Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Anyone who wants to practice a presentation, speech, sales pitch, social occasion speech, etc. is welcome to join and participate! If you do not have a speech or pitch prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.
Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3-5 minutes of feedback after your talk.
This week, we are offering not one but TWO practice sessions for you to join.
Practice, practice, practice! That is the best way to become a better public speaker.
Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Speech Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Gabe and Dayna will discuss issues of importance, answer questions about professional and personal public speaking skills/techniques, and listen to/critique as many short-form talks as possible. The sessions take place Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, and all are welcome. You can attend as many Wednesday sessions as you would like.
Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3 minutes of feedback. Speeches must be on a professional topic. If you do not have a speech prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.
Each week The Speakers Alliance runs a free Speech Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. We discuss issues of importance, answer questions about professional and personal public speaking skills/techniques, and listen to/critique as many short-form talks as possible. The sessions take place Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, and all are welcome.
In our session last week one of the first questions the participants asked was, “Why is it so much harder to do Zoom speeches than in-person?”
There are several reasons why Zoom talks are objectively harder to give, and each one of these requires some adjustment to your practice in order to overcome.
You’ve probably noticed people nodding their heads when listening to someone else speaking, and if you pay attention, you’ll probably notice yourself doing the same thing. In most societies, this kind of passive nodding is a gesture that means “I’m listening to you.” It may also mean “I agree/disagree with you,” but that is much more gender and culture-specific. Over time, as we communicate to others in groups, we observe this behavior and model it. Then we may unconsciously seek the nod as affirmation, and become uncomfortable or disturbed when we don’t get it. If you’ve ever pitched to a completely stone-faced venture capitalist, you’ll know what I mean.
Virtual meetings (e.g. Zoom) make it very difficult to see if people are nodding their heads for a variety of reasons, including the size of video feed, whether the video feed is even on, the changing order of avatars and the need to focus on the camera itself (more on this later). All together, it is nearly impossible to see if people are listening to you, and if you’re empathetic/experienced in live speaking, this can cause you to slip out of flow.
Being able to overcome your zero-feedback unease is a critical skill that will serve you well both for online and live talks. To do this, I recommend a few techniques to those I train:
Attach a photo of someone you love just above the camera of your device. Focus your attention on that picture, and imagine you’re speaking directly to them as you deliver your lines. If you find it difficult to love, or are going through a big breakup, I suggest placing a picture of an attractive celebrity there, along with the encouragement to “look here”. This will help you both maintain camera focus and reduce your need for affirmation.
Practice your presentations staring at a wall. Get around 6 inches from a wall, and practice giving your whole presentation in that state. Keep your eyes open and in soft focus. Repeating this process will make it easier for you to disconnect your visual reinforcement system from your speaking system.
For major presentations, I would go so far as to suggest having someone from your family stand behind the camera and listen to your speech. You can look at them, get the nods you need, and stay focused/engaged. Just make sure, as with all suggestions, that you align the external item with the camera so it appears that you’re looking directly at the audience.
In live speeches, we’re often taught to scan the room so that we’re able to make eye contact with everyone at one time or another. This can also be accomplished in some settings by pacing on the stage (e.g. Apple Keynotes). However, when doing a presentation direct to camera, it is actually detrimental for you to dart your eyes around as you’re speaking, especially if you’re looking at little participant avatars in a strip.
The best way to “make eye contact” in a Zoom presentation is to stare into the camera. Each participant will thus feel like you are talking directly to them, whereas if your gaze moves, they will feel the exact opposite.
Doing this well can be hard for several reasons, including the fact that most webcams are actually hidden in the bezel of laptops these days, and only a small green LED indicates where the aperture is located. But also, the lens of a camera is cold and unfeeling, and even experienced and seasoned speakers often have trouble doing this well.
Follow the same advice as given above for nodding, but also consider getting a separate webcam and/or calling greater attention to the one you have. Just having a visual reference to look at that’s bigger than a small dot can do wonders for improving your gaze. Someone I was advising actually put a Gumby doll on their webcam…and it works!
When you’re giving a talk live at your company or a conference, there are typically audio/visual technicians to help ensure all your pieces are running smoothly. For keynotes and other major presentations, you don’t even typically use your own devices to show slides, but rather give those to the AV team who makes everything runs smoothly. Thanks, AV team!
But when you present from your computer, you are the IT team, and even if you’re very computer savvy, even minor tech issues can negatively affect your performance.
Follow this guidance to reduce your anxiety about tech issues (and the risk of having problems):
Create a separate user on your device called “presentations”. In this user account, disable all apps that aren’t directly relevant to your presentation efforts.
30 minutes before starting, reboot your computer into this “Presentations” user. Launch your key apps and make sure they are completely up to date.
Set up your lighting, change your clothes, adjust your mic and test your appearance at the beginning of this 30 minute period. If you do this well, you’ll be able to ensure everything is done with 15 minutes to spare – time you can use to practice mindfulness or to run through your presentation again.
