As a presenter – or any type of communicator – there are a lot of ways to get the message across to a remote audience, and a lot of different styles in which to do it. But regardless of style, topic, and internet medium, there are three areas that can’t be ignored: tone, substance, and organization. The most important issues for a successful internet-based presentation can be summarized in ten basic statements.
- Know your audience. Obviously, a presentation for a group of third graders is going to be done in a different tone than one being done for a group of Ph.D.-level college professors. But what about speaking to human resource professionals as opposed to a group of first-line managers; or teaching a group of law students, as opposed to presenting to in-house attorneys? Until you know a little more about the specific audience, you can’t plan your presentation and won’t know whether to use a story-telling tone, or a more formal instructive voice. The right “voice” can help an attendee will feel as if the message is “pitched” to him/her, and will increase audience engagement.
- Speak at a slow, steady pace. In conversation, we speak quickly, using sentence fragments and short, punchy phrases to get the message across. Presentations are different, especially internet-based sessions, in which the presenter often feels as if she’s talking into a bucket. Something that can help is “adding punctuation” to your sentences. Take a short breath when you would use a comma [like now], and a longer one for the period at the end of each sentence [you got it]. Practice this – it will make a difference in the pacing of your speech.
- Rehearse your message. Under no circumstances should you ever try to “wing it” for an internet-based session. What will happen is that you’ll rely too heavily on your power point, which means that you will be tempted to read it to the audience – something about which attendees often complain. An audience wants to feel engaged, and feels less so if you’re simply reading what you’re already expecting them to read. Rehearsing your presentation will eliminate that tendency.
- Know your audience (again!). While it’s often difficult to know the specifics about the group who will be attending an on-line program, find out what you can, including the substantive expectations that have been set through pre-advertising, and to whom the presentation has been pitched, then speak as if that group is in front of you – and cover everything that’s been promised.
- Pitch your message to the middle. Once you know who the audience is, move forward nder the assumption that there will be a variety of knowledge levels within that group. Define terms. For example, EEOC, OSHA, OFCCP, NLRB are terms that employment lawyers and HR people might know, but line managers may not, and may become disengaged in the session without additional explanation. Also, clarify any processes to which you refer.
- Don’t try to cover too much material. This one is self-explanatory. While it may be important to provide a thorough explanation of the topic, don’t try to anticipate every question. It’s okay to leave something for the Q&A at the end. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to write up a couple of “soft ball” questions for the moderator to ask you if the audience is slow to provide questions at the end of your formal presentation.
- Use the tried-and-true process. The three-step maxim of public speaking is “Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell it to them; then tell them what you told them.” This is a no-fail recipe. People want to know what’s coming and then after being taught, they appreciate a quick wrap up of what they should take away.
- Use a bullet point outline. It doesn’t pay to write a word-for-word script, since the temptation then is to read it. A bullet point outline – typed in bold and in at least 14 point font – allows a little more flexibility, especially for answering questions, as you’ll be able to move seamlessly among the points that you’ve covered. (Johnson & Hunter, Inc. has posted a great article on Notes as Your Visual Aid for public speakers.)
- Create a clear method for follow-up. Audience members often think of questions after the presentation has ended and everyone has signed off. Be sure to provide a method for contact, whether you use e-mail, website, or phone, and take the time to weave that information into the last minute or so of your presentation, saying it slowly and clearly or referencing the page of the power point on which the information is included.
In addition to the Tone, Substance, and Organization points set forth above, there one more very important point that applies to every presentation.
- Make sure that all of the “moving parts” work. If you’re going to include a live demo in the session, try it out at least once beforehand with a mock-audience, to confirm that it will work as planned. If you plan to loop in a second presenter or a “special guest,” assure that the extra connection will work when needed. If you use an audience participation mechanism, work with the moderator before the session to assure that everything will go as it should.
Communication matters. But it’s extra important when the presenter and audience are not in the same locale. Internet sessions are challenging, but can be less so when attention is paid to the ten tips above.
Photo from The Wizard of Oz (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. . . .”).