Coronavirus has transformed online from a communication choice to our personal and business salvation – our life raft. We’re all learning to be more effective online, but acing your webinar requires specific and different skills from ‘being in the room’.
Standout speaking online brings specific challenges that even experienced business speakers are grappling with. How can you set up your technology to ensure great eye contact? How do you get and keep your audience’s attention, especially when you can’t see them? What is the best way to structure what you want to say to maintain interest and land your message? And what about body language including gestures? And the best choice of words? Even for seasoned professionals giving a presentation or speech is daunting at the best of times. The challenges intensify when it comes to acing your online webinars/presentations/speeches 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 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 didn’t realise at the time that nerves are normal:
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 for our wellbeing. Online, they may choose to abandon us and stop listening.
This is the last thing any busines leader wants. 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.
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 sending out the message you intend?
Remember that when you’re on the small screen and the camera will pick up every detail, expression and gesture. Is your lighting setting you off to 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 look the way you want to.
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 someone to manage the tech for you.
Harness your body language
Think of all the non-verbal ways you can convey confident energy online: a genuine smile, open and stable posture, dialing down movements so that your gestures, for example, fit the screen, steady eye contact (have your camera lens just above eye level), breathing into your abdomen to ensure a strong rich tone of voice.
When I look back to my first conference presentations, I’m pretty sure 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. As well as creating connections stories are 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, screen sharing and ploughing through bullet points is neither engaging nor memorable. It is a good idea to prioritise relevant storytelling.
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.
Start at the end of your presentation or meeting with how you want your listeners to think, feel or act after they’ve experienced what you have to say. Identify your message – one that is refreshed and relevant to now – and then incorporate only content that 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 life easy for your listeners
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 segments of around five minutes each and top and tail each segment with what you plan to cover and a keyword to sum it up as you move on to the next segment. 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.
As HR leaders you’ll know that effective communication is more important than ever. At the moment, we need to talk and present convincingly online. In future we will almost certainly need to shine online AND in physical locations, with our real audience in the same room.