Preparing for a Memorable and Impactful Virtual Conference Presentation

Virtual conferences have officially made their debut. For many of us, this year will be the first time we present our research from the comfort of our own homes. While this novelty may be convenient, it does bring up new challenges. This post provides some topics that are unique to online presentations that you should consider while preparing for your next virtual conference presentation.

1. You, in Virtual Format

To video or not to video?

To video! Audiences connect better and maintain attention to the presentation when they can see other people, not just slides. So give them something to look at and connect to by using your hands to reiterate important points through gesture. Since many of us will be participating from our homes, there’s no need to dress in a business suit. Wear something comfortable, professional, and makes you feel good. If you’ll be presenting in a room with too much light, personal effects behind you, or wide open spaces, consider using a virtual background.

When presenting, make sure to look at the computer screen with your webcam so that audience members feel that you are speaking directly to them rather than watching the side of your face. And if possible comfortably, consider standing during your presentation. Standing during presentations is better for your focus and breathing, allowing you to project your voice better.

Speaking of your voice…

Without your full physical body language being seen by the audience, your voice becomes more important. Be careful to avoid using a monotone and remember to use pauses to give yourself time to regroup and allow the audience to digest information.

Virtual presentations can be very different from in-person presentations. You won’t be able to read the room easily, but that shouldn’t stop you from injecting your personality into your presentation.

2. Your Presentation, an Engaging Experience from Start to Finish

Timing is everything

Remember to stick to the time limit. Regardless of how many presenters are in your panel, you will have 12-15 minutes for your presentation. It is important that you end on time to ensure that there will be enough time for a brief discussion and questions from the audience. If you get close to the time limit, the discussant for your panel will send you a signal to inform you that time is almost up. While this reminder is very helpful, you should have a good idea of how long your presentation will take.

Start strong

When audience members are viewing presentations from home, there are more distractions than there would be at an in-person conference: the doorbell rings, an email comes through, the dog barks … the list is endless. And behind a virtual wall, it’s easy for them to get up and leave your presentation without the moving of chairs and awkward closing of doors that would happen in person. With so many distractions, it’s important to make the beginning of your presentation so interesting that the audience is riveted, undistracted by all other pulls for their attention.

To do this, start your presentation strong by telling the audience why what you have to say is important and setting the stage for what you’re going to talk about. Keep your presentation as concise as possible to hold their attention by getting to your main points quickly. Avoid taking the audience through an endless road of literature and instead get straight into what you did, what you analyzed, what you found, and what implications it has.

Use effective slides

Slides are more important during an online presentation because they’ll be the main point of focus for the audience, even if they can see you as well. Utilize the notes section of PowerPoint or dual screens to keep notes up so that you don’t have to read off of your slides. Long lists of bullet points, full sentences, and tiny font can be distracting to the audience, causing them to read your slides rather than listen to you making connections between those points. For a more engaging experience for the audience, use fewer words and more pictures, diagrams, gifs, memes, graphs, etc.

When presenters have graphs that need explaining, they often utilize a laser pointer to draw attention to particular part of the graph. For both in-person and online presentations, try positioning an arrow on your slide rather than using your cursor or laser pointer to make circles around something. The use of movement oriented tools can be very distracting and even jarring to the audience while a strategically placed arrow on the slide can emphasize a point easily.

End with a bang

Be definitive with your main point. Be memorable by giving the audience something to ponder later or providing a link to a downloadable fact sheet or relevant source. But the last thing you say should tell the audience that you’re done while also reminding them of the importance of your research.

3. Preparing for Success, No Matter the Format

In advance of your online presentation, prepare like you normally would but take advantage of Zoom’s recording functionality for your trial runs. Evaluate your hand motions, you voice intonation, your speed, use of pauses, transitions, and eye contact. If you’re using dual screens, do a trial run with Zoom so you know which screen to have the presentation on and where to look so that the audience can make virtual eye contact with you.

The ability to present our research virtually from the comfort of our own home offices can relieve much of the stress some of us can feel before presenting. But this does not eliminate the need to practice our presentations and be thoughtful about how we connect with our audiences. Remember that the point of giving your presentation is not to simply get through it; it’s to solicit feedback, make connections with other research, and explore new ideas. Giving thought to how you present yourself virtually and the attention you give to how the information is displayed on screen can make the audience more engaged in your topic and make them more willing to discuss your research at its conclusion. 

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