As coronavirus seeps into every nook and cranny of our lives, America is getting a master class in change management. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my profession is clients’ jumping off stages and onto video screens. Since social distancing restrictions forbid us from interacting in person, some companies have no choice but to meet via video on platforms like Zoom or WebEx. Because we were abruptly tossed into this new reality, most of the transitions from onstage presentations and meetings to online were done hastily and without careful consideration. For example, when I asked one company what steps they were taking to successfully transition to online presentations and meetings, the response was, “Oh, it’s really simple! We’re just going to do everything we did in person online now ― you know, all of our meetings and presentations.” Most companies have been forced into this three-pronged haphazard approach of (1) Finding a video platform; (2) getting all the computers synced; and (3) ensuring that people can see and hear each other. After that, it’s business as usual. Or so they think.
Now that the hysteria surrounding coronavirus has begun to settle and we are slowly coming to grips with our new reality, it feels like the perfect time to look at video presentations with fresh eyes. Before we do, indulge me for a moment. I would like you to think of your favorite song of all time (mine is ‘That Girl’ by Stevie Wonder). Now, I want you to imagine listening to your favorite jam on full blast in your favorite place. It could be your car, home or office . . . pause for about 30 seconds and really hear the tune in your head. Done properly, you should have felt a slight shift in your energy or even been transported to a different place. Now, press pause on your mental soundtrack. Imagine that someone hands you a sheet of paper with the lyrics of your favorite song printed on it and you’re reading the lyrics as if you were reading a book. Take a second to see the words on the page. Now, compare the feeling of reading the lyrics to what you experienced when you heard the words being sung in your mind. Dramatic difference, huh?
I won’t take you down the prehistoric path of explaining how our primal senses work but, in plain language, the reason for the difference is that our senses perceive and interpret external stimuli in fundamentally different ways. Whether presenting onstage or on-video, the goal of every presentation is to be memorable and persuasive; however, this is a fool’s errand if you fail to address your listeners’ sensory receptors.
Below, you will find six tips that will immediately make you a more effective presenter on video. The first three focus on mindset and the last three are practical suggestions.
- Think adaptation – You must adjust your onstage presentation to make it suitable for video consumption. Audiences generally have extremely short attention spans; it’s even shorter when consuming video. You must account for this. Your adaptation should be to limit your video presentation to 45 minutes to one-hour segments. Don’t kid yourself and think that people will pay attention to a video for hours when Hollywood movies barely hold our attention. I recommend that clients proceed into the video realm with cautious optimism. As you increase adaptation, you can proportionately decrease caution.
- Think contingency – Although video may be a new or unfamiliar medium, don’t obsess over what could go wrong. Sure, you’re more reliant on technology than you would be during an in-person presentation but things can go wrong there too (like a non-functional PowerPoint, for example). Create a contingency plan and get on with it!
- Think conversation – A great onstage presentation has a conversation presentation ratio of about 40 to 60, meaning that the presentation feels like a conversation 40% of the time and like a presentation (lecture) 60% of the time. For a video presentation, the ratio should be the complete opposite of a 60 to 40 ratio with 60% (or more) feeling like a conversation. To bolster the conversational feel of your video presentations, find the interactive points of your in-person speech or training, explore the features of your video platform and create a plan to execute a comparable experience.
- Eyes & voice —If 80% of communication is nonverbal, that means that our bodies do a whole lot of talking. When you’re presenting on video, your audience can usually see you from your chest up, which is only about 20% of your body. This means you have to compensate in some way for all the messages that your body would transmit in an in-person presentation. The best way to do this is with your eyes and your voice.
Eyes – When you’re presenting, remember to look at the camera and not the screen. In most cases if you’re looking at yourself or the person you’re speaking to onscreen, you are not making direct eye contact. Instead, it appears to your viewers that you are looking down slightly. To raise the overall level of engagement, raise your eyes.
Voice – Use your voice like an instrument. Changes in your volume, tone and pace will help to keep your audience engaged. Although it may feel comfortable, avoid slipping into a monotone pattern. Strategically pausing will also help you achieve this goal.
- Know your features — Familiarize yourself with the features of your video platform. In fact, you should get to know them so well that they feel like an extension of your body. For example, during an in-person presentation, it’s quite common for the presenter to say something like, “By a show of hands, how many of you have taken a public speaking training before?” If you don’t know your tools, you may pass on this type of interaction during a video presentation. However, platforms like Zoom allow the audience to push a button to simulate a hand raise or you could achieve the same goal by using a polling feature. In some cases, the features work better than an in-person presentation because people aren’t so hesitant to participate.
- See what they see — Most professional speakers record themselves practicing because they get the dual benefit of increasing their recall and seeing exactly what their audience is seeing. You should record the opening, closing and select segments of your video presentation so that you can see and hear what your audience is experiencing. This is the easiest way to determine what needs to be adjusted like, for example, your background or lighting.
Whether you prefer the term “social distancing” or “physical distancing” matters not. If you were on a stage or in front of a room B.C. (before corona), you will likely find yourself behind a camera at some point in the near future, if you haven’t already. Don’t over-stress ― presenting on camera is a skill that you can learn and continually get better at. Your key to success is adapting to your audience’s attention span and sensory receptors and leveling up your enthusiasm so that your eyes and voice can speak for the rest of your body.
Dez Thornton is a communications coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.