Best practices for presentations
For companies involved in public engagement, working from home is a marked shift in how we conduct business. Almost overnight, we went from shaking hands at conferences to talking to a screen for hours a day. Thankfully, there are many digital platforms to facilitate such a quick adjustment. For the most part, we have all quickly adapted to the world of Zoom, Teams, and Hangouts. Virtual connectivity has fundamentally shifted our communications, both internally and externally. But make no mistake: these platforms do not replace face-to-face interactions. They are the best we have available, but nearly anyone can tell you the mute button, interrupted speech and connectivity issues don’t exactly provide a flow.
There’s also the strange blend of official business combined with pets, kids, and the dish pileup in view. We are suddenly forced to acknowledge the layers we all carry with us. To colleagues, clients, and anyone else joined in on a meeting, we have exposed much of our personal lives, chaotic as they can be. We may come out of this with a greater appreciation for the personal load people carry at home, and there’s a great benefit to that.
With the kids, pets, and a long list of ignored chores on board, how can we make the best of this situation? There are a few things we have control of, most of which falls in the category of effective presentation in communication efforts. What we say and how we say it is as important as ever – but the rules have slightly changed.
Your sound and image quality can affect how your message is received. If connectivity is an issue, try plugging directly into your router. Restart the router a few minutes before your meeting. If you have access to a microphone or earphones (or both), you will reduce the chances of echo and increase your sound quality. Laptops and computers will capture a better image than phones, but if a phone is your only option, you can still do your best to optimize the image.
If you’re using a phone, turn it sideways to widescreen to avoid an awkward closeup for those on desktop. Desktop and laptop cameras should be positioned at eye level. You wouldn’t stare directly in the eyes for the entirety of an in-person presentation, but every so often, look at your camera and remember your audience. Reminder: your camera is not your square on the screen, and if you stare bottom right for most of your meeting, you risk losing your audience.
Layered is best here. Natural light is ideal, but for those of us hiding from the kids in the basement, we work with what we have. Take from the rules of theatre lighting: front left, front right, and depth of space (illuminating the space behind you from the side). Sitting in an unlit room in front of a window will cause a silhouette. Position yourself to face the light sources, moving furniture and lamps if needed. If you require glasses, be sure the lights aren’t so bright to cause a reflection.
Consider wearing a brighter colour for meetings. The marled grey hoodie, comfortable as it is, may look dull. Bright, solid colours present well on screen. Patterns and textured fabrics can be distracting. This is, of course, top-only for most of us, so onwards with sweatpants and cozy socks.
Office chairs have sold out at many retailers, with an increase of people looking for an upright and comfortable place to sit all day. Even with a good chair, your posture is important. Slumping over your keyboard or leaning on the arm of your chair isn’t the way you would present in a boardroom. Your body language tells your audience a great deal about your interest on a topic. Place your feet firmly on the ground, lean slightly forward, shoulders back with your chin held up.
There’s not much we can do about the presence of housemates. Take it all in stride and do the best you can. You are already the master of your mute button! The pile of dishes is even a part of us just getting through. But if the presentation is important, a quick sweep of coffee cups and phone chargers will allow for fewer distractions. If you think meeting attendees aren’t closely studying the details of your surroundings, you are very wrong. Accept the curious nature of humans and remove the debris.
Lastly, have a sense of ease about it all. Soundproof boardrooms and childcare are not going to be a part of our reality for a while. There will be interruptions and awkward moments for everyone. This won’t be a perfect set up, but consideration for what we can control will help deliver messages as professionally as hoped. Visual information is a large part of our learning process. Virtual presenters should keep this in mind.
Pamela Smith is a Senior Consultant in communications at Global Public Affairs. She specializes in presentations and public-facing opportunities for business leaders.