Written by Kellie McCord, Toastmasters International
Moving from face-to-face meetings to online has been a challenge for many. From choosing what platform to use to deciphering the platforms jargon, online meetings seem to create as much anxiety as giving a presentation at an in-person meeting
However, the only difference is that a screen sits between you and the people you are speaking to. Rather than seeing it as a barrier, I like to remember that if our eyes are windows to our souls, then a screen is a window into someone’s world. We can now take a peek into the home lives of our colleagues, employers and employees. This is actually a great way to connect on a deeper personal and professional level – if you allow it.
So, how can we create connection with an online audience as we give our presentations?
First tip: Be real
As Ivan Sutherland, renowned American computer scientist and Internet pioneer, stated, ‘The screen is a window through which one sees a virtual world. The challenge is to make that world look real, act real, sound real, feel real.’
So, what does that look like? Well although it’s tempting to alter your background to a cool backdrop, don’t do it. Instead, use your own background. Of course, if it is a business meeting then make sure that the background is presentable (no piles of dirty dishes behind you). However, there is nothing wrong with someone seeing your living-room wall. If you have photos up, that is fine. It makes people feel relaxed because it makes it real.
Second tip: respect people’s time
Because the audience is online and sitting in the comfort of their homes, some presenters seem to think that running over time is not a big deal. It is. It loses connection quickly, as your audience will be left wondering when the session will end; if they will have enough time before the next call; will they manage to finish off the tasks on their to-do list today? Therefore, manage your time. If you begin to run over, acknowledge it and try to wrap up.
Third tip: have water or coffee at hand
Many people seem to feel uncomfortable sipping water over online meetings. If you are were in a face-to-face meeting, you would probably have something to drink on hand, so why not during an online meeting? If you are chairing the meeting, start five minutes beforehand and ask your audience to make a quick cuppa; or, grab some water before the meeting commences, so they feel comfortable.
Fourth tip: body language
Many people think that because the meeting is online, they have to be glued to their seat and sit perfectly still. Not so. It’s Ok to move, it’s ok to see more than just your face. Consider news anchors. How much of their bodies do you see? It varies slightly, but almost always, even if there is a close-up, it will include their arms, so that they audience can see their gestures. Doing this makes it more real and intimate because in our everyday communication, we use our bodies. So, don’t be afraid to move about.
Fifth tip: Cue cards
Similar to face-to-face meetings it is NOT okay to read from your notes. It is so disengaging. People want to see your face; they want eye-contact. If you need notes, make cue cards, so that it reminds you of what you want to say next, but does not become stifling.
On that note remember to look into the camera. This allows you to look into the eyes of your online audience. Rather than thinking of the camera as a camera, think of it as ‘the eyes of the audience’. You wouldn’t deliberately avoid eye contact when talking to them face-to-face, so do not do it online.
Sixth tip: Be interactive
Many online presenters seem to take on the leading role in the online meeting. By that I mean, they talk and talk and talk. They think they are the star of the show! However, the reality is that they are not. Just because you are online, it does not change the purpose of a meeting. The meeting is taking place to serve your audience. Therefore, make it interactive. You can do this by asking questions, eliciting feedback, ask the audience to imagine something etc.
For longer meetings, create (if the software allows) break-out rooms, so that members of the audience can discuss topics or particular items in smaller groups. When the break-out rooms re-join the main meeting, they can then tell the other audience members what their group discussed.
The fact that you are online does not mean ignoring what you already know about presentations. Rather than dreading online meetings, I invite you to consider the screen as a window into someone’s life. Do not waste the opportunity – online may not be ‘in-person’, but it can still mean that you can develop a personal connection with your audience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kellie McCord is a member of 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