracting in your background. However, your background is also a chance to share a little about yourself with the audience and extend your brand.
For instance, Ann Handley redesigned her bookshelf to be color-blocked and it now serves as the background for many of her talks. As an author, this makes perfect sense for her brand and adds an interesting element to her background without being distracting.
If you don’t have the space or ability to create something like this though, not to worry! You can purchase a simple background you can easily set up and take down on the fly. There are many available at a low cost on Amazon such as this one used by Marcus Sheridan:
Ian Altman has two sets: one for sitting and one for standing. One is a physical background and one is virtual via Ecamm Live. You can read about his entire production setup here.
Ian Altman’s “standing” virtual background setup using Ecamm Live
Making your virtual presentation unforgettable
When it comes to virtual presentations in 2021, the bar is set higher than ever before. Audiences expect more from speakers and expect you to deliver. Now is the time to make sure you’ve covered all your bases from tech to setup to content and beyond.
So, what will you do next to make your next presentation a success? Order some custom t-shirts with your logo up higher? (I’m definitely considering that one.) Change up your background? See what else your presentation software is capable of?
2021 is the year presenters will get creative with their online presentations and believe me, attendees expect nothing less.