Always logon to the event several minutes before your scheduled start time unless you’re told otherwise. This is your final check on the status of things.
There are plenty of ways to improve your Zoom presentations, and several of those tips, tricks and hacks are in our course, The A-Ha! Method: Public Speaking in a Time of Distraction. It includes hours of breakthrough material you can consume at your own pace, and a world of resources – including live events – that you can join to up your game whether live or online.
Take solace in the fact that presenting direct-to-camera – whether on Zoom or another platform – is hard for even the most experienced speakers. In a subsequent piece, we’ll look at best practices for hybrid (live and online) events, but in the meantime – practice, practice, practice.
Online meetings are part of the new normal. Even as businesses welcome back employees and desks are filling up again, the majority of businesses will continue to utilize online meeting platforms to connect teams remotely. Online meetings and presentations can be tough though, and many people find them much more difficult than in-person meetings.
Why? It comes down to interaction. When you are holding an online meeting presentation, many participants are multitasking and not giving you their full attention. It’s your job, as the presenter, to overcome that distraction by being as effective and engaging as possible. Here are five tips you can take to your next meeting to capture their attention and increase engagement.
5 Tips to Make Your Next Online Meeting More Engaging
1. Break up screen sharing with face-to-face engagement.
When you start a presentation or a meeting, the instinct is to start sharing your screen. As soon as you start sharing your screen, though, meeting participants will take that as an opportunity to multi-task. They’ll end up checking email, sending a quick text, or browsing through a report. If you want to get feedback or increase engagement, you need to turn screen sharing off occasionally.
Turn your camera back on and address your participants directly. They are more likely to stay engaged and respond when prompted if there is a human face on the screen. Otherwise, like you, they will be using screen sharing to hide.
2. Keep your sentences (and your slides) short.
No matter what you do during a virtual meeting, people will be tempted to multitask. Email, calendar reminders, and even distractions at home will pull their attention away from what you are saying. You need to overcome those distractions with your content.
That starts with keeping your sentences short and concise. Don’t launch into a monologue and expect people to follow along. Make sure every sentence you say has a purpose. Avoid rambling and end your sentences with a period instead of trailing off. This will help you keep your audience’s attention.
Practice the same technique with your slides. Only show the most important slides and keep the main point front and center on each one. If you end up using too many slides or showing them too much data, you’ll lose your audience.
3. Don’t be afraid of a little silence.
Silence will scare inexperienced presenters. They will end up trying to fill it or talk through it. However, professional presenters know that a little silence is a good thing. Learn to get comfortable with periods of silence in your presentations. Silence will encourage discussion and participation. It also gives your audience some time to think before they start speaking.
Your instinct to jump in and keep talking will be strong, so practice counting silently in your head while you wait. This helps you fill the time in your own mind, but it will also clue you in to how short those silences really are. Many presenters find that even three seconds of silence is enough to encourage discussion, but don’t be afraid to wait longer.
4. Be mindful of busy schedules.
You probably aren’t the first meeting on their list today. You probably aren’t the last, either. Make sure you are mindful of people’s time. We all know how too many meetings can end up eating away the day and cutting into actual productivity. That can make your participants frustrated from the beginning, as well as more likely to try to multitask while they listen to you. Keep it short and sweet when you can.
Along with that, make sure you know what you are doing in the meeting. That includes understanding how to put the technology to work. There is nothing worse than sitting through a meeting when the presenter doesn’t know how to use the platform. Practice if you need to so you know how to start videos, advance slides, and turn screen sharing on and off.
5. Make sure the takeaways are clear.
By the end of the meeting, make sure participants have clear goals or takeaways. If you need to make decisions, make them in the meeting or leave the attendees with action points about what will happen next. This makes the meeting feel like it was worth their time and gives them something to act on afterward.
A final slide at the end of your presentation with the main points written out is helpful and/or a follow-up email with action points, which will ensure everyone is on the same page, too.
Bonus Tip: Learn the art of interruption.
If you have a participant who is rambling or who has gone off-topic, learn how to politely interrupt them and get things back on track. For those who don’t like to interrupt, it may feel more difficult to do. However, if you don’t, you risk losing the attention of the rest of your participants while one person overruns your meeting. Plus, the meeting can end up being a waste of time when important topics aren’t discussed. A simple, “Okay, let’s redirect our attention…” will usually do the trick.
Still Struggling to Get Your Message Across in Virtual Meetings?
Are your Zoom, Teams, or other virtual meetings and presentations as effective and engaging as they could be? If you are looking for more tips and advice on how to increase audience engagement in your next virtual meeting, check out the online course “Public Speaking in a Time of Distraction: The A-Ha! Method.” Award-winning instructor Gabe Zichermann offers plenty of tips and tricks on public speaking, including:
Crafting engaging openings and conclusions
Using effective slides to capture attention
Understanding the best methods to get your message across
And so much more. Each tip will help you level up your professional communications so you can capture attention and get your point across in a meaningful way. You can take the course at your leisure and put the included resources to use when you need them the most. Sign up for this professional speaking course today!