The audience isn’t listening. A video slide isn’t working. The screen you shared isn’t your presentation, but rather a direct message that was for your eyes only. These are just a few of the things Murphy would say could go wrong during an online presentation. But the “law” named after an air force engineer can be skirted by using these tips for presenting online.
Start With a Hook
“Thanks for joining us today. The purpose of this meeting is to bore you all out of your minds,” said no presenter ever. Even if the topic you are discussing doesn’t seem interesting, there are ways to engage your audience and pique their interest.
You know what they say about all work and no play? It makes Jack a dull presenter. People like to play games! There are several different ways to do this, depending on what you want to accomplish and who your audience is.
Talking to a team of editors? Tell them you’ve hidden five Easter eggs in your presentation, in the form of intentional errors/literary references/whatever. The first person to find the Easter egg on a slide and put it in the chat gets a small prize. Different Easter eggs can be used depending on who you are presenting to. People pay closer attention when there’s a competition.
Another idea is to download a template for a Jeopardy board and customize it with trivia tidbits that introduce topics you’ll be talking about during the meeting. If you’re a salesperson presenting to a group of potential customers, you could also include a “Who’s Who” column with fun facts about yourself and your team to break the ice.
Making fun of yourself or perceptions of your industry is another great way to capture the attention of your audience. Say you’re the director of food and beverage at a movie theater chain and the purpose of your presentation is to help employees in the concession stand upsell customers more effectively. You might start your presentation with a clip from a popular movie or television show that makes fun of such things … like the artisan movie theater food scene from “Portlandia.” After sharing a laugh about what not to do, it’s easy to segue into best practices.
Keep Their Interest
Don’t let the fun stop there. As you create your Keynote/Powerpoint/Slides presentation, think of it as infotainment. Intentionally design it to both inform and entertain.
Simplicity and Variety
Text, text and (yawn) more text. Eyes glossing over. Cameras turning off. People half listening. The less information on a single slide, the better. Consider the rule of three (research shows people recall items better when they are listed in a sequence of three) as you create your presentation, and consider alternative ways to make your point.
- Use a header and the three most important bullet points.
- Avoid using long paragraphs of text whenever possible.
- Present statistics, sales trends, etc. graphically.
If there’s a quote from an industry expert that reinforces a point you are making, put it on a separate slide. You might also consider embedding music on certain slides to elicit the desired emotion. Video is also a powerful online presentation tool that can be used to break up text and give you a break from talking. There are free video makers online that make it easy to create your own custom videos, complete with a theme and a soundtrack.
What can your audience members do in 10 minutes?
- Clean off their desk.
- Respond to several emails.
- Fold the laundry.
- All of the above.
If you answered “all of the above,” you are correct. It doesn’t take long for people to lose interest and start multitasking. Prevent this from happening by including interactive elements every 10 minutes — or less.
Are you the chief financial officer presenting a slew of sales numbers? Use a live poll and let people guess the results. Add-ons with this feature are available for all of the major presentation platforms. Similarly, add-ons are available to create word clouds based on audience responses to your questions.
Or maybe you’re a product manager who would like team members to pair off and discuss solutions to different problems you’ve identified in your presentation, then talk those solutions over with the entire group. Breakout rooms in Zoom, GoTo Meeting and similar platforms make smaller conversations within a larger presentation possible.
Prevent a Major Murphy Moment
Presentations are rarely perfect. It’s natural to get nervous and make a minor mistake. (Remember when that one lady tried to say “we can’t have synonyms in our tag line” and it came out “we can’t have cinnamon in our lag time” instead?) It happens. But these next tips for presenting online will prevent the major faux pas.
Replicate and Rehearse
Don’t just throw a deck together and call it a day. Go through your presentation beforehand, exactly as you will when you have an audience. Ask a family member or colleague to join a rehearsal meeting. Does the link work? Does it require a passcode that you forgot to include in the email? Is your camera positioned at eye level? If not, get an inexpensive laptop stand or figure out how many books you need to stack to get the right angle. No one likes to look up the nose of someone who is looking down on a laptop camera.
Use the same computer you’ll be presenting on in the same space you’ll be sitting in. Try out the technology. Can your test audience hear the sound on any embedded videos? What about the lighting? Does the sun make it appear as if you’re in the witness protection program at the time of day when you’ll be presenting?
Show Up Before Show Time
Close any unnecessary tabs on your computer and log on to the meeting a few minutes ahead of the scheduled presentation time. This is especially important if your online platform requires a waiting room. Smile and welcome others as they join. You’ve got this!
Looking for more professional advice beyond these presentation tips? The KSL Jobs Resource Center has no-fail pro tips on everything from creating an online portfolio to writing a captivating job listing and maximizing productivity when working remotely.