How to add energy to remote presentations
If you walk by an executive’s office and see photocopied heads arrayed on a wall, don’t assume she’s planning some sort of employee execution. She might have picked up on some advice from presentation expert Nancy Duarte, who’s come up with smart methods for talking to remote audiences and engaging them in what you’re saying.
Duarte, CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based Duarte Design and author of slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, says talking to remote listeners requires a new set of speech-giving skills. Since webinars and teleconferences have grown in popularity (and will no doubt continue to do so as the weak economy takes its toll on corporate travel), it behooves your executive speaker to bone up on these skills.
“When you’re speaking, the number one thing people read into is body language, and you eliminate that when you’re speaking remotely,” says Duarte. Therefore, you need to figure out other ways to convey your enthusiasm for the topic at hand.
You’re also battling the tendency of remote listeners to multitask — that is, to read and answer e-mail, eat lunch, or do other things they wouldn’t normally do if they were sitting right in front of you. And, adds Duarte, “you can’t feed off of people’s energy.”
For remote presentations, slides become crucial — and bad slides drag down your speech even more than during a live one. “You have to prepare content with a rhythm to it,” says Duarte, because you can’t use body language to draw attention to certain parts of your speech or direct the ebb and flow of the conversation. “You have to create slides that [grab the audience] visually, the way you would normally do with gestures.”
And you have to be bold about telling listeners to look at the slides, since you can’t point to them or walk over to the screen. “Say, ‘This is really important, you need to look at this,’” suggests Duarte. “All of the big movements that you can’t do with your body, you do by raising and lowering your voice.” (Watch how Duarte presents a webinar in this Flickr photoset.)
More of Duarte’s tips for nailing a remote presentation:
Create a paper “audience”: Before presenting a recent webinar, Duarte created color cutouts of her employees (see picture), and placed them just above her desk. “I draped off the windows of my office, because I felt silly,” she recalls. “[But] it helped to look at faces — just looking at my computer screen made me feel like I was talking to dead air,” she explains.
Tag-team it: If it makes sense, add a moderator to the presentation. “Plan for about 10 minutes of content, then have a moderator or host break in with a sidebar conversation,” suggests Duarte.
Do a stand-up act: When you stand up to speak to an audience, “your diaphragm changes — your voice comes across very differently,” Duarte says. When she talks to remote audiences, she stands up, and even uses the same kind of clicker she’d carry in-person to advance slides. “I even use my usual gestures, since that comes through.”
Make it interactive: Consider doing a survey of your audience during your presentation, Duarte suggests. Many webinar software programs will allow callers to indicate their answers to a survey, and the results are available instantly to the speaker.
Do a high-tech dry run: If you’re on a stage and your PowerPoint presentation fails, at least you’re still there to dazzle the crowd. If your presentation fails during a remote presentation, you’ve lost a big part of the show. Duarte suggests testing all animations or special effects within the actual presentation program (such as WebEx) that you’ll be using, since not all effects work in all programs.


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