By Lyn Roseaman, Toastmasters International

We’re all learning to be more effective online, but acing your webinar requires specific and different skills from ‘being in the room’.

Giving a presentation or talk can be daunting at the best of times, but the challenges intensify when it comes to acing your online presentations with Confidence, Connection and a message that drives Change.

Confidence

I’ve been doing pitches and giving talks and presentations in workshops, debrief meetings and conferences since the 1980s and I was the terrified person clinging to the lectern so you couldn’t see my hands shaking, knees locked to stay upright and my breath so shallow that I sounded as if I was about to burst into tears. I was petrified and the nerves would not go away. I felt so alone. I didn’t realise at the time that nerves are normal:

“There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars” (Mark Twain)

Feeling nervous is part of being human. It’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe, but it makes our audience feel uncomfortable and concerned for our wellbeing. Online, they may choose to abandon us and stop listening.

This is the last thing we want. We want our listeners to be focused on what we’re saying and engaging with our message. To achieve this, we need to bring confident energy to the screen so that our audience can relax and connect with us and what we’re saying. Here’s how.

Ready for your close up?

When you go online from home, it’s easy to overlook your familiar surroundings – what can your audience see and hear and is it what you want them to see and hear? What’s on the walls and behind you that the camera will pick up? Are there people or sounds that may interrupt your talk or meeting? Is the space you’ve chosen sending out the message you intend? If, for instance, you want to create a business environment, the kitchen is probably not the ideal room to set up your camera.

Think about being online as having a close up. You’re on the small screen and the camera will pick up every detail, expression and gesture. Is your lighting setting you off to best advantage? Is the light behind the camera so that you’re not plunged into shadow? Is dazzling sunshine making you squint or bouncing flare onto your face, especially if you wear glasses? Capture a photo/screenshot before you go live to make sure you’re looking the part – you’re ready for your close up.

Keep calm

Relying on technology can sometimes feel like working with children and animals. Online, we need to convey a feeling of calm and control when we host a meeting or event, handle technology and ensure everything runs smoothly.

In spite of doing all the appropriate tech checks, things can still go wrong. And people accept that this can happen. What’s important is that you handle it calmly and efficiently, explaining what’s happening. And even better if you have a participant to take care of the tech for you.

Harness your body language

Think of all the non-verbal ways you can convey confident energy online:

  • A genuine smile is particularly hard when you’re nervous, so smiling conveys confidence.
  • An open and stable posture that is relaxed and assured. If you’re seated, push your bottom to the back of the chair and sit upright, both feet firmly planted on the floor. This will help prevent any distracting swaying backwards and forwards.
  • Dial down movement and gestures. Online, you’re on the small screen and big gestures that work in a large venue will overwhelm or fall off screen.
  • Steady eye contact and the correct positioning of your camera lens at just above eye level helps you to come across as open and sincere.
  • So close to the mic, people may hear your nerves in your voice. Breathe into the abdomen and relax your upper body so that your vocal tone is rich and strong. Shallow breathing high in the chest is hard work and can make you sound as if you’re about to burst into tears.

Taking care with your setting, your tech and your body language will all help your confidence to shine online.

Connection

When I think back to my first conference presentations my audiences would applaud politely, thank me and head for the coffee! At the time, I always wondered why other speakers people had queueing up to talk to them. I felt as if I’d been talking to myself. And, online, you may be doing just that if your listeners don’t connect with you and what you’re saying.

Those with people queueing up to talk to them had connected, both in terms of the value the speaker gave to the audience – their relevant message – and the way the speaker made them feel:

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel” (Carl W Buehner)

What’s in It for Me?

As a webinar host or presenter, it’s your responsibility to know what your listeners are expecting from you, i.e. answering their all-important ‘What’s In It For Me’ question – as quickly as possible – so that they have a reason to carry on listening. To achieve this, you need to know your participants and I don’t just mean their name and job titles. Find out who they are, what makes them tick and why they’re attending.

‘You’ is the magic word

‘You’ is the magic word when it comes to being relevant and engaging online. In the English language, ‘you’ power comes from being both singular – a one-to-one conversation – and plural, including everyone. You-focused language creates a strong feeling of inclusivity and, at the same time, offers up a personal connection with each and every listener.

If you can take things a step further and create a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ in terms of encouraging interaction between presenter and participants, then you hit that ‘sweet spot’ of co-creation. However, to ensure things run smoothly, it’s important online for people to listen to each other and not all talk at the same time!

Dial down the PowerPoints and share a story

Storytelling comes into its own online. Human beings are hard wired to connect through stories. When we tell a relevant personal story, openly and honestly, our listeners can relate to us as people. Stories not only create connections, but they are both engaging and memorable.

In stark contrast, sharing your screen and wading through bullet points is neither engaging nor memorable and fast-track to losing your listeners. Prioritise relevant storytelling at every opportunity.

Change

With our world currently turned on its head, online meetings, events and conversations are our opportunity to remain visible, explore and share change and start building our future together.

Your new and relevant message

In a few keystrokes, search engines can tell us what’s new and different online. If we want to stand out and keep our listeners interested we need to ensure what we have to say is relevant and on-point.

Start at the end of your presentation or meeting with how you want your listeners to think, feel or act after they’ve experienced what you have to say. Identify your message – one that is refreshed and relevant to now – and then incorporate only content that supports it.

Make it memorable with a rhythmic and rhyming anchor phrase that captures the essence of your talk in ten words or fewer, e.g. ‘Home is where we start from’ (Aileen Evans) or ‘It’s the world’s thinnest notebook (Steve Jobs).

Make life easy for your listeners

Our attention spans are short at the best of times. Online, there is even less appetite for asides and digressions than when you’re in the same room as your listeners, so it’s crucial to get to the point and stay relevant. Less is most definitely more online.

Structure and signpost your talk so that it is easy to understand and follow. Consider a clear structure, such as a timeline, pros & cons, hero’s journey, etc. Break up your presentation into small ‘chunks’ of around five minutes each and top and tail each chunk with what you plan to cover and a keyword to sum it up as you move on to the next chunk. Signpost what you have to say to let your audience know the ‘road map’ or agenda for your talk to make it clear and easy to follow.

Conclusion

Effective communication is more important than ever. At the moment, we need to talk and present convincingly online. In future we will almost certainly need to shine online AND in physical locations, with our real audience in the same room.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lyn Roseaman is a Distinguished Toastmaster at 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