Ensure that you, and everyone in your team, has the skills to perform well digitally says Helena Brewer

Whatever our role we are increasingly making use of our webcams to lead or participate in webinars, have online job interviews, or create videos.

With the business world conducting more and more activities digitally, and the fact that you may be working with teams spread across the globe whom you never meet face-to-face, it’s important to ensure you, and everyone in your team, has the skills needed to perform well digitally. Forget the big Hollywood screen – it’s time to focus on the small screen.

Here are some tips to help you come across at your best.

Get positioned comfortably

You may well be sitting in the same chair for at least an hour. Ensure you are comfortable; good back support will help. Then there’s the position of your laptop or camera in relation to where you are sitting – which parts of you can be seen? Movement is tricky, if you lean forward towards your camera, the audience will receive an unexpected close-up.  Think about your habits; do you rock in your chair, place your hand under your chin, rub your ear or flick your hair? All small things, but they can easily to become distracting for the audience watching you.

Check what’s behind you

Often people are so busy with the camera they forget to check what’s behind them! If possible, a clean background is best. If you work in an office with glass screens, walls and doors, it can be distracting for your audience to have people walking behind you when you are delivering your presentation. If it’s a virtual interview, clear up the clutter and check what photos and artwork are visible. You need to ensure ample lighting for your face, particularly if your background is very bright (as it will darken your face) or the room is dingy. Does any of the lighting cast shadows on the wall behind you? If it does, change this.

Give introductions

You may find yourself introducing and managing a webinar or giving one yourself.  It’s important to remember that audience members will have different reasons for attending. Providing a brief introduction about you, other speakers and the purpose of the webinar helps settle the attendees. If you have more than 20 people attending, it may not be possible to allow time for them to introduce each other. However, if it is a business meeting, a small conference or an interview, it is definitely worth knowing who else is there. Allow time for introductions as simple as name, position and company. This will assist you in knowing if all key stakeholders have joined, and if not, have they sent a representative instead.

Check you can be heard

It is very important to check in with your online audience and determine that they can hear you. You don’t want to be distracted battling with software when you should be putting your information across. Equally, the audience doesn’t want to fight to hear you. When joining virtual meetings, there are sometimes odd background noises which can be surprisingly loud. If you can control muting attendees, do. If not, then encourage them to mute themselves whilst listening. There may be times when, despite all the checks, the signal just isn’t good enough. Be prepared to redeliver key points when you recap.

Talking to a diverse audience

There are many turns of phrase that are quirky and very British. For example, ‘put some jam on your shoes and invite your trousers down for tea.’ This could be the first time some people have heard this expression, others will know exactly what is meant by it. When you add turns of phrases or language which are not readily in everyday use, consider how your attendees will interpret them. Also consider the time it will take to explain such a turn of phrase… perhaps that time would be better spent delivering useful information, rather than explaining something that wasn’t clear to all in the first place. In other words; think about the language you use and make it appropriate to the audience. If delivering a webinar on an industry subject with a global reach delivered in English, it’s likely that all the whizz bang technical jargon will be fully understood. But if you are talking to a non-technical audience then limit the jargon, and if you must use it – explain it.

Have a technical run through

It is worth conducting a run through of any presentation you give. Treat online presentations the same way and practice with a test session. If you are handling technical aspects, it’ll give you one less concern when you are delivering. For webinars, consider recording and watching the test session. You can use this to make any necessary changes. Also, if you have technical problems on the day, you can always use this version to send out to the attendees of your webinar later. If you are working with a software package, check if they have on-line tutorials. The tips may prove very handy, if you have technical gremlins to deal with on the day.

Look your best

Just like meeting people face to face, you must look the part; your appearance matters. Being well groomed will help you and your confidence, particularly in an interview situation. Clothes, hair, beard etc. should be neat, tidy and professional. Consider how to take the shine from your forehead, taking out redness from the face or concealing dark circles under the eyes. The camera picks up all those blemishes and to you, they will seem to be magnified and you will focus in on them. Be confident and use makeup if you need to.

Using notes

Try to avoid reading from notes. You will look down and your audience will have a great shot of the top of your head. If the notes are on screen, the movement of your eyes will look odd. All the warmth you will have generated will be lost as you are more likely to become robotic. Know your presentation inside out, so that you appear natural. Having prompt cards with key words on that you can glance at, can help if you feel you need some additional reminders.  I like using post-it notes on the side of my screen, so they are invisible to the audience.

Handling Q&A

Be prepared to answer questions. Some systems allow attendees to message you rather than interact vocally. With a big online audience, it works best to have a support person who can read the questions and combine those that are similar, so they are answered in a block. You may be that person if you are working with your executive. Over time people can develop an effective partnership to handle the Q&A element.  You can probably anticipate some of the questions and have some standard responses ready. If you are managing the live stream and the questions single-handed, pause after key points to check in with the audience that they are following you. This is also a good time to ask for questions, which can then be addressed before you move on. If time is getting short; confidently state that you will take further questions after the webinar.

Cameras roll!

Start at the scheduled time. Greet your audience, colleagues, or potential employer with a smile. All the skills that you have developed presenting in person apply here too. You must engage your audience to ensure they receive your message. A microphone or headset may be required, and if you are waving your hands about, you may knock this. So, endeavour to keep your hands out of shot; if need be, sit on them! Be aware of your non-verbal communication, your eye contact, body language and facial gestures; they all come into play. Allow the best of your personality to shine through.

For those of you who were mystified by ‘put some jam on your shoes’ let me explain.  It is an old English insult about the length of a person’s trousers!

Finally, remember to keep a steady pace of speaking with pauses at transition points. Relax and breathe.  Whether you are the main presenter online, or the person introducing and chairing, you can come across well, help make the best of the experience for everyone and enjoy your time in front of the camera.

You may even discover a talent you didn’t know you had!

Helena Brewer is from Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. ... (Read More)

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