By Kellie McCord, Toastmasters International

Many of us find giving a business presentation challenging in our ‘normal’ surrounding so when we present online the change of format and the distance from the audience can add some extra nervousness.

However, the only difference is that a screen sits between you and the people you are speaking to. Rather than seeing it as a barrier, I like to remember that if our eyes are windows to our souls, then a screen is a window into someone’s world. We can now take a peek into the home lives of our colleagues, employers and employees. This is actually a great way to connect on a deeper personal and professional level – if you allow it.

Let me share ideas for creating a genuine connection when giving online presentations.

Be genuine
As Ivan Sutherland, renowned American computer scientist and Internet pioneer, stated, ‘The screen is a window through which one sees a virtual world. The challenge is to make that world look real, act real, sound real, feel real.’

So, what does being real or genuine look like? Well although it’s tempting to alter your background to a cool backdrop, don’t do it. Instead, use your own background. Of course, if it is a business meeting then make sure that the background is presentable (no piles of dirty dishes behind you). However, there is nothing wrong with someone seeing your living-room wall. If you have photos up, that is fine. It makes people feel relaxed because it makes it real.

Be respectful of people’s time

Because the audience is online and sitting in the comfort of their homes, some presenters seem to think that running over time is not a big deal. It is. It loses connection quickly, as your audience will be left wondering when the session will end; if they will have enough time before the next call; will they manage to finish off the tasks on their to-do list today? Therefore, manage your time. If you begin to run over, acknowledge it and try to wrap up.

Have water or hot beverage to hand

Many people seem to feel uncomfortable sipping water over online meetings. If you are were in a face-to-face meeting, you would probably have something to drink on hand, so why not during an online meeting? If you are chairing the meeting, start five minutes beforehand and ask your audience to make a quick cuppa; or, grab some water before the meeting commences, so they feel comfortable.

Don’t forget the need for comfort breaks

This leads me onto a more crucial matter. Comfort breaks. I’ve attended many online meetings that seem to go on and on, with people losing focus because they desperately want to use the bathroom. If you do not want people getting up during a discussion or presentation, then make it clear that after 45 minutes to an hour, there will be a small break. If your meeting is only 45 minutes to an hour long, then make it clear when you are going to end the session, so that people are not left wondering when they will be able to relieve themselves.

Don’t be afraid to move
Many people think that because the meeting is online, they have to be glued to their seat and sit perfectly still. Not so. It’s Ok to move, it’s ok to see more than just your face. Consider news anchors. How much of their bodies do you see? It varies slightly, but almost always, even if there is a close-up, it will include their arms, so that they audience can see their gestures. Doing this makes it more real and intimate because in our everyday communication, we use our bodies. So, don’t be afraid to move about.

Gain eye contact via the camera
You do not want to be looking at your screen, which I know seems counter-intuitive. Instead, look into the camera. This allows you to look into the eyes of your online audience. Therefore, rather than thinking of the camera as a camera, think of it as ‘the eyes of the audience’. You wouldn’t deliberately not look someone in the eyes when talking to them face-to-face, so do not do it online.

Prioritise and serve your audience

Many online presenters seem to take on the leading role in the online meeting. By that I mean, they talk and talk and talk. They think they are the star of the show! However, the reality is that they are not. Just because you are online, it does not change the purpose of a meeting. The meeting is taking place to serve your audience. Therefore, make it interactive. You can do this by asking questions, eliciting feedback, ask the audience to imagine something etc.

For longer meetings, create (if the software allows) break-out rooms, so that members of the audience can discuss topics or particular items in smaller groups. When the break-out rooms re-join the main meeting, they can then tell the other audience members what their group discussed.

When presenting online you’ll be using your existing knowledge of how to give business presentations. If in addition you think of the screen as a window into a person’s life you’ll find that this format helps you get to know more about them. This will mean you can build stronger relationships that will serve you well in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kellie McCord is a member of 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. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org