Preparing to present webinars and online meetings – a guide

By Helena Brewer, Toastmasters International

Forget the lights, camera, action and razzmatazz of the big screen. It’s time to focus on the small screen and the benefits this can bring you professionally – if you’re good at it.

Business is conducting more and more activities digitally and you may be working with people spread across the country or indeed the globe; contacts whom you never meet face-to-face. Because of this it essential to ensure you, and your team, have the skills needed to go live on the small screen.

If you are preparing to conduct a webinar, host a virtual meeting or conduct an interview online, consider the following points.

Positioning yourself

If you are delivering a webinar you will be sitting in the same chair for at least an hour. Ensuring you are comfortable; good back support will help. Then you need to get the position of your camera right. Movement is tricky, if you lean forward towards your camera, the audience will receive an unexpected close-up. What habits do you have? Perhaps you swing your chair, or flick your hair? These small things can easily become distracting for your audience.

Knowing me, knowing you

If you are hosting a webinar it’s possible that attendee will have a different reason for being there. Providing a brief introduction about you and the purpose of the webinar helps settle the attendees. If you have over 20 attending, there may not be time for them to introduce themselves. However, if it is a business meeting, a small conference or an interview, it is definitely worth you and the audience knowing who is there. Allow time for introductions as simple as name, position and company. This will assist you in knowing if all key stakeholders have joined, or if they’ve sent a representative instead.

Loud and clear?

You need to check with your online audience to determine that they can hear you. You don’t want to be distracted battling with volume control when you’re delivering your webinar. When joining virtual meetings, there are sometimes surprisingly loud background noises. If you can control muting attendees, do. If not, encourage them to mute themselves. There may be times when the signal just isn’t good enough. Be prepared to redeliver key points when you recap.

What does that mean?

There are turns of phrase that are quirky and very British. For example, ‘gone for a burton.’ Many people won’t have a clue what this means. When you use language which is not in everyday use, consider how your attendees will interpret it. If delivering a webinar on an industry subject with a global reach delivered in English, it’s likely the technical jargon will be fully understood. But if you are talking to a non-technical audience then limit the jargon, and if you have to use it – explain it.

Background check

Whenever possible a clean background is best. If you work in an office that has glass screens, walls and doors, it can be distracting for your audience to have people walking behind you. For a virtual interview you should definitely clear up the clutter. You need to ensure ample lighting for your face, particularly if your background is very bright (as it will darken your face) or the room is dingy. Does any of the lighting cast shadows on the wall behind you? If it does, change this.

Testing, one, two, three!

It is worth conducting a run through of any online presentation. If you are handling technical aspects, it’ll give you one less concern when you are delivering for real. For webinars, consider recording and watching the test session and make any necessary changes. If you have technical problems on the day, you can always use this version to send out to the attendees afterwards. Check out on-line tutorials, in advance, if you are using a software package for the first time.

Hey good looking!

Just like meeting people face to face, you have to look the part; your appearance matters. Being well groomed will help you and your confidence, particularly in an interview situation. Clothes, hair, beard etc. should be neat, tidy and professional. Consider how to take the shine from your forehead, taking out redness from the face or concealing dark circles under the eyes. Be confident and use makeup if you need to.

Any questions?

Be prepared for questions. Most systems allow attendees to message you rather than interact vocally which is more time efficient. You may want to have support to deal with the online questions as they arise or help you group similar questions. If you are managing by yourself, pause after key points, check in with the audience that they are following you. This is a good time to ask for questions, which you can then be addressed before you move on.

Pluses and minuses of notes

If you use notes the danger is that you will look down and reveal a great shot of the top of your head. If your notes are on screen, the movement of your eyes will look odd. Know your presentation inside out, so that you appear natural. Having prompt cards with key words on that you can glance at can help if you feel you need some additional reminders. How about using post-it notes on the side of your screen?

And action!

Start at the scheduled time. Greet your audience, colleagues or potential employer with a smile. All the skills that you’ve developed presenting in person apply here. You have to engage your audience to ensure they receive your message. A mic or headset may be required, and if you are waving your hands about, you may knock this. Endeavour to keep your hands out of shot. Sit on them if necessary! Be aware of non-verbal communications, your eye contact, body language and facial gestures; they all come into play.

It’s a wrap

By following the suggestions above, you soon gain confidence and become more comfortable delivering this way and a small screen star will be born.