When was the last time you participated in a webinar led by a really exciting speaker?
Or did the presenter play the part of Dr. Watson to the slide deck's Sherlock Holmes—at a loss to make it all come together in a comprehensible whole? Was the speaker or team tech-savvy but too junior otherwise, sprinkling in generous helpings of "Dude" and "awesome!"? Was it a genuine conversation (with questions asked and answered), or a sterile monologue floating airlessly through the vastness of cyberspace? (To become an unforgettable presenter virtually and otherwise, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
Using Body Language and More for Speaking Virtually
As technology expands and travel budgets shrink, your impact as a speaker will increasingly come through web-based applications such as webinars, virtual meetings, telecom briefings, and virtual applications we haven't yet imagined. For these applications, your ability to speak successfully will still be vital, including the four essential vocal techniques for business.
But it won't end there. Your body language will matter as much as it does now. You as speaker will still have to engage and sustain your audience's attention. Participants will still need to be moved and persuaded. And virtual audiences will still have to retain your messages and be able to act upon them.
In other words, your influence will still need to spread outward from your presentation like ripples from a stone thrown into a virtual pond. The technology may be different, but the techniques of positively impacting audiences will be similar to—and sometimes the same as—what they are in in-person presentations.
Here are 6 tips to help you speak dynamically and memorably in virtual settings, today and in the near future:
Move! In virtual settings as with in-person situations, your ability to express yourself with subtlety and power depends upon your body language. Whatever the setting, listeners still need to hear your physical involvement in what you’re saying. There's a reason we give presentations—whether they're webinars or State of the Union addresses—orally rather than sending along the PowerPoint deck or briefing binder. Not only is your voice produced physically; your body is an essential tool of communication in many other ways.
Think about when you're speaking passionately on a topic. Do you stand stock-still because doing that will make you a dynamic communicator? Of course not—you move! Respond physically, then, as you make your vital points in virtual situations, because your body literally doesn't want you to do otherwise. You’ll come across as a much more dynamic communicator. So stand when you speak virtually; and gesture and otherwise get your body into the act. And here are 10 ways to stay fully focused when speaking like this.
Direct your viewers’ gaze. Have you participated in virtual briefings where you played catch-up on a slide that the presenter was talking about? The webinar leader may know his or her stuff, but it doesn't help much if they're discussing a visual element and the whole point is lost on you because you are.
When you show slides, tell your viewers where they should be looking. The movie camera is the ideal example of this technique, since you can only “look” where it directs your gaze. The busier your slides, the more you need to guide viewers to zero in on the element you’re discussing: "Here are our sales figures compared to our competitors'. If you look at the bar graph in the upper right, you'll see we've outperformed them four-fold."
Grab your audience’s attention. "Virtual" in terms of presentations is always inferior to in person. A speaker and audience in other's presence share a rich vocabulary of clues by which to judge each other's attentiveness, intentions, motivation, trustworthiness, dynamism, and a host of other considerations. To make up for the lack of physical presence, you must play a strong hand in terms of engaging, even fascinating, your listeners by what you say.
One way you can do so is by compelling your audience's attention right from the starting pistol. Avoid the bland, “Good morning,” and “It’s a pleasure to be speaking to you today” standard openings. Let the audience know immediately they’re in for a fun ride. “Welcome, everyone! Thanks, Alan, for that introduction. Today, we’re going to xxxx, and we’re going to start right now.” Want to know more about grabbing your audience's attention? Read my article "Grab Your Audience! -- 12 Foolproof Ways to Open a Speech."
Use a headset. How warm is your voice? To reach across cyberspace, you need to employ this most powerful presentation tool as its subtlest and most intimate instrument settings. Not only power, but the passion, excitement, and quiet assurance of your vocal approach to your topic must come across.
A headset will help make this happen. Your voice will sound warmer and closer. An essential element of your success as a "cyber-speaker" comes from the subtle effects your voice can achieve. No other element of your presentation can equal vocal expressiveness to indicate precisely what you mean by what you're saying. Let your listeners hear it, up-close and personal.
Use emotion and stories. Just as with in-person presentations, your virtual audience won’t remember details, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Without your physical presence, virtual listeners need the power and immediacy that comes from the emotional connection you create.
Every time you speak to stakeholders, you need to tell your story (this doesn't necessarily mean "storytelling"). This is especially important when using PowerPoint: poor speakers cede the power to influence their audience to this presentation tool, while wise speakers use it to weave visuals into the narrative they're telling. (To use PowerPoint effectively, read my article "The Four Golden Rules of Using PowerPoint.") "Let me tell you about an incident that happened recently that illustrates what I've been talking about . . . ." will have your virtual audience attending to you rather than yet another slide.
Build in interaction. Impossible in webinars and other virtual settings? Of course not. As I mentioned earlier, in virtual presentations, you must create the sense of community that exists naturally in in-person presentations. That's why the chat room is there after all. Don't depend on people to start using it on their own, though—insist that they do. And don't wait for the moderator to run interference for you.
Ask questions so you can answer them. Touch your audience frequently with remarks that include the words “you” and “we” rather than "I" and "my." And always end with a memorable thought or image (visual or spoken) that “reaches your virtual audience where they live.”
Key takeaways from this blog:
- As technology expands and travel budgets shrink, you'll be speaking more virtually.
- Too many webinar presenters offer strong visuals and weak speaking skills.
- Body language is as important when speaking virtually as in-person!
- Grab your audience's attention, and keep it going through stories.
- Find ways to include interaction so the sense of "community" is maintained.