How to virtually lead engaging technical presentations
Five tips for delivering impactful video sessions
Were you scheduled to lead a technical meet up at your company recently? I was supposed to lead a session last week around configuring Kafka for Reactive systems and had to rethink how I could successfully engage the audience with such a technical topic without being in the same room. Thankfully, it went very well, but it also has some unexpected moments. I put together a list of five things that I recommend you consider when preparing for your next virtual presentation so that you can keep your audience engaged and present yourself in the best manner possible.
Tip 1. Keep it brief
One of the biggest challenges a speaker faces when presenting virtually is keeping your audience engaged. When you watch a presentation at home, it is easy for distractions to get in the way, such as kids that are running around wanting your attention, phones ringing, and emails pinging. The list of distractions is almost endless. Therefore, when you are the presenter, it is important to keep your slides simple and your points brief. By cutting down on unnecessary clutter in your slides, it helps the audience to not get too overwhelmed from the sheer volume of content and encourages them to pay more attention to what you are saying.
If you are presenting complicated diagrams, such as architectural or flow diagrams, it can help to break them out into separate slides and introduce each diagram as you talk about it. This way, the audience can clearly follow which aspect of the diagram you are describing and stay engaged as the slides change.
Example of how a diagram can be separated into multiple images
If you are speaking for a long time, use interactive activities to engage the audience, such as polls, quizzes, whiteboard collaborations, and group mind mapping. There are many free resources that you can use.
- Cisco Webex polling feature (if you are already using Webex to host your meeting)
- Poll Everywhere
Interactive whiteboard and mind-mapping tools
- Webex whiteboard feature (if you are already using Webex to host your meeting)
Tip 2. Focus on setup
No one expects a complete recording studio to be set up in your own home and not every aspect of the setup for your presentation is within your control. However, there are steps that you can take to appear as professional as possible. These aspects include background, lighting, microphone, and camera.
When you are recording, it is important that you do not have any distractions behind you. A plain wall is great! However, if this is not possible, remove anything that moves (including clocks and fans) and ensure that the area is tidy and clean. For example, if you are using your bedroom as a home office, remove any clothes that are hanging to dry and make your bed.
You probably saw the video of the BBC reporter, whose children interrupted his broadcast from home. Most people understand the occasional interruption from children, but take the time to pause and usher them along so that you can continue the presentation. Allowing them to stay in the room causes more distraction when you are trying to communicate an important point.
Another example about why your background matters, is singer Charlie Puth’s performance for the One World: Together at Home live-stream concert. He sat in front of an unmade bed with piles of laundry. It was distracting and appeared unprofessional to the audience. Fans on Twitter accused him of laziness and having a lack of respect for the occasion.
Be well lit. To do this, do not have bright windows behind you. Instead, try to face the source of natural light. If this is not possible, use a desktop lamp to light yourself.
Example of how bright windows affect your image on camera
Ensure you have a good, working microphone so that the audience can hear you well. There is nothing more frustrating than a speaker whose voice keeps dropping in and out!
Ensure that your camera is on and pointing towards you so that the audience can clearly see your face. It sounds basic, but many video presentations end up showing the side of a presenter’s face because they are looking at a different computer screen and have not configured their camera positioning correctly.
Tip 3. Practice, practice, practice
It is important to practice your presentation. It minimizes the risks of something going wrong! Virtual event organizers do not use the same conferencing technology and often you are asked to learn something new. Arrange practice sessions where you can play around and get comfortable with the technology’s features. It will also help ease any anxieties that you may have about your content. A useful tip is to record a practice run of your presentation using the technology. By watching the recording, you will see whether everything works for the audience as you intended and areas where you could potentially improve.
When familiarizing yourself with the technology, it is also a good time to check with the event organizers about how questions are asked by attendees. Request that someone else be available during the live session to help sort out any technical issues and field the audience’s questions to you.
Tip 4. Conduct live demonstrations
Demonstrating code or applications in real time can often be the most interesting and engaging part of a technical presentation. However, if you plan to conduct a live demo, ensure you have backups in case something goes wrong! Watching a speaker fiddle around with crashed deployments or a configuration that no longer works is frustrating and encourages the audience to stop paying attention. To avoid this, make sure you have backup options such as pre-recorded videos or screen captures of the demo steps that you are able to quickly show instead.
Tip 5. Examine your camera persona
The persona that you convey during presentations on camera includes where you look, your body language, and your clothing. When you present virtually, it is important that you are able to look at the camera (not just at your computer screen), preferably at eye level, as much as possible. This helps you engage the audience more, by making them feel as though you are making eye contact with them instead of reading the information on a slide.
Example of how body language affects your image on camera
Regarding body language, it is important to remember that unlike face-to-face onstage presentations, virtual presentations usually only allow the upper half of your body to be within view. So, be sure you make all of your visual movements within range of the camera. If you are a presenter who usually likes to roam around the stage, consider the option of standing while presenting rather than sitting. However, do not roam offscreen where no one can see you!
When you choose which clothes to wear for your presentation, try to stick with plain colors because stripes or plaids can often create distracting effects on camera. Make sure that your choices contrast well against the color of your background. Also, remember that hats and how your hair is positioned can potentially cause shadows over your face or obscure your facial expressions. In a virtual environment, your audience is more engaged if they can clearly see your face and connect what you are saying to your movements and facial expressions.
Hopefully, these tips and tricks help you to prepare and deliver engaging, professional, and impactful presentations both internally to your own team and externally at meetups and conferences. If you want to improve your presentations by adding interactivity, but want to be a little more creative than the tools I provided in Tip 1, try out the tutorial for building you own real-time voting app